Quite a while ago, I read an online article [NSFW] by the art critic Jonathon Jones about Facebook’s decision to censor a 19th century painting called “The Origin Of The World” By Gustave Courbet. Apparently, this world-renowned historic painting (of a part of the human body) fell foul of their policies about nudity.
And, as an artist, it made me wonder whether the internet has made art more prudish than it used to be?
For a long time, it was accepted that nudity was an integral part of art as a whole. Before I started making art regularly, I never really quite understood why artists liked to paint nudes but I understood that it was just one of those things that “proper” artists did.
Now that I have more experience with art, I understand it a bit better – not only are nudes one of the most technically challenging things for an artist to paint or draw, but they can be used for dramatic effect in all sorts of different ways.
At the most basic level, painting a nude is a way of being shocking without actually being shocking. It can also be a way of making your art look timeless (since naked people have existed as long as humanity has) or a way to make an otherwise dull painting look more interesting. There are literally thousands of reasons why artists paint nudes.
But, one thing I noticed when I started to post my art online is that most websites either ban or restrict this type of art. In fact, when I went through a brief phase of painting nudes last year- I, to my shame, actually pre-emptively censored them on here and posted the full paintings on another blog (and on DeviantART) because I was worried that this blog would get flagged as “mature content” if I posted the full paintings here.
To give you an example of what I mean, here’s one of my self-censored nudes from last year (which was a parody of “Le Déjeuner Sur L’herbe” by Manet):
It’s the same thing with DeviantART – although I’ve posted nude paintings on there, you have to mark them as “mature content” – which reduces your potential audience quite significantly (since you have to be a member of the site to view art that has this tag). Don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of nude artwork on DeviantART – but it’s walled off from the public and only viewable by members.
Thanks to countless moral panics about risque content on the internet (and the inherent prudishness and puritanism of both British and American cultures), I can understand why many art sites may have over-cautious policies that restrict depictions of nudity.
Or, rather, I can understand why websites might restrict photographic depictions of nudity. Although photographic nudes can be art, it can be a little bit more difficult to distinguish “arty” nude photos from other types of nude photos.
On a more practical level, there are additional legal issues that have to be considered with photographic nudes (eg: permission forms etc…). So, I can understand websites placing restrictions on photographic nudes.
But, when it comes to depictions of the human body that have been created entirely by an artist (either through drawing, sculpture or painting), I don’t think that there’s any case or justification for restricting their online display whatsoever. They are works of art in the purest sense of the word – they were something that was created entirely by an artist.
Hell, even the film censors here in Britain recognise that films featuring renowned nude paintings aren’t worthy of any kind of censorship. They recognise that they are art, rather than anything else.
So, why is the internet any different?
Artistic nudes are an integral part of the western artistic tradition, but we seem to have a rather curious attitude towards them. Once a nude painting is old or famous enough, then it can be hung in a gallery and viewing it is, quite rightly, considered a “cultured” activity that should not be restricted in any way by either the state or corporations.
However, as soon as anyone makes a new nude painting in the same tradition and/or tries to post one of these historic paintings online, it’s suddenly considered worthy of censorship by a whole host of websites. For a medium that has revolutionised freedom of expression, the internet can sometimes take a curiously retrograde view of it.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂