Another from Old World Swine;
I remember the first time I sat in a figure drawing class and worked
from a real, live, nekkid model. I was a little nervous before, as were
probably a lot of us wet-eared art undergrads. I don’t know how
everyone else responded when the young lady dropped her bathrobe, but I
expect their experience wasn’t too different from my own; there were a
few moments of awkward ogling, a few moments of stern and studied
pretense at ignoring the obvious, and then – something else. I began to
think about how I could wring a good drawing out of the pose. As I
started to draw, my brain began to break the model down into her
component elements… line and form, light and shadow, muscle and bone.
Within a minute, and for the remainder of the class, she registered no
more on my libido-meter than a clay pot or a fern. And I was not nearly
such a paragon of virtue and restraint as I am now.
Not everyone has had the benefit of such a class, of course, but it
did demonstrate to me in unmistakable terms the very real difference
between appreciating the beauty of the human form and what might be
called the Look of Lust. I had the great privilege of having my view of
the female form somewhat redeemed and baptized long before I knew
anything of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In this work, he makes
brilliantly clear that the mere repression of lustful thoughts is not
enough, and may even be unhealthy in the long run. We must learn –
through the help of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of the Church, the
sacraments and prayer – to change the way we perceive the human body.
We must have our thoughts redeemed. We should work toward being able to
thank God for the breathtaking beauty of the human body, and through
giving thanks and praise to the Creator, disarm and disable Lust.
The idea is not to cage our lust, but to drag it out into the light where it can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Not that nudity is something to be treated lightly. We are fallen,
after all. There is nudity – even under the pretext of art – that is
wholly inappropriate. If it is intended to excite lust, or if it in
fact does so, then it is unhealthy.
How do we tell the difference? Obviously, this is a matter of
judgment. For one aware of his own weakness, one sincerely committed to
trying to please God in everything, one familiar with Original Sin, one
who has been trained to respect the dictates of conscience… a
certain amount of confidence in personal judgment is possible, and can
be developed. In the words of St. Augustine, "Love God and do as you
For one lacking these things, it may be impossible, though I believe
that even based only on natural law one can tell the difference between
a painting that is basically an act of praise and homage, and one in
which the body is displayed like a piece of meat in a butcher shop
window. In the first case, the viewer’s response is "Yes, that is
beautiful – God does great work". In the latter case, the viewer’s
response is "I want that".
In short, if you are truly concerned about lust in regard to viewing
nude figures in art, then the battle is half won already. Trust your
judgment, and be watchful of your own thoughts. Where truly great,
classical, historically significant art is involved, I don’t think even
children need be cocooned and shielded as much as one might think.
Most children likely have a much saner and simpler response to these
things than we give them credit for. If you have concerns for kids,
look things over for yourself first, but don’t get too wound up over
them seeing this or that body part, in the right context.