Nudity in Art

by Stefani Rossi January 14, 2010

[I] recently had the chance to respond to a Ruminate reader's question regarding the use of nudity in art. The conversation was published in the "Notes from You" section of the magazine in Issue 14: With Earnest Jest, but you can also read it here. Please join the conversation and share your thoughts!
I would like to pose a question to your magazine. Issue 12 of Ruminate contained art by Tyrus Clutter that used nudity. Can a Christian artist (or a Christian magazine) use nudity in their art and not have it shipwreck their faith in their own eyes as well as others? I know there have to be others struggling with these same questions. I don’t think God is a prude, and I know he does new things, things sometimes people categorize as “That’s not God!” I am sincere in this and just want to honor and glorify my Saviour. ~Ruminate Reader, Missouri
Dear Ruminate Reader, I appreciate the sincerity of your question. As the visual arts editor of Ruminate, I believe that my role is to evaluate and select work that is consistent with our publication’s mission. My colleagues and I interpret this to mean that the work we publish should reflect aspects of the Image of God, of the human condition, and the story of God’s interaction with mankind. Sometimes this means including images that emphasize beauty. Other times it means selecting work that honestly visualizes the depravity and brokenness of the world in which we live—images that may be prophetic, ironic, or even grotesque. But they must relate to the questions of living in this world and our experience of interacting with God. Figurative work must do this without divorcing the representation of the body from the sense of the human. In the case of Tyrus Clutter’s work in Issue 12, the nude figures were portions of larger wholes: reliquaries, devotional forms that have existed as a means of remembering, reverencing, and connecting with the lives of spiritual leaders and saints who are no longer living. This type of object typically represents moments of a person’s life in conjunction with personal artifacts that belonged to them. The nudity in Tyrus’ work functions much like nudity utilized in the Sistine Chapel—it is metaphoric and symbolic, conveying the sense of human vulnerability before God, penitent, seeking the renewal of innocence. The posture of the figures in Tyrus’ work is also important. They are kneeling in prayer, or standing in the form of orants, with arms outstretched and palms up in a gesture of receiving, which relates to these literary and historical figures seeking God’s voice. Ultimately, I think the question of context is key. Images are meant to be interpreted, not simply recognized. In order to interpret one must have a grasp of the visual language. This language—that of shape, color, line, volume, texture, space, and symbol—has a history that contemporary artists reference on a regular basis. As people of faith we need not be afraid of visual language and its history. Instead we have the opportunity to go beyond simple recognition and move toward a more integrated understanding of works presented to us. We may disagree with the premise of a work, or the perspective being offered. But it is imperative that prior to making those judgment calls we give art a fair “read.” I hope this is helpful, and thank you for your contribution to the conversation.



Stefani Rossi
Stefani Rossi

Author

Stefani Rossi studied painting and printmaking at the University of Puget Sound. In 2010 she received her MFA in painting from Colorado State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions. Stefani served as Ruminate Magazine's visual art editor from 2008-2017. More of Stefani’s work can be viewed at www.stefanirossi.com



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