General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Have you ever had the opportunity to just look at the live naked human body? Just look?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) January 21st, 2011

An exhibit in MoMa featured nude actors [possible NSFW—private parts are pixilated out]. In the instance linked to above, two nude people stand on either side of a doorway to the exhibit, forcing people to squeeze between them if they want to get through to the exhibit. You would have to choose if you wanted to do this at all, and then which person to face as you squeeze through.

Another exhibit (definitely NSFW) is a nude woman standing on brackets and a bicycle seat attached to a white wall. The brackets hold her in the form of a cross.

It’s a museum, and the nude people are merely exhibits, which means you get to stare at them for as long as you want. Often, Americans tend to associate nudity with sex, and many are made uncomfortable.

What goes through your mind (or what would go through your mind) if you were to view this performance art? Would you think about art at all? If so, what do you think you would think about the meaning of this exhibit?

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35 Answers

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I am around a lot of naked people when I’m working, so I find that my sensitivity to nudity has been toned way down over the years. Just doesn’t phase me. I don’t think this exhibit is particularly interesting, but I wouldn’t find it shocking, or even surprising, at this piont. I’d have to see the whole exhibit to decide whether or not I feel it is actually “art,” in my own humble opinion.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Nudity doesn’t really faze me, but I don’t like the idea of “participating” in the first example. I think the violation of personal space would be an issue for many, whether or not the subjects were nude. As for number two, I tend to be more interested in how an artist has interpreted the subject, than the subject itself.

zenvelo's avatar

what comes to mind when I see naked bodies alternates between how beautiful and functional they are to how silly and absurd they can seem.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think it would be very enjoyable to me to see the exhibit, but it does not make me uncomfortable per se. Generally, I prefer to look at female bodies than male, and full naked is not my preference either. But, a woman with a beautiful body I can stare at I admit. It is not really sexual for me, it is more about the beauty. Like when I watch a dancer, I am not thinking I want to have sex with her, it doesn’t make me feel like I want to have sex with my husband, it is more like a work of art, a kind of awe. The same awe I feel listening to Andre Bocelli, or going to the alps and witnessing the majestic beauty in nature.

Also, naked distracts from the face I think. Men and women both I appreciate a beautiful face, and like to stare and take in the details of their face.

Jude's avatar

Doesn’t phase me at all (Moma and the other exhibit).

No big shocker here for me, as far as nudity. And, no, I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable being two feet away from some random naked dude or dudette. Would I be interested in seeing either exhibit? Nah. Not interested.

josie's avatar

I have always wondered why people felt uncomfortable about their natural state. Does not make a lot of sense. But oh well.
Having said that, I would probably feel better about squeezing past good looking and fit models than squeezing past a couple of fat ones.
Quality of nudity matters.

choreplay's avatar

I think it depends how you grow up. I grew up with only brothers and had an over active interest in the female body as it was such a mystery. It still thrills me. No spark or interest to the male body. But I think the female body is one of the most beautiful things these eyes of mine can behold. I guess that would overide any objection I might have to me seeing this as art or not.

absalom's avatar

Seems cool. The comments in your first link are really disheartening though.

I would think about the art, sure. This stuff is happening in a museum, so when I enter I’m probably going to be in an art-viewing mode. I can’t say sexual thoughts would be absent (and they shouldn’t be absent). I mean I’m not gonna not check out the guy’s junk, if only for curiosity, you know, but I would also try to think about the implications of reframing nudity – literally, as a doorframe, or figuratively, or whatever.

Seems kind of silly that standing around naked constitutes performance and/or art now. And that’s not me trying to undercut the performance; it’s the artist (or whoever arranged this, Abramović?) saying, I think, that the state of being nude is no longer natural by default. Or something. (I’m hardly an art critic.) Generally we’d think of wearing clothes as social performance, probably, and now we’re at a point where not wearing clothes is the performance. Nudity is that rare and that interesting today that people will actually go and pay to experience it in non-pornographic fashion. Some people will even get upset over it.

hug_of_war's avatar

Humans are ugly, I hate looking at nude bodies.

Kardamom's avatar

Performance Art is an oxymoron to me. I’ve seen plenty of nude people in drawing classes. Plenty of nude people in the locker room at school. I saw a lot of naked men on the cardiac unit of the hospital when my dad was in there last year. It seems as if old men are not particularly concerned about their junk hanging out. Didn’t see any women’s stuff during that time (2 weeks). I don’t really want to see any nude strangers.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Yes, at sex parties.

Blackberry's avatar

I would enjoy it as art without sex. I think humans look amazing.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Yes, outside of sex,art school,locker rooms skinny dipping and various flashers.I usually don’t waste much time staring.I do more fleeing than anything. XD

wundayatta's avatar

Looking at pictures of women in porn is something I do to stimulate my sexual imagination. Looking at “art” pictures of nude women moves me close to being interested in a woman’s body for it’s form, but there is still that urge to procreate that keeps me also thinking about things I might like to do with the model. In fact, I don’t know if those thoughts would ever disappear, no matter who I’m looking at, male or female, fat or thin, and in any of the other various configurations we might see.

But I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to look, just look as long as I wanted to at the shape and form and curves and surfaces of a human body, unadorned by clothes.

I find the idea of this exhibition to be fascinating. I love how forcing people to squeeze between two naked people forces us to think about all the feelings and thoughts we have about this. How many people won’t even go into the exhibit? I also love that the exhibit would give me a chance to just look. Even in the pictures, it brings up all kinds of feelings—not just prurient ones, either. It makes me think and it makes me try to figure out the relationship between what I see and what I think.

@Kardamom reminds me of a point I wanted to make. I do not consider locker rooms and life drawing to be “just” looking. In those situations you have a purpose. In one, you are getting from one state to another, and there is no opportunity to just look, without doing anything else. In a life drawing situation, your focus is on drawing or painting and not on your perceptions of the body. You are thinking about how to express that body, not just being with that body.

In fact, none of the other situations people are mentioning are situations where you can just look. Hospitals and sex parties are not about focusing on the human body in an aesthetic and live way.

Some of you seem to find the exhibit interesting, and I think @absalom‘s comments are exactly some of the issues that the artist is probably getting at. Whether or not that is the case, his point that nudity is no longer default is very interesting and has a lot of implications I doubt most of us ever think about.

It’s interesting also that some people seem to find it necessary to say that nudity doesn’t bother them. Then, in nearly the next sentence, they’ll say that they would not be interested in seeing it. Then people bring up the subject of whether it is art or not. I suppose this latter will always be a question even though we’ve disposed of it several times in the past already.

Still, I will address that. Art is a way of “seeing” things. You can look at something, and not notice it because it’s totally normal and you don’t expect it to be anything other than what it has always been. An artist can come and take that object and turn it into art by putting it into a museum or another display space. The most famous example of this is the urinal. Seeing it on the wall of a museum forces you to see it differently. It forces you to consider the aesthetics of the urinal. It makes you jump to the question of whether it is art or not, which in itself is a reaction that is a very creative response. You have to think.

Is the human body art? Is being forced to interact intimately with an unadorned human body art? Performance art? The interaction, again, forces you to deal with feelings about the body. It is a physical act. It is a dance. It is a performance, even if the bodies are just standing still, which, of course, they aren’t—although the movements might be below the threshold that you pay attention to. Go to a Buttoh dance performance if you want to see slow.

Art makes us see differently. It frames things so we can focus on them. I’ll bet there are almost none of us, these days, who have focused on a human body as we focus on a photo or a painting or a scene in nature. I know I haven’t. When I have a chance to see, I will either look furtively (because I don’t want to embarrass either the person I’m looking at nor myself); or I will look and look away; look and look away, as in when I am sitting in a hot tub with ten naked people at Esalen. If I am talking to someone, I lock my gaze on their face, and don’t look at anything else.

Art makes us experience things differently—no matter what sense we are being asked to employ. Art makes us pay attention in a new way, and it doesn’t care whether we think it is art or not (although funders care very much). Art gives us the opportunity to see things as we have never seen them before. I would love to see that show, because I’ve never had that opportunity that I asked about in the question.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Honestly, when my boyfriend is naked we do just hang around the apartment naked sometimes I do like to stare at him but that’s more because he’s male and he’s got all this weird stuff that I don’t. I think the human body shouldn’t always be the object of sexuality. What I would be curious to know is if they had people who were not considered beautiful by traditional, American standards. For example, are there exhibits featuring old people? Fat people? Scarred people? Overly tattooed and/or pierced people? Personally, I don’t think it can be considered a very good art exhibit if only one kind of person is shown.

Cruiser's avatar

Yes many times. I tend to avoid the long long look though. It’s like anything, the longer and closer you look at anything the more you begin to notice “things” and details the casual gaze doesn’t pick up like moles, hair stubble, a toe nail that isn’t quite right, a nose hair, food in the teeth…it’s all there but you just don’t see that in that first “OH LOOK* WOOF! A hot naked chick moment!

wundayatta's avatar

@KatawaGrey I wondered about that, too. In the pictures I only saw about three or four different models and they were all pretty good looking. And white (which is what I was looking for).

auntydeb's avatar

Hey @wundayatta you ask some interesting Qs!

I have trained in art and made performance work myself. I made a definite decision at the start of my research, that I would not be undressing for my work. I have no actual problem with nudity in performance, providing it is not exploitative in itself and the purpose can be at least discerned by the viewers. It is interesting that it is Marina Abramović, I wrote about her in my degree dissertation!

I am somewhat surprised to see such simplistic use of the body, in this day and age… But, having said that, as I get older, realisation dawns that many, many younger people simply haven’t seen this kind of work live. There is cultural importance in it. The discomfiture of individuals, being invited to squeeze up against naked strangers, is exactly why the piece exists. You might think, with the amount of overt sex in media and the clear sexual messages abounding around us these days, that it would be old hat. I wonder if that is exactly the reason to make this work? To absolutely expose the human body, warm, solid, three dimensional and above all close? Good on her really, I think it may be valid.

To pick up on a point you make @wundayatta, about life drawing; I don’t entirely agree with your statement: ‘In a life drawing situation, your focus is on drawing or painting and not on your perceptions of the body’. Although art education has definitely changed in recent years (here in the UK anyway), away from so much observational drawing, I personally believe that the observation itself is the most important act. It is perfectly ok to spend 99% of a life class simply looking – I’d say it might even be essential. Simply, because so many people have not actually gazed upon naked humans for any length of time, uninterrupted, without judgement.

It is a brilliant thing to do. Any drawing that then takes place, is informed by the experience of the artist. The marks made on the surface are enriched by the whole sensory awareness of the presence of nakedness. Anyone undertaking art training today, would do well to do at least 3 months of concentrated observational drawing, including from life models.

And, I totally agree with @KatawaGrey – how come all so lovely? It introduces another dimension, more questions, perhaps even more discomfort. If they were big, hairy, or elderly, how would individuals react? Hmmm, no idea. We still have to look to the paintings of Lucien Freud to see how an artist can really glory in flesh!

This art is essentially conceptual, it may or may not move or stimulate people that see it, but as mentioned earlier, I think it is valid. My own thoughts are that if I were ever able to visit MoMA, I wouldn’t especially make a beeline for this work… I prefer paintings!

wundayatta's avatar

Thank you for that answer, @auntydeb. I mean, really. Thank you! A lot of interesting stuff in it.

In particular, I’m glad to know that people who draw and paint are being taught to observe, or that observation is a huge portion of what they do. Personally, I think that not many people have taken the time to observe much of anything. We tend to believe that seeing is all that is necessary. I think there is a lot to be learned from observation, but you can’t know what you’ll learn until you do it. I’d also say there’s a difference between observing something and looking at it. Observation is a kind of attention—a presentness—that maybe only people who meditate a lot can apply.

One of the reasons I like fluther is because it allows me to observe ideas. I can poke around them like I’m looking at a rock on the seashore. There are many creatures and nooks and crannies and vegetable matter that I can bring to my attention if I observe. If I’m just looking, I never see those things. Just the thing I call a rock.

I think that when it comes to nudity, people, who mostly don’t observe in the first place, are afraid to observe. Double whammy. I am totally struck by people who say they aren’t interested. Even you. Maybe I’m just weird (ok, I am), but I’ll look at just about anything, and I’d love to observe everything, if I could. There’s a photograph on the wall right in front of me that my daughter took. It’s black and white, and I find it to be a very elegant composition. All that’s in it are three pencils. Yet the configuration of those pencils draws your eye around and around.

I don’t know if I’ve ever observed it before. Right now I’m noticing how sharp one of the pencils is where it touches another pencil. It’s as if it comes to a perfect point—almost nothingness. It’s a lot different from the other two pencil points. They are configured in a way that makes them look like they are doing something meaningful—like creating an ideogram or something. Anyhow…..

In observing a naked human, I am also engaging other senses, even without employing them. I am imagining how that muscle might feel under my hand. I am thinking about how my hand seems to have preferences for the things it touches. Of course I can’t touch, but that urge is part of the experience. Maybe there are some shapes that are highly appealing to the human eye. Maybe bodies are some of those shapes. It amazes me that so many people seem uninterested it looking. But then, how many people want to look at three pencils?

auntydeb's avatar

I didn’t say I wasn’t interested @wundayatta, only that I wouldn’t make a beeline…! I have seen very, very many naked bodies… Have prepared dead ones for burial, have drawn live ones; I marvel at those of children and dear ones whom I am privileged to see in the raw. I never take it for granted. No, the artwork itself is all I was referring to, there are more important and longer-lived pieces I would prefer to see. lol!

auntydeb's avatar

Further to ‘observation’, I believe if all children were taught to really look at the natural world, then to learn to draw it, beyond the age of about 10, more people would have a higher regard for the natural world we occupy. Not enough importance is placed on the very special task of really looking very closely! It’s that ‘world in a grain of sand’ thang… The closer we get, the more detail we see… then we find that there is a whole new world in microcosm. Examine the back of your own hand. Take a magnifying glass to it… How well do you really know it?

stardust's avatar

I think the human body is amazing. It’s beauty and functionality really astounds me.
I can’t say I’d be overly interested in either exhibit.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I would also like to point out that the model in the second picture is completely hairless except for on her head. I have no problem with some models being hairless but I think there is a very limited cross section of humanity in that exhibit. I think I would be much more interested in a photography exhibit than live nudes.

anartist's avatar

I checked out your MoMA link and my reaction is I would probably talk to the doorway couple, ask if tey were enjoying their job and if re4actions were interesting. However, I suspect they would not answer as part of the rules of the piece. The woman on the bicycle would bring lewd jokes to mind “Ever ride it without the seat?”—but the nude under the skeleton is really interesting
About me—I have drawn and painted nude models. I have been a nude model. I have visited my friend’s nudist club.

I learned something when I was modeling for art classes: “When one is on the dias [platform] one is an object, much as a vase or a bowl of fruit—but when one steps down off the dias [usually donning a robe] one is once again a person to relate to.”

I also participated as an artist at many model workshops held at a particular gallery, where as many as 5 models would pose at once . This is a very rare treat for the artist fee involved. And, during a break time the artists and models drank wine, ate cheese and chatted. Some persons were both artists and models.

At an event at this same gallery, I took part in painting some nude bodies. I hope you can see my FB link.
I have never taken part in a Spencer Tunick installation.Stephen, the model I painted, was in some Spencer Tunick installations.

I was with a lover fully dressed while he was naked, when his ex-wife and her lover stopped by for drinks.

Clothes are a statement about personal definition. Nudity is also a statement sometimes. Sometimes it is a job.

anartist's avatar

Sketches from the MOCA Models’ League sessions

RE nudist clubs. My friend introduced me to her [former] web designer [I was now her web designer] at her club. I’m a she, he’s a he. We shook hands, starkers.

anartist's avatar

There is an international flash mob event called “No Pants On Metro Day.”
I did not take part but a friend did. This event creates a startlement among the clothed when persons are not conforming to the clothing norm. See the DC version organized by DC Defenestrators here

Damndest thing is that this event is every January when it is cold!

@JilltheTooth the artist’s concept is probably more about challenging your personal space than nudity per se. Similar to the “No Pants” event

auntydeb's avatar

@anartist – good to hear your point of view; in performance, I have become a central ‘element’ of a piece and it does change perspective.

I find it ‘interesting’ to see how often the word ‘interesting’ has appeared regarding this Q!
I’d say that ‘affecting’ could be more appropriate for aspects of the experience we are all discussing. What ‘effect’ does it have on an ordinary, fully clothed person, when they suddenly encounter total nudity (hairless or not @KatawaGrey!)?

We often dissociate ourselves from the real effect of an experience, artwork or encounter, by using the word ‘interesting’ – intellectualising, rather than relating to the emotion or sensory experience. I find that interesting!

Has anyone here noticed what a naked live-art, or life-model smells like? The action of pushing past the naked bodies would involve many more senses than just vision. I have used smell in a performance/installation, rather successfully (in my terms), but as mentioned, I did not use nakedness. How do we process such challenge? Are these artworks actually trying to shock, or to inform? Nakedness itself is not the only issue, only the obvious one!

anartist's avatar

@auntydeb Normally, in an art class, one is too far from the model to smell him/her unless the model wore a pronounced scent, was very dirty, or had just had sex.

Are you planning to combine nudity and scents in a piece? How are you going to do that? I am intrigued. And intrigued with your work—any links?

Very good images of Abramovic’s Doorway piece here halfway down the page. It IS a tight squeeze through and you probably could smell these models

Do you know about the 1972 Vito Acconci piece called Seed Bed in which he lay nude under a platform visitors walked over masturbating. You could not see him but could hear him and had to imagine his nudity? No images because this piece was visually boring. It was auditory and conceptual.

auntydeb's avatar

@anartist – It was the Abromovic piece I was thinking of. Hmm, yes it obviously is/was a tight squeeze… Her work sits in the spirit of many earlier artists, who hoped to challenge with nakedness, or by drawing attention to the human body. I’m not so involved, or interested any more – for many reasons.

No, I am not going to make any more performance work, for a good time yet. The piece I referred to was made nearly 16 years ago, I was fully dressed and scent played a part as perfume was sprayed in the space I occupied. Unfortunately no links, all too old. I write now, rather than make that kind of work.

Yes, I am familiar with the Acconci work… lovely eh? Manzoni potting up his own poo, Gilbert and George using every possible exudation, secretion or excretion… No, I write now!!!!

wundayatta's avatar

What’s funny to me was that I was asking about bodies and the thread quickly went to nudity and stayed there. So many people wanted to talk about their attitudes towards nudity, not about their observation of human bodies. Plain old human bodies in the flesh.

Another funny thing—I think I mentioned it before—is that people would profess their total coolness with nudity and then they go on to say they are utterly uninterested in seeing it. Not that anyone has to be interested in any particular thing, but why are so few interested in looking at human bodies in the flesh? To me, it looks like a lot of people can’t see past the nudity to what is actually there. They focus on what isn’t there.

I’m pretty sure this is because of our culture. Most people seem to be made uncomfortable by nudity, and even those who claim to be comfortable aren’t interested, as if it is boring and there’s nothing to learn there. It doesn’t make sense to me. Could so many people truly have no problem with nudity and yet be uninterested in unadorned human bodies?

To me, that means that clothes and decorations are more important than human beings. I suspect that people are more interested in the symbolism of clothes and believe that if there are no clothes, nothing is being said except that the person is nude. Maybe trying to get attention.

I can’t say I’m surprised. What bothers me is that people don’t seem to be aware of what is going on. Sort of like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”—literally. It’s as if we all see people dressed whether they are or not. Sort of as a defense from seeing people as they are instead of as they want to present themselves.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@wundayatta: In the pictures you posted, two of the models are very similar to me young, white females lacking a fair amount of body hair so I would not be interested in seeing them simply because I see that every day. However, I would be very interested to see an exhibit featuring people who do not fit into the standard definition of beauty. An amputee, for example, or a person in the midst of of sexual reassignment surgery. Being female, I would probably be most interested in an exhibit that featured a lot of males because the male body is so fascinating to me and I have had little opportunity to study it in a non-sexual way.

I would not necessarily call these exhibits “art” though. It’s just naked people. There’s nothing revolutionary or interesting or even original about naked people. I would call it more of a biology exhibit. Now, if it was performance art, say, naked people doing everyday things that people normally do clothed, that would be a different story.

wundayatta's avatar

@KatawaGrey They do claim it’s performance art. I believe them, but it’s up to you to decide if you do. And thank you for being a person who would be interested in looking at bodies—if only male ones.

I think I would be somewhat horrified at your idea of the freak show. I’m sure that would never happen due to political correctness.

I am surprised that you wouldn’t be interested in looking at women’s bodies just because they were young and white and lacking body hair. As you know, everyone is different and there is a huge variation in female bodies. So beyond the skin hue (which probably wouldn’t be like yours anyway) there would be much you hadn’t seen. Besides with, I seriously doubt you have spent much time observing your back or shoulder blades.

For me, I would just like to be able to look at various parts of a body without wanting something or doing something to it. That’s what I have never done. I imagine watching a stomach rise and fall as the person breathes. Or studying the various curves that we find all over the body. What does a calf look like? A hip? What happens when a person is just standing there? Do any muscles quiver? Or are they completely still?

And overall, what is the effect of this body on me? What attitude does it project? What is the feeling I get from it? What emotions does it seem to be presenting. What aesthetic does it represent? Is it beautiful or not and why?

I have a very broad definition of art, so it won’t surprise anyone to hear that I think of a body as a work of art. It is both a work and the artist at the same time. In some ways, all bodies are beautiful. In other ways, only some are beautiful. How would I respond to this body, as art, right now? I’d love to be able to spend a day watching bodies.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@wundayatta: I do agree that the human body indeed, any biology is a work of art but I think it is ridiculous for someone to take credit for the art that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution are responsible for. Also, I respectfully disagree with your comment about a freak show. I think seeing a person who is unusual would be enlightening and interesting. I have never seen someone with only one leg naked, for instance. I would not think that person was a freak, I think it would be interesting to see.

wundayatta's avatar

@KatawaGrey I’m sure you would find it interesting, although I would encourage you to delve deeper into why you would find it interesting. But my point is that it would be perceived to be taking different people and putting them on stage purely because they are physically different. There will be a lot of differently abled people in the world who would not like this.

As to the definition of art—I am of the school that art is not what the artist does, necessarily. Rather, it is what the perceiver decides is art. For me, the human body is a work of art. And the “author” of the work is certainly, in part, evolution. But it is also the person, themselves. We have the power to change much about our bodies and how we express ourselves through our bodies. It’s art to me, and I understand how you might think it is not art. We just see the world in different ways.

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