The art of the nude: How to take back control

Charlotte Johnstone /
Jul 31, 2017 / Opinion

I took my first ever nude about two months ago.

I am 20, and I’ve never been in a serious relationship. For me, nude-taking was reserved only for couples; serious couples who had such a thick band of trust tied around them they squeezed each other’s back spots, shared weekly shops and promised to never leak each other’s naked pics. I, on the other hand have never been in a relationship more serious than staying the night for a spoon. But, this time, I thought fuck it – why not. Enough people have already accidentally seen my naked run of shame out of the bathroom. It might eventually be time to have my body immortalised.

The moment I took that first ever topless picture, I felt powerful. I had my hair draped over one shoulder, my right arm holding the phone to partially cover my unmade-up face, while my left arm lightly touched my stomach in a bid to show off my new (albeit crap) little tattoo. Countless numbers of shots later from different angles and with myself in different poses, I had eventually captured the ideal nude.

In our society today, the rise of the nude can be empowering when we view it in terms of our reclamation. My choosing of how I was presented when taking the picture shows me as a female claiming ownership over her body – and its subsequent portrayal. In the age of Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose, the sheer idea that females once wouldn’t have been granted this privilege appears archaic.

The nude, from an art-historical context, conjures up images of famous works by artists such as Titian and his ‘Venus of Urbino’ (1538, The Uffizi). In my photo I am proud. I know it because I am sat bolt upright, back arched in a way that unashamedly shows off my baps. The difference between my photograph and this painting is that complete control can be seen in mine by the inclusion of myself holding my camera which is reflected in the mirror. The contrast between my nude and the mentioned artworks is this inclusion of its creator.

In the book The Aesthetics of Power by Carol Duncan she says that it is the lack of a male presence in certain artworks which actually reaffirms their dominance and control over their paintings. It amplifies the fact that the artist and receiver are the voyeur, and the subject of the painting has been created as something to look at. It has been objectified. But, how does this objectification tie in with my ramblings on the modern-day nude?

The objectification of women is something that feminists have been really irked about since, well, forever. It is not a new topic of discourse, and its ongoing presence shows that it is still a very real issue. When looking at the objectification of the women in paintings by Titian for example, we are almost not surprised, due to the common knowledge of the social disparity between both sexes that has been going on for years beforehand. It is modern day issues such as the contrast between which sex can be topless at this time of year which still manages to display a patriarchal dominance over the reception of the female body. Our beautiful form is hidden due to the eroticism which is still tied to it.

Such eroticism is something which has been linked to us by the patriarchy therefore showing further control over our natural feminine form. The moment a woman is topless on a beach she is not empowered but she is crude, she is over-sexualised; she is naked. The difference between the two words ‘nude’ and ‘naked’ were outlined by Kenneth Clark in his book The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, where he expresses that ‘the nude’ is an academic display of the human body, whilst being ‘naked’ shows the body as an object which is embarrassed and ‘deprived’ of clothes. This concept of ‘deprivation’ is belittling – by creating a world in which one sex should feel ashamed of their image, the other one immediately has become more powerful, and this cyclical effect is created. Yet, in a world which has told us to cover up our bodies, why I do  I find myself so proud of my first nude?

Women taking nudes defies these ideas. Nobody – no male – told me to take the picture in front of my mirror. In that moment, I wasn’t being shamed for being too sexual, cos I was owning it. Nudes are obviously still erotic. Many art-historians have their own claims towards the ever-present eroticism in Titian’s Venus. I initially took my nude for my own ego; I mean, it’s only taken me the last two decades to be completely comfortable with my pale, incredibly tall, un-curvaceous self – all things that have been deemed ‘unattractive’ by society. I am proud of this photograph, so why not let it serve an erotic purpose? In doing so, and by sending it to someone, I am in full control of my own sexuality, for the importance lies in it being my choice to take this photo and my choice to send it.

The nude. The female form. Something which we are slowly, as women, beginning to take back for ourselves. By using it as a tool, we have the power to desexualise our bodies and for our puppies to be viewed as just that. Or in turn, if we wish we can take control of our eroticism, as adults who should be equal by seizing this power we are saying goodbye to the days of the problematic voyeur and entering into the realm of self-ownership.

So go on girls, why not take one? By doing so we can all be our own ‘Venuses of Urbino’s’ – without having to worry about any artist telling us how to be.

Get Volume #19 here.

Words by Charlotte Johnstone

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