art, body, nudity, pornography

Frank Answers About Nudity and Pornography

Question:
Hi, Pastor Frank! I’m curious if you have any thoughts on how men should navigate the somewhat blurred lines between nudity and pornography in the contemporary era. I’ve occasionally worked as a nude model for life drawing classes over the past few years, which seems pretty clearly nonsexual to me. In contrast, I don’t think I could justify being a stripper (even though I find films like Magic Mike interesting) because it seems too overtly sexual. But it seems like there are an increasing number of situations where the boundaries between nudity and sexuality are more blurred. For example, paint studios like The Artful Bachelorette allow women to hire a nude male drawing model instead of a stripper and I’m not sure how I feel working for a company like that. How/where do we draw the line?

Frank answers: I’m kind of flying in the dark on this one. I’ve never been a life model or attempted to draw one. I haven’t heard of the Artful Bachelorette, and certainly have never been to a bachelorette party. But the question of the fine line between nudity and pornography is one I’ve treaded in my own blog as I’ve looked for images to illustrate themes dealing with issues of swimming naked or naked anything or sexual issues or even articles about nude art in churches or modesty and nudity from a biblical perspective. I even have an article about chastity and pornography. Those articles are available on this blog and I don’t want to repeat myself. But in general I think when it comes to live situations, the nude body is what God created; we humans created clothing and we create art. The body should be treated with honor and respect. We are also endowed by our Creator with Sexuality, and that too should be treated with honor and respect. But I think pornography uses the body as an object intentionally awaken if not satisfy lust. That, I think, is where the line is crossed. Unfortunately, it is a blurred line.

Artists have used life models for as long as art has flourished. Lucas Cranach the Elder, friend of Martin Luther (godfather to the Luthers’ oldest child) and illustrator of Luther’s German Bible, probable used many Wittenberg ladies as life models to paint all the nudes he was commissioned to provide for his patrons, often using a pagan theme like Venus the goddess of love. Cranach’s studio in Lutheran Wittenberg had one of the most prolific outputs of female nudes of any Renaissance art studio. Cranach also painted Adam and Eve in their natural state without fig leaves.

“Venus” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Many Renaissance painters also used male models to represent classical pagan figures or biblical figures or life activities. Michelangelo undoubtedly used many live models in Rome to festoon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with all those nude males lounging above the worshipers below in suggestive poses (below).

One of Michelangelo’s nudes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

College art classes and classes in art studios continue to provide nude models for life drawings. Many of these models are professional models or dancers who know how to strike the various poses the art instructor calls for. I assume our questioner falls into this category. I understand that a strict etiquette is followed in life drawing classes.

Nude Model, Chaye Tione, poses for figure drawing on April 9, 2014, at the City College Schott Center, in Santa Barbara, Calif. Tione poses on a regular bases for a variety of art mediums.

Our questioner contrasts this non-sexual use of models with strip dancers, whose purpose is precisely to arouse the patrons in order to garner good tips. Male strippers may also be professional models or dancers. Many work in other professions. But they still have to work out and practice to keep their bodies fit and their routines entertaining. In strip clubs touching the body is allowed, but within limits. Even if genitals are not displayed, there is an intentional lewdness used in the gestures and movements to arouse the patrons (usually females who come to see the male strippers). So I suppose by the definition I proposed strip dancing is pornographic. But a line is not crossed from nudity to sexual activity. The dancers know when to back off. Moreover, their performances are public and are subject to local legal standards of decency. However, it is also the case that leaving some article of covering on the body is more erotic than total nakedness. In total nakedness, what you see is what you get. In partially-covered nudity there’s always more to be revealed. That’s why gradually stripping is so titillating.

Magic Men is a troupe of male strip artists who perform in strip clubs and private shows, including “hen nights.” They originated in Australia I(Melbourne and Sydney) and now have expanded to New York City.

Our questioner suggests that in events like The Artful Bachelorette, the line between nudity and pornography is blurred. I had to read up on this company, which started in Australia and has expanded to a half dozen cities (so far) in the U.S. Male strippers have been a standard item in bachelorette parties. This new approach has an educational component. An art teacher instructs the women in the basics of painting a nude body and then has the professional nude model uncover himself. There is undoubtedly nervous giggling and joking. Some joking is provided by the art teacher herself (like “Don’t forget to draw his penis”) to loosen up the participants. Reviews of these events state that after a while the women get into their paintings and are interested in comparing one another’s efforts. A good time is had by all, including drinking wine or champagne (which also serves to loosen up the participants). As in art classes, there are rules of behavior, including: no photos of the model when he is naked and no touching his body.

The Artful Bachelorette studio in Chicago

In my research I learned that The Artful Bachelorette isn’t the first company to come up with this idea. There are agencies in other countries, like Ireland and the UK, that provide live male models for “hen parties” for all sorts of events and in various venues, including outdoors.

From an ad for a hen party in the English Midlands

It seems to me from reports I’ve read that these parties are like art classes that are less serious about producing artistic representations than collegiate or studio art classes. Since the model, unlike the strip dancer, is not striking lewd poses or engaging in erotic movements, it doesn’t qualify as pornography. The model is not trying to arouse the women. But it does seem like a situation in which women are gawking and probably making lewd comments, having had their tongues loosened up with champagne or wine. The point of these parties is to have fun. So the participants are not exactly honoring and respecting the body, although maybe by the end of the session they are respectful and grateful to the model.

But suppose the genders were reversed and there was a bachelor party in which the men were attempting to draw a nude figure using a female life model accompanied by drinking beer, joking, and making lewd remarks? In our present age of gender sensitivities, I don’t think this would be acceptable. I think women ought to also honor and respect the nude male body of the model who poses for their art parties.

I can understand that our questioner might not want to make himself available for bachelorette or hen parties. But he might at least first make inquiries from the management about how the session goes and what is expected of his performance as he decides whether or not to accept such gigs. There could be art parties in which the participants come to appreciate the nude body of the model and learn how artists make use of it and disassociate nudity from sex.

There could also be another positive outcome of these parties. Even in academic life drawing classes which are nonsexual, the model (whether male or female) is an object to be painted. In the hen parties the participants can ask questions of the model and come to know something about him. This de-objectifies him. The model can become a subject relating to other subjects. A person emerges who is more than his body. I’ve never had art lessons, but I would like that knowing the model as a person would enable the artist to make something of the nude portrait. I think the best of nude art does that. That, I think, enables nude art to transcend pornography.

Pastor Frank Senn

Nude male by Dominique Miller

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Reader

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my question! I don’t foresee having the opportunity to work for the Artful Bachelorette or a similar company anytime soon due to the pandemic. I was mostly just curious about it from a hypothetical perspective.

    Being a nude model for more traditional drawing classes has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I was bullied when I was younger over my physical appearance, and modeling has helped to improve my own body image and overall self-confidence.

  2. Avatar

    Michael Simonds

    I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I was drawing and painting since I was 3 years old. After graduating from High School, I entered The Univesity of Washington, in Seattle, in the Five Year Art School. I majored in Painting and Printmaking and Minored in Theater Arts. I was 18 years old, and we had 3-hour studio classes, with nude artist life models. Almost all of our models were nude women. We did, however, have one male nude model, who did Yoga. His name was Charles White. He was probably 20 years old. The other male model was a fellow art student. For some reason, the class asked him to be clothed. I often regretted not becoming a nude male model for the art life drawing and painting studio classes. I even thought all the guys in the class should have stripped nude for the woman art students. I graduated in 1970, so it was during the 60s, and I wondered why we did not have more nude male models. We should have had joint classes with the medical students for anatomy and I probably would have fainted seeing cadavers being dissected.

    After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking, I had no idea how to make a living as a professional artist; the Art School never offered classes on the Business of Art. I entered Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. I graduated in 1974, earning a Masters of Divinity. I was drafted by the Southwestern Minnesota District of The American Lutheran Church. I was ordained in August of 1975, and served two parishes, one in New Ulm, Minnesota, and Lester Prairie, Minnesota. I have no problem with male or female nudity in Art. I had a friend, who was a male artist in Minnesota, who once said, “The only way you can get away with painting male nudes is in religious paintings.” Since leaving parish ministry, I got married and we formed an Art business, WinterWind FolkArts, Ltd. We still do Art, and I have this overwhelming need to paint and draw nudes again. Men are easier to get to pose nude than women. My style is realistic and I do traditional Oils, as well as Acrylics.

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