The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality

The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality

The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality

The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality

Synopsis

Anyone who examines the history of Western art must be struck by the prevalence of images of the female body. More than any other subject, the female nude connotes 'art'. The framed image of a female body, hung on the walls of an art gallery, is an icon of Western culture, a symbol of civilization and accomplishment. But how and why did the female nude acquire this status?
The Female Nudebrings together, in an entirely new way, analysis of the historical tradition of the female nude and discussion of recent feminist art, and by exploring the ways in which acceptable and unacceptable images of the female body are produced and maintained, renews recent debates on high culture and pornography.
The Female Nuderepresents the first feminist survey of the most significant subject in Western art. It reveals how the female nude is now both at the centre and at the margins of high culture. At the centre, and within art historical discourse, the female nude is seen as the visual culmination of enlightenment aesthetics; at the edge, it risks losing its repectability and spilling over into the obscene.

Excerpt

This is not an historical survey of the female nude. Although such a history might place particular artists and images within a range of social and artistic contexts, ultimately it would still leave the category of the female nude intact, perpetuating its existence as a discrete area of art historical study, its boundaries defined by its subject matter and medium. The reader who comes to this book expecting a survey of art will therefore be surprised by certain exclusions and inclusions. A number of artists who are conventionally associated with the female nude are passed over in silence, whereas other work is considered which is undoubtedly less familiar within the canon of art history. The book is rather an attempt to examine the female nude as a means of gaining access to a much wider (and, I would argue, far more significant) range of issues concerning the female body and cultural value, representation, feminism and cultural politics, and the definition and regulation of the obscene.

Anyone who examines the history of western art must be struck by the prevalence of images of the female body. More than any other subject, the female nude connotes 'Art'. The framed image of a female body, hung on the wall of an art gallery, is shorthand for art more generally; it is an icon of western culture, a symbol of civilization and accomplishment. But how and why did the female nude acquire this status? And how does the image of the female body displayed in the gallery relate to other images of the female body produced within mass culture? These are the types of questions that are addressed in the following pages.

During the time that I have worked on this project, I have frequently been overwhelmed by the vastness of the subject and have longed for a topic with clear and limited historical parameters. The material covered in this book ranges from Plato to postmodernism, but in spite of the difficulties implicit in dealing with such a broad historical scope, I have always felt committed to addressing the more general philosophical issues raised by the female nude, as well as to introducing, at various points in the text, specific historical case-studies. Part of this commitment to more general and theoretical argument lies in the fact that, up to this time, feminist art

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