Nudity in art is professional, not sexual

By Jenny White

Coming to ONU as an art minor with years of prior art experience gave me perspective regarding the policies of art classes here. The policy which surprised me the most was the sketching of the clothed body in figure studies.

Because I grew up in a family with several professional artists, including my father, I took art courses throughout most of my primary and high school education, both in and outside of school. I was exposed to the “undraped” human figure in the context of study at a very young age.

The purpose of a figure studies class is to understand human anatomy. Drawing a figure fully clothed is not a figure drawing class at all; it’s just a drawing class. It is essential to study the bone and muscular structures of the human body to render it accurately, and this simply cannot be done through viewing a clothed figure.

As an underclassman at ONU, I was informed the figure studies policy exists because having nude or partially nude models “violates the dress code.” This statement is just as illogical as saying atheism should not be discussed in classes because this is a Christian university. We are pursuing a liberal arts education, and every aspect of academia needs to and should be explored, whether it is the nude figure in an art class or the ideology of other religions.

Studying the human form is an intellectual pursuit. Part of my offense regarding the figure studies policies here is that it perpetuates the over-sexualization of American culture.

Let me be clear: the naked body is not inherently sexual. It is natural and beautiful. If there are students on this campus who cannot separate the two, or who find nakedness is an academic context to be sexual, I would venture to say they do not belong in the art program. If a model is uncomfortable with posing nude, I would say perhaps they should not volunteer to model.

Should we censor the great works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, because they feature nudity? Can you imagine the statue “David” being censored on the grounds of it being “inappropriate,” “sexual” or plainly offensive?

While this seems like a ridiculous thought, I believe students on this campus are witnessing the beginning of it through censorship of the human form.

Recently I heard of an ONU senior who presented her art show with a series of photographs featuring the muscles of shirtless men and women in sports bras. Although most faculty members supported her study, upon presenting her content, some students were offended that these images “broke dress code.”

This perceived idea of modesty (in which being fully clothed equals modesty) simply is not applicable to art. The policy of Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts, summarizes the views I believe our campus should adopt in regards to the study of the human form:

“We have chosen in the art department at Gordon College to work respectfully with the human figure attempting to bring honor and glory to God in the process. We base this, in a Christian context, on a time-honored professional practice, holding the belief that the human form is the crowning achievement of God in creation – worthy of our expert knowledge … In our tradition as artists, it is seen as the linchpin of our practice of visual knowledge. If you can accurately and expressively draw, paint or sculpt the human form, you can draw anything.”

3 Comments

  1. Wow….as a former Olivet art major (’96) and now a marketing professional, I’m saddened by the narrow-mindedness of this article. There is a CLEAR lack of understanding as to who helps fund our great school and the constituency we need to cater to in order to get our fantastic students and Christian supporters. Also, in case you didn’t realize it, your argument works AGAINST you in reference to nudes and sexuality when you say ‘students who can’t separate the two shouldn’t take art classes’ at ONU. Do you suppose you could also say, ‘students who want to draw nude models should attend a different school’? Maybe Gordon, for example.

    1. I fail to see how this article is narrow-minded, Matt Moore. Pretty much every student here knows that we are pleasing an older and more modest constituency so I’m not sure why you would assume the author doesn’t know this too. I think the “CLEAR lack of understanding” is coming from you. Considering Glimmergalss is a student newspaper aimed at student readers, it makes perfect sense for them to bring up issues that the students question. I’m saddened by the fact that somebody who graduated from a university doesn’t even seem to comprehend how news works.

  2. I think based on the Nazarene principles in which the university if founded upon, the current dress code could be more strict than it currently is. As far as the art department, unless the code violations are taking place on campus grounds, then I can see how the censorship may apply. Some ways to compromise on the issue, is to recommend to folks coming into to take this specific human figure class from a different university. Or maybe hold classes of this nature off-campus. Let’s try to be more proactive instead of reactive. It sounds like you have some valid concerns, now build a plan and attempt to make changes.

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