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Paint Brush Nudity

Paint Brush Nudity

The Noteworthiness of Nude Art 

By Ben Wexler 

The naked man carved out of stone that you giggled at as a child might be of greater significance than you think. 

Nakedness was frowned upon in early civilizations. That changed when sculptors were inspired by Greek athletes who competed naked to show off their physique and glorify Zeus. [1] Nudity portrayed confidence and even moral excellence, with the Olympics and battles as the primary spectacles where nakedness was displayed. The resulting artworks highlighting this brawn focused on showing the ideal rather than the realistic. [2] 

Art featuring nude women in ancient Greece came later, with figures symbolizing fertility rather than sexual implication. Believed to have life-giving capabilities, Aphrodite was often depicted. [3] Ancient Eastern civilizations reflected similar ideals—Indians in the 1st century carved tiny erotic female hand statues that symbolized fertility. [4]  

Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”  

The Bible’s view of humans as dominant over the earth and intricately designed has inspired artists to master the human figure. Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” a fresco painting sprawling across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, remains one of the most iconic nude works. 

The Statue of David, by Michelangelo, towering nude over the masses in Florence, Italy. Photo from

The rise of early Christianity put a halt to nude art, with nakedness only seen in works depicting stories such as Adam and Eve and David and Bathsheba. The nakedness there portrayed shame and judgement, a contrast from what the Greeks thought about nudity. [5] 

Artists intentionally use nudity to surprise viewers and connect them with ideas you might only find when looking at a nude figure. In his article on the importance of nudity in art, Nick Hilden described how the art “reminds us that the human body can be both beautiful and grotesque, innocent and sexualized, free and controlled, and it forces us to consider where our own beliefs fall in these spectrums.” [6] 

Contemporary art introduces a grey area in the distinction between realistic art and pornography. Straying away from Greek ideas, contemporary artists show what’s real using unexpected models and focusing on emotion. Contemporary nudes nullify societal expectations that continually alter the view of our bodies and the bodies of others. [7] 

When asked about art directly involving sexual themes, Jenny Schlenzka, executive artist director at Performance Space New York, said, “It’s not pornographic because it’s not meant to be arousing, but there’s a pornographic element in how it’s explicit.” [8] While pornography is meant to arouse, art is meant to be appreciated and draw insight. Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to decide how they will engage with art that borderlines pornography.  

Nude depictions impact viewers in obscure ways. They portray both the realistic and unrealistic and remind us of our own individual uniqueness. 


1. Wyatt, A. (2016, August). Five things you didn’t know about the ancient olympics. SUU 

See Also

2. Sorabella, J. (2008, January). The nude in western art and its beginnings in antiquity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

3. Ibid. 

4. University of Dundee. (2015). The nude in art – a brief history. University of Dundee. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Hilden, N. (n.d.). Why is nudity important in art? Artzine. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Cohen, A. (2018, April 3). What’s the line between art and pornography? Artsy. 

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