In the Art World nudity is commonplace and almost passe- however- "Nude Art in the Church"is a surprisingly sore subject. Whenever I bring it up people get rather animated. Most opinions on the subject seem based on rumor, exaggeration and the opinions of others. This is an unavoidable topic- for me as the majority of my painting commissions are for churches. Let me remind you, the reader, that this is not a blog about spirituality. It is however about art and creativity.
In my creative journey I am faced with this question daily- in my blog, in the work I do for magazines, but especially in the Church. In the coming weeks I will defer to experts and artists who have carefully discussed, thought, and researched this topic. For today I will express my personal thoughts. I view nudity as a very important topic- central in fact to any belief system and especially vital in the Christian tradition. So here it is- not a rant for everyone- but an invitation to the Christian Church to re-think its stance:
People react. The Church reacts. The current, majority stance on nudity is a "play-it-safe-don't-create-controversy-stance" that is a reaction to extreme elements of past art. Although there is a connection between nudity and sexuality- that connection is at best overplayed. The church has for years been reacting to the extremes of "the world" and allowing the whiniest element of the church to have their say- to the detriment of Christianity's spiritual development and edification.
+What is the purpose of the human form?
There are many within Christianity that would posit that the human form is completely fallen and useful only for sexual perversion. The irony is that relegating the human form to a completely sexual role is in its self a sexual perversion. It is not at all what the God of the bible and the christian church intended. It also reeks of "Gnosticism", or the separation of the physical (evil) from the spiritual (good). One cannot discuss nudity without a discussion of Gnosticism.
+ The biblical narrative connects nudity with a "fallen state".
Adam and Eve sin and Wham! there is a direct connection between that sin and their clothed state. But notice in the text that the human form is not considered sinful- what we read is shame. Shame is a message from within that says "cover-up". Not a message from God. Another aspect that gets discussed very rarely is that when the redeemer comes and sin is atoned for- WHAT HAPPENS TO NUDITY THEN? To some degree Christ redeemed the physical world as well as the spiritual world. We also must attach some significance to to very physical nature of the created world- when God created our physical forms he said that they "were good". Christ himself took on flesh- a nude body- and remained sinless. It would be a great irony indeed to reject the physical form out of squeamishness and prudery. What God has called good and beautiful let no one call otherwise.
+ The communication of humanity/universality/brokenness
There are some things that only nudity can communicate- Nude art is powerful and evocative. I might even go so far as to say that those who oppose the human form are in fact ignoring much deeper discussions within themselves. Many would love to not go anywhere near the dark and very real elements of humanity and spirituality. Ignoring nudity is the safest way to ignore deep discussions- for it is one step down the road to ignoring The Arts all-together (which much of the worldwide church has been doing for years). The discussion of nudity in the Church is really a piece of a wider discussion of "art in the church". In churches that allow any form of art at all there is a tension between "art that mollifies and pleases" and "art that challenges and edifies".
The painting above is by Bruce Herman- an artist who has much to say on this topic.
So- what do you think? Where and when is nudity acceptable? What about nudity in Church?