For centuries, the human body has been a centerpiece of the arts. Through sculpture, paintings, theater and dance, the body has given the artist an outlet to display thoughts, feelings and emotions.The human figure is often depicted in classical art as nude, which many feel is done to preserve the body’s beauty. But since the advent of such mediums as television and still photography, images of the human body have been taken to a new level. These images often do not aim to capture the body as a work of art, but for other culturally taboo depictions.
But where is the line that divides the beautiful and the obscene?
Thanks to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miller v. California, we have a set of guidelines that help to determine whether something is obscene.
The first guideline, according to the ruling, is “whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.” In other words, this includes anything that can be viewed as displaying or causing an excessive interest in sex.
Second, it must be determined “whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.” This includes any work which portrays sexual conduct in an offensive manner.
Finally, the last qualification that must be met is “whether the work, taken as whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Therefore, any depiction that does not serve an academic or cultural purpose can meet this requirement. The ruling also states that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.
The portrayal of nudity in art is nothing new.
The Statue of David and the Venus de Milo are two of the most recognizable sculptures in history. Both depict nudity. Both are not considered obscene or pornographic. Instead, they are considered to be priceless works of art that capture the human body in its purest form.
Images of these sculptures are easily accessible and can even be found in text books as early as elementary school.
Depictions of sexual acts have been around for several hundred years. Erotic paintings have even been found on walls at Pompeii.
The culture of the world, especially in America, has changed since many of our classical works were created.
The rise of new mediums to display art has helped to set new standards and guidelines for nudity in art because of available technology.
As I see it, there are two types of nudity in the arts.
The first is that which captures the human body for what it is, often celebrating it and desiring to preserve its image in stone or on canvas.
The other is pornography. Pornography is different from nudity in that it serves one purpose: to help achieve sexual arousal. It does not contribute to the intellectual upbringing of society, but it is the most widely known form of nudity.
Creating and marketing pornography does not require much skill. As I see it, anyone with a Web cam can start up their own site as long as they are of legal age. However, not everyone can paint a Picasso or a Rembrandt.
Nudity is not a bad thing. It is viewed by some cultures and subgroups to be one of the purest ways to “get back to nature.”
Not all pornography fulfills all three guidelines. Photos that depict the features of a model, outside of the conduct of sexual acts, are not considered obscene.
Nudity is not limited to just sculptures and pictures. It can also be portrayed in dance, theatre and in the spoken or written word.
In some communities, theatres have refused to produce plays they view as obscene. Others, depending upon the culture of the area, put on these shows all the time.
Nudity in art is beneficial to society as long as it is done in good taste. If the product is not something you would want your mother to see, you might want to reconsider its value to society. Yes, some people have made a lot of money by allowing their bodies to be exploited for pornographic reasons, but I still cannot allow myself to view often graphic depictions of sexual acts as art.
The human body is something to be studied and acknowledged for its beauty, not desecrated in an attempt to make a few extra bucks.
News Editor Michael Bishop is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Providence, N.C.