When discussing the Renaissance, one must discuss its art, and one cannot escape a key feature of Renaissance art: nudity. Next week we will be looking at Renaissance art in more depth, and we (as individuals) have to answer this question before we can evaluate its relation to a Christian worldview.
We started by discussing the idea of the purpose of art. How do we know when art is good, and when it is not? I am no art critic, and am not the person to offer a complete answer to that question. But I suggested that good art, among other things, reveals truth to us, be it truth about God, mankind, ourselves, or the world He made. We agreed also that there nothing is true for any reason other than that, ultimately, God exists. This led to other questions.
- If non-Christians can arrive at some truths because these truths reside in the world God made, (1+1=2, we should practice generosity, etc.) can non-Christians reveal truth in the art they create?
- If they can reveal truth, can we say that non-Christians can paint “Christian” art? Would this mean that any art that reveals truth can be considered Christian?
Most students reached no definite conclusions on these questions, but I hope they enjoyed considering them.
We understand that creation reveals something of the Creator, but we may not often consider that the body itself is also a form of revelation. In fact, the body may reveal more about God than other aspects of creation because we are made in His image (though of course this should be taken in an exclusively, or even primarily physical sense).
We began the discussion with looking at the three things that make movies objectionable: violence, language, and sexuality. Of these three, what bothers us most? The students and I all agreed that sexuality was most problematic, but why? Answers do not come easily to this question, we “feel” it more than we can explain it. But we gave it shot and concluded that . . .
- Violence bothers us less because we understand it is not real. No one really gets shot, blown up, or what have you. The unreality of at least much of movie violence creates a comfortable distance for the audience.
- Language may be offensive, but we understand that some people do talk in those ways, and in some places anyway, that language has a public context. When see it the context of a movie (a public forum), we don’t notice a disconnect.
- Sexuality/nudity often involves situations where it is inappropriate, but even when shown in a proper husband/wife context, we instinctively understand that the movie makes something public that should be private. Movie violence “keeps its distance” but with sexuality the movie moves right in close — too close. We understand that movies are not real, but there remains an undeniable reality to the displays of nudity we see in movies. Unlike violence, the people really are nude, or really are kissing, etc. someone. Besides, even if within the movie the situation involves a husband/wife, they are not husband/wife in reality. Even if they were–why should we see it?
Having said this, none of the students objected to the concept of nudity in art per se, and again we should ask why most object to it in movies but not in art. What is the difference?
Students agreed that since God made the body and seeks to redeem and glorify the body, the physical world itself becomes worthy of awe and reverence. The Incarnation testifies to the same truth. But while they agreed that nudity per se could be appropriate, we would not want to see the painting of our next door neighbor in the nude. With this observation, we came back to the idea of the need to have a separation from direct reality. Nudity can allow us to contemplate the reality of the body in the abstract, but we do not want to contemplate the nudity of our neighbors.
We took the conversation to a different level when we asked, “Could Jesus be portrayed nude?” After all, Jesus was and is fully Man as well as fully God. Some portrayals of the crucifixion have him nearly nude. Could one show Him nude in a more glorified context? How do we react to this painting, called “The Resurrection,” done by Ed Knippers?
His artist statement is here, for those interested.
The first time many see his art, they react uncomfortably. Is this because we are uncomfortable with physicality, with bodies in general, our own humanity? Or, does the art cross a line, for here we deal not with an abstract body, but a particular one?
I enjoyed hearing the students discuss these difficult, but important questions.