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Porn and Naked Art: What’s the Difference?

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December 10, 2013 by mattfradd


An image from the Sistine Chapel

An image from the Sistine Chapel

A question I am often asked when speaking on the topic of pornography is ‘what’s the difference between nude art and pornography?’

A reasonable question.

Some have gone so far as to argue that it may not be possible to portray the naked body in art without offending its dignity.

In this post I want to offer the beginning of an answer and then ask you to help me flesh out (pun intended) the answer.

It seems to me that the difference between porn and religious art is, in a word, the intention; both of the artist/pornographer and the viewer.

The Artist

We may begin by asking, what is the intention of the pornographer? To arouse wonder and awe at the beauty and dignity of the human person? Hardly. Simply put, it seems to me, the intention of the pornographer is is to portray a woman (usually) in such a way in order to arouse lust in the viewer.

“Lust,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (2351).

What about the artist? Michelangelo, say? Was is his intent? Was it not to reveal the dignity of the person and give glory to God?

When I was in the Sistine Chapel a few Easters back I remember, looking upon the nudes painted there, feeling tremendous wonderment and reverence.

The Viewer

What about the viewer? Well, theoretically, at least, it’s possible—and I’m of course not recommending it—that a person look at, say, a Playboy centerfold and feel nothing but pity for a woman who has is evidently unaware of her tremendous worth.

On the other hand it is possible that a person could waltz into the Sistine Chapel and lust over Michelangelo’s nudes.

The goal, it seems to me, is getting the intention of the artist and that of the viewer in sync with the goodness and glory of the human person.

Dr. Michael Waldstein, a renowned scholar on John Paul II’s teachings, had this to say regarding legitimate nude art:

“Some images [of the naked body] push us to concupiscence, others do not. . . . Going to the Sistine Chapel and looking at the naked women on the ceiling is for this reason a very different experience than watching a pornographic movie. It is not presumption, but the experience of many men, that one can look with purity at Michelangelo’s nudes and take delight in their beauty.

Michelangelo himself must have looked at his naked models in a pure way in order to be able to paint nudes in that pure way. . . . Of course, if one does feel a slide into concupiscence when looking at Michelangelo’s nudes, it is a good idea to look away. That need to look away should also be a trumpet blast for recognizing . . . that one is in need of a serious transformation.”[1]

Join the Discussion

1. What are your thoughts?

2. Can naked art ever by justified, why/why not?

3. How do you distinguish between pornography and the art in the Sistine Chapel?

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58 thoughts on “Porn and Naked Art: What’s the Difference?

  1. Joey says:

    Great post Matt! I think it’s important to look at the intention behind the artwork as well. Pornography exists for profit and is specifically aimed at evoking erotic feelings and actions in the viewers to accomplish this task. Beautiful nude art, on the other hand, seems to exist to portray the beauty of the human person and human sexuality. Michelangelo created art for one reason, while Hugh Hefner had different aims. Does that sounds right?

    • Rachel says:

      Exactly. Theres nothing wrong with a naked body in its self. We were all born naked, God just left it to us to make our own clothes. However He didnt create us to be comodities. He didnt create our bodies to be nothing more than a product to be sold by business men. i had a discussion with a friend of mine who is in favour of strip clubs and sees nothing wrong with stripping as a job becasue her opinion is “at the end of the day, its only a job.” So i said to her (with alot of love) “yeah but theres a big difference between say selling coffee at starbucks to make a living and taking your clothes off because and give sexual gratification to some sweaty bloke who has paid you to.” To my great dismay she said, “no there’s not because at the end of the day you’re still only selling a product.” Sorry but MY body is not a product, and niether is anyone else’s. we are all beautiful children of God.

  2. Rachel says:

    In art school we were required to attend life drawing classes, i.e. the classes where you draw a naked person from real life. At first I was rather nervous about seeing a live naked person but when it came to it and the naked gentleman was there before your eyes you realised there was nothing rude about studying his body and drawing him. I wondered if it woud be different for the boys when it came to a time where we had to draw a lady, however the boys prooved me wrong as they were very mature and polite and saw the lady as a human being and her body was natural and she was who she was. There was another time we had an old gentleman who had these terrible cuts all up his legs and it was terrible to look at. We asked the man about them and he said they were nothing to worry about he just had a fall taking things up to his loft. So we looked at all these different people of all shapes, sizes and with all sorts of human imperfections. What a cool experience it was to study the human body in its glory in such a way. However, its impossible to look at porn and feel that way. Its plastic, false and theres nothing ‘human’ about it at all.

    • John says:

      There’s tons wrong with naked bodies. If the human bod wasn’t shameful, people wouldn’t spend so much time covering it. If I was getting out of a shower nude and a girl my age ACCIDENTALLY saw me, would I just smile and let her look upon my Awe-Inspiring Beauty and Wonder? No! I would scream, rush back into the bathroom and probably cry of embarrassment and shame. I suspect it’s very hard for a married couple, on their honeymoon, to learn how to disrobe in front of each other so easily and freely, because we’ve trained ourselves to never, ever be naked in front of anyone else, ever. The threat of Lust is so real and so constant, it’s impossible to view a naked body without lusting anymore.

  3. Jim says:

    As a child I was exposed to pornography at 7 yrs. old, a very young age, by a not so disciplined little boy next door who had urged me to look and see what he had found in his parents room. And, although I could not articulate it back then, in seeing the first nude women ever I could still recall my first reaction as simply awe and wonder of how beautiful this figure was. Now, of course the first image I had turned to was more of an “artistic” shot, (by the way, I probably would not condone any such practice in photography) the woman was simply standing by a bed looking down at the floor. But it wasn’t until the boy urged me on to turn the page and see the actual acts done with the body that I think really started my false notions of women as objects and not as persons.

    I would like to think that looking at nudes with purity was very much like my first reaction as a child, which is with beauty. Could it possibly be the provocative positions the body is placed that can slide a person towards concupiscence? Leonard Porter for example has such a classical way of painting, that the reaction to Michelangelo naked bodies you wrote about can be also found in Leonard’s figure paintings as well. But growing up within the sexualized M-TV generation, I dare not dwell on such paintings too long; I still have a long way to go.

  4. Raf says:

    Great post; I think the fact that the nude human body is so often the subject of art speaks volumes about the profound beauty and mystery of man and woman made in God’s image. It comes to no great surprise that people should take this sacred object and desecrate it for crass purposes, most obviously in pornography but even the way the body is used throughout modern culture, i.e. advertising.

  5. for me it is simple, pornography makes you sin and in the other hand an painting not really if you know how to appreciate the art within.

  6. noel says:

    It is good also to take into account that not all great nude paintings are pure art. Goya, for example, painted beautiful nudes but some were sensually depicted. There, too, are nude photographs that are carefully composed and do not stir sensuality readily.
    One could say that if a graphic portrayal of the human body readily stirs sensuality, it is pornographic. The stress here is on the portrayal. Meanwhile, if authentic nude art stirs sensuality, the problem lies in lust.

  7. Dave Hahn says:

    I remember John Paul saying something in his writings that art paintings is different than photography. That Photography was using the body and that art was only a portrayal of the body in art. Not sure if that answers the question but it may lead to something. Personally I think if the intent is to arouse the viewer than it is pornography. Also if it does not lead one to think of the spousal meaning of the body than it is not proper.

  8. Megan says:

    I believe that Joseph Campbell has a very great way of identifying between art and pornography especially in religion. Now please know that I absolutely do not stand for Joseph Campbell’s beliefs or everything that he teaches. I think he is really off the ball on many things (I had to read him for a mythology class), but when I came across his section on art, I found it very insightful especially for a Catholic viewer since he uses Aquinas. Here’s an excerpt (it’s not perfect but it gets us there):

    “An essential detail here is the word ‘intelligible,’ by which our understanding of the Way of Art is extended to include an order of beauty beyond the immediately sensible, which is of matter beyond perception, purely conceptual, apprehensable by the intellect only, and yet disposed for an esthetic end. The word is from the Greek aisthetikos (‘perspective’; aisthanesthai, ‘to perceive, to feel’) and so has to do with sense experience, but also with feeling. So that ‘proper art, in Joyce’s view, whether of sensible or intelligible matter, rests in esthetical, disinterested perception, apprehension, and feeling, whereas ‘improper’ art is in the service of interests other than the esthetic – for example, ethics, economics, sociology, or politics.

    Improper art is of two orders: art that excites desire for the represented object, and art that arouses loathing or fear of it. Art that excites desire, Joyce calls pornographic. All advertising art is in this sense pornographic, since it is intended that the viewer should desire to possess in some manner the object represented. Portraits are pornographic if they are no more that likenesses, intended rather to relate the mind in memory to the person (or animal) portrayed than to hold the eye and sentiments to the picture itself, within its frame. Likewise, a landscape that is of interest rather as the advertisement or souvenir of some noteworthy place than as an esthetically engaging organization of sensible matter within a bounded field is in Joyce’s sense pornographic….

    All ‘improper’ art, whether pornographic or didactic [causing fear or loathing], thus moves one, or at least is meant to move one, to action, either with desire toward the object, or with fear or loathing away from it. It is therefore, as Joyce says, kinetic (Greek, kinetikos, from kinein, ‘to move’), whereas ‘proper’ art is static (Greek, statikos, ‘causing to stand’). We speak of esthetic arrest. One is not moved to physical action of any kind, by held in sensational (esthetic) contemplation and enjoyment. In Joyce’s words: ‘The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”

    “‘Aquinas says,’ states Sephen Dedalus, “Ad pulcritundinem tria requiruntur, integritas, consonantia, claritas. I translate it so: Three things are needed for beauty, wholeness, harmony, and radience.’

    Integritas (wholeness): to appreciate the effect of this principle, the function of which is to create an enclosed hermetic field of self-defined and self-defining, impractical relationships, one may regard any collection of objects whatsoever, say a clutter of things on a table, and in imagination put a frame around them. Everything within the frame is now to be regarded as one thing, not as a collection of unrelated objects of various use, but as the related parts of a composition. Those parts, say, of the table or of any of the other objects that are outside the frame are now ‘other,’ and what is within the frame is one thing. ‘You see it,’ says Stephen, ‘as a whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas.’

    Consonantia (harmony): What is now important, and all that is now important, is whether this object or that is here or there: the relationship of part to part, of each part to the whole, and of the whole to each of its parts. This is the esthetic instrument: rhythm, consonantia. The parts may be objects, colors, words and their sounds, musical intervals, architectural features and proportions. ‘You pass,’ says Stephen, ‘from point to point, led by its formal lines; you apprehend it as balanced part against part within its limits; you feel the rhythm of its structure.’

    Claritas (radieance): When the rhythm has been fortunately struck, one is held to it in delight, with no sense of any other use for it. ‘You see that it is that thing which it is and no other thing,’ declares Stephen. ‘The radiance of which [Aquinas] speaks is the scholastic quidditas, the whatness of a thing. This supreme quality is felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination. The mind in that mysterious instant Shelley likened beautifully to a fading coal. The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani, using a phrase almost as beautiful as Shelly’s, called the enchantment of the heart.’

    And this surely is the justification of art, its healing force and its wonder: that beauty apprehended should have this power to illuminate the senses, still the mind, and enchant the heart.”

    From The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by Joseph Campbell

  9. The first thing that came to mind was Matthew 18:9: “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” I agree with you wholly about intent; both of the artist and the viewer and I feel that it takes a bit of discernment in the way of moral or immoral. If you can look on the art of Michelangelo with reverence and respect for the beauty and dignity of the bodies God created but I cannot–I look on them with lust or sinful thoughts–then which of us should rather pluck out our eyes?
    But the same doesn’t go for pornography which isn’t out for that by any means and it shows a sexual act which I don’t believe in any circumstance should be shown outside of the marital chambers of man and wife. Perhaps it’s possible for a person to look on pornography with awe and reverence but the intent of the pornographer–as you said– is to incite lust.
    So all in all I would say again, discernment. If you know that something you are looking at was not meant to bring reverence and adoration to God–even if it is artistic or pretty–then I would say avoid it. If you are not sure, avoid it until you are. And I say “even if it is artistic or pretty” because they have commercials and photography filled with women in beautiful make-up and clothing or lack thereof surrounded by beautiful backdrops and elements which are pleasant to look at but you know that these things are meant for carnal things, material things i.e. Victoria’s Secret, etc.

  10. Sally Knows says:

    When Adam and Eve were created and lived in nakedness, without sin, there was no form of inappropriate sexual pleasures. When they partook of the “fruit” of the knowledge of good and evil, they recognized their nakedness. Why? because they introduced sin into their lives because God told them not to partake of that tree.

    Only one mandate, and they broke it. They recognized that their relationship with God would be changed, so they clothed themselves. Covering their bodies represented the fact that they knew sin entered into their hearts and lives. It is, at that point where nakedness became sinful aside from the relationship in a marriage, or the innocents (children, those who are unable to understand etc.).

    I have never understood the artwork of nakedness, and do not see the purpose for it. Why does anyone need to look upon another, whether a picture or in person, for the sake of looking at the body without clothing? There is an arousal that happens which either embarrasses or entices…what purpose has it ever served to tell people to clothe themselves while stepping into a church which contains a painting/pictures of nakedness?

    How can we tell young people not to look at Playboy or Hustler, or pornographic movies and other materials, then turn around and show them pictures of the Sistine clearly showing nakedness in a supposedly innocent way? The time for complete innocence was lost in the Garden!

    There may have been a purpose many years ago but without a doubt, naked portraits/painting turns the natural switch on. I am embarrassed when I see the pictures, especially those with adults and children depicted in the same picture/painting.

    Clearly, there was a large number of people back in Jesus’ day that included bath houses, and living lives without any consideration or guiltiness involved. This led to “unnatural” relationships as the Bible points out.

    Over the years, we have come to a place and time where we’ve accepted that nakedness without one’s spouse leads to unholy relationships and then eventually led to pornography somewhere along the way. Sadly, the result of these events mean there are women and children, even men who are caught up in human trafficking for sleazy sexual desires. The Church I attend is addressing these issues and if the CHURCH, as God envisioned it, would come together and acknowledge the negative outcomes of sexual pleasures outside of marriage, we would find that there are far fewer incidences of serious acts upon victims.

    To me this topic is simply a contradiction in what we say…there is a natural response which does lead to other forms of enticing a person to engage in inappropriate fantasy leading even further to actual sexual activity. The problem is, few people would ever agree that the naked paintings ought to be removed and the art world would call it all a travesty…but the real travesty is those who are addicted to porn and therefore have few natural desires.

    • Chantal says:

      I know that God is good and what He creates is good, true and beautiful. However Satan always tries to copy, degrade and destroy what God has made. So if we know something to be wrong then the opposite of it is good. If there is a wrong way to portray and represent the body, sexuality and sex, then there must be a right way to portray and represent the body, sexuality and sex. My mind and understanding may be clouded because we live in a fallen world but IT must be there. We need to find it and search it. Nude portraits are a part of art as Rachel said. By painstakingly painting and representing the details there is an appreciation for amazing creation of the body. I find it very telling what Jim mentioned regarding seeing the picture of a naked woman and being awed. The image was distorted when the body was degraded.

  11. Frances says:

    I agree with Dave Hahn – if the image does not lead one to think of the spousal meaning of the body, then it is pornographic and leading people to seeing the person as an object to be used for sexual gratification; or the person seeing it is not thinking of the spousal meaning of the body, but in a selfish, lustful way. In this way of seeing the spousal meaning of the body (unitive and reproductive – life giving), I think one can see the body of another and see with the eyes of a child, who sees with the purity of a heart not spoiled by lust. A man can see a woman as someone different from himself, he may see her beauty and the outwards parts of her body that represent the meaning of her life – to nurture life and to be receptive to the gift of a man. For a woman, she sees the man’s body and she may see the parts of the man’s body which show his life meaning – to be giving. In this way, I think people can see the body without lust, but with wonder (just like a child). But in the end, the person still HAS to be striving not to use others, but to be a gift to others by understanding their own personal dignity and the meaning of their life and body which are inextricably linked.

  12. Blanche says:

    Society has its rules, norms, and taboos. Especially during the medieval and up until the modern period of Western history, sex was a taboo. People are aware of it but it was a thing nt to be discussed openly and publicly but was rather confined in private circles. However, sex is an elan vital – natural impulses or libido. What sustains life is the elan vital.

    But, as Nietzsche said, culture, religion, and tradition tend to suppress the elan vital – the life impulse – because it can disrupt the order and codes of conduct which crystallizes in society as time goes by. But, because we are humans and we really can never suppress our natural impulses, we look for “channels” to satisfy our natural desires. One of these “channels” is art.

    Art can be a socially acceptable way of expressing our elan vital. Nude paintings express the elan vital of sexuality. When people look at a piece of nude painting they feel awe and rapture and admire it because it helped them release their inhibited libido. Some philosophers say that it is divine contemplation but its actually just the release of pent-up libido in a socially acceptable/refined manner.

    Pornography on the other hand is still the way of releasing or expressing libido but in a more direct and “no holds barred” way. But pornography can still be an art because it shows the process of the sexual act. There is such a thing as the art of sex. In ancient India sex is religious. Kama Sutra was even written by a Brahmin – a priest.

    But I think both nude art and pornography are ways of expressing sexuality. Some people think pornography is evil because the word “pornography” has too many negative notions attached to it – for the people who think that it is solely evil. Yes they can call nude art as not bad but its still serves the purpose of releasing libido the same way as pornography does.

  13. KD says:

    I think this will help: “Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God … ” (CCC 2502)

  14. Katie says:

    I love nude art. I think that our bodies are beautiful and I reject any images that make me feel lustful, but only embrace the nudes that remind me that God made us all beautiful and unique, and he made us creative enough to express that beauty in art… and God did not make anything that is evil, it is the twisting of Gods creation and intention that makes something evil. Going ‘off track’ from the natural God given law is what evil comes from. So I don’t see nudity as a bad thing, or our bodies as a bad thing. HOWEVER. We are held accountable! I would not put a nude up in my house, no matter how innocent it may be to my family, because I don’t know if someone will come over and feel lustful over that picture because I could be held accountable for that sin and any destruction of morality or innocence! As well as creating nude art… how accountable are we for another persons sin in relation to our creation?

  15. I think, in a certain way, that clothing is a reminder of our sinfulness, our fallen nature. There is a certain insecurity about it, it separates us from each other, we wear it because there is legitimate danger that we will be abused, objectified. Nudity may work to a degree for isolated communities (jungle tribes), but as communities got larger and virtuous living became more refined, it became impossible to maintain. But, I think that original innocence, that ability not to have to hide anymore for fear of being objectified; where persons are seen and accepted with an indifference to whether they are clothed are not; it is this which art is trying to come in touch with and express, and does so within the confines of a special environment, an atmosphere where in respect is presumed. The one who uses art as pornography disrespects that environment, just as someone who goes to a nudist beach to voyeur. In pornography has no such intention; it just wants us to get in touch with our baser desires and stay there without calling us to something higher.

  16. Juan says:

    Great post, and the question remains open, just like Pope John Paul II said in his remarkable catechesis on the subject.

    From my point of view, boundary is in the “reality check”, drawing is limitless, meanwhile video and pictures are way too close to the limit. We artists should be aware that sometimes purity and beauty of viewers souls are in our hands, literally.

    As catholic and artist that enjoys drawing the beauty of female human body, I think that borderline is drawn on the reality check. Drawing and paintings are not offensive in almost every case.
    Take for example Gustave Courbet’s “L’origine du monde”; much as it is offensive/provocative for some viewers, it can’t be more offensive/provocative that the same pose and composition taken on digital camera or video.

    I draw live models and I also draw from pictures previously taken, and I rather work on pictures taken on my models, then “translate” them to a painting and show everybody the micracle of that natural beauty that we can contemplate and praise the Lord for that.

    Let me finish my comment with this: “Sometimes, a selfie can be more artistic than a 100k dollars production shooting”.

  17. Ann says:

    Though nude art and pornography are the same in terms that they both show a naked human body. What differentiate them is not how they were being perceived but how they were being used. We all knew what we are perceiving whenever we saw a naked human body as part our original sin with Adam and Eve. I believe that our sin does not originate from our human body but comes in our mind, by the way we think of it. Our human body is like a material/object that is a subject of our mind through eyes whether real or unreal. Being a material itself, it cannot change what it is but our mind can. God has already gave us a law on this for us to follow in order to live a beautiful life here and on the next life.

  18. James says:

    Like Rachel, above, I am an art school graduate, and I can tell you that there is a completely different intention in producing nude art than in producing pornography. When we drew and painted naked models, we were quite aware of their humanity, as Rachel said, we did not get aroused or produce art that was intended to cause arousal. We were studying and depicting the body just as we did other phenomena of nature, including plants, water, the sky, light, etc. It was all the same principle.

    I would extend the issue to say that when it comes to concupiscence, it barely matters whether the person is naked or not. Many an art school guy has had the experience of having to stare at and draw a pretty good-looking naked woman for three hours while being distracted by a female classmate in a cute dress.

    I also once taught a college summer class where most of the girls were skimpily clad due to the heat and attracted little attention from the guys. However, when one young woman walked in each day covered neck to ankles, shoulder to wrist, and wearing a colorful hijab, every male head snapped around to look at her. Even covered as she was, you could tell she was stunning, and I’m sure she aroused as much lust in some of her male classmates as the nearly naked girls did, if not more.

    So, anyone who’s got the thoughts will find a focus for them, whether naked or clothed.

  19. […] Porn & Naked Art: What’s the Difference? – Matt Fradd […]

  20. hopey says:

    It is interesting that the Council of Trent had something to say about, in the least, The Last Judgement, which also evoked the covering of the figures:
    “The genitalia in the fresco, referred to as ‘objectionable,’ were painted over with drapery after Michelangelo died in 1564 by the Mannerist artist Daniele da Volterra, when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art.[1] The Council’s decree in part reads:

    Every superstition shall be removed … all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust… there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God. And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop.[6]”

    It is interesting that these drapes were removed in 94, I believe, as part of the restoration. It is also fitting in my book, that this restoration would coincide with the Sexual Revolution.

    Those are observations. He didn’t want to do The Last Judgement and it is claimed that one priest objecting to the naked characters got his fact put on one of the most despicable ones in hell; one with serpent eating genitalia.

    I would rather see them with the drapes but also know we are in a time that bothers little with what is right/wrong, what could lead others to sin, etc.

    A fantastic artist he was.

  21. aslanmike says:

    Just an observation: When showering at the gym after a workout, most of the older men appear comfortable with their nakedness. All of the younger men keep themselves in towels until they’ve put on their pants. My hunch is that most younger guys, sadly, have learned that the body is primarily a sexual object–their own included–and therefore have shame. Might we blame an addiction to pornography for this attitude?

  22. kmtierney says:

    I think part of it is the “story” that is being told. The nudes in the Sistine chapel, the point of the painting isn’t that they are naked. It just happens to be how things were. They are trying to tell God’s story in relation to man, and during those times man was naked.

    Now drawing models naked just for the sake of drawing can be a bit more difficult, but can still be understood from the point of wishing to portray something as is. In theory, this could also be done on television. But experience tells us otherwise, and John Paul II treated the subject with extreme skepticism as well for the reasons others mentioned: impure art can move people to action, and television is a medium uniquely suited to providing stimulation to the brain, and normally not of the highest impulses.

    What’s the story pornography wishes to tell? How the body can be used for gratification. How we need to divorce the body from the person. That parts are more important than the whole. While someone could theoretically look at playboy and feel nothing but shame for the women, they should also feel a true sense of revulsion that the body would ever be portrayed in such a way, and no moral person would ever partake of such a situation. (I think this element of the discussion is really absent when we discuss nudity in art)

    Porn also wishes to divorce sexuality from the spiritual and mystical element of things. It looks to obscure the story God is telling (that sex is a gift of self that is ordered towards procreation while also being no less ordered towards the union of spouses, which is meant to bring about closer union with God and the individual as well), instead portraying sex as a mere biological release, or as one commenter said, porn and art are alike in that both release libido. No Christian worth his salt can look at it that way.

    When you look at it from this perspective, nudity in religious imagery and pornography aren’t in any way alike, since one (religious imagery) tries to push you towards the whole story (union with God) while the other tells you absolutely nothing (since anything focused on the self is ultimately empty and worthless in the grand scheme of things.)

  23. MAM says:

    I was also an art student and I disagree that there is “good” nudity and “bad” nudity or it’s the intention of the artist that matters. All nudity in art is gratuitous. You don’t need to show genitalia to show the beauty of the human body. Hence, the convenience of the “fig leaf”. Our bodies are wired to be aroused when viewing complete nudity whether we like it or not and whether we admit it or not. Granted some people are more easily aroused than others. But no matter what the intention of the artist, most adults will be either be aroused at some level or embarrassed at some level when viewing nudity. This is why we wear clothes. This is due to concupiscence and there is just no way around that fact. I am female and an artist and I do not paint or view complete nudes. It isn’t necessary and anyone who says it is is deluded. Michaelangelos painting would be just as excellent with some strategic covering so it’s sad that so many people think it’s necessary.

  24. john says:

    Church’s job: Save souls!

    Images of nudity: A form of temptation for many souls.

    Church’s job: Save all souls; even the one lost sheep out of a hundred!

    Intellectual who claims nude images save his/her soul: liar

    Action the Church should take in order to protect faithful from temptations: Make sure all spiritual art depicts human bodies with the same modesty in which Our Lady has shown in her apparitions.

  25. hopey says:

    I further think it is a trap to consider their intention, Michelangelo in this case, because the morality of a situation can be determined regardless.
    Men are more geared to be visually drawn/stimulated than women. So, although this may not bother women, above pictures, it still could give rise to temptation/sin for some. That is where our duty lies in not putting a stumbling block in front of anyone.
    He was a great artist.
    I can see the difference, unfortunately, between that and porn.
    I am not ready to concede that porn is just pictures of naked real people because drawings can and have been made to do the same – comics, various mediums etc.
    I do think we, as Christians, need to rethink and review what sacred art is/isn’t (in this case).
    Again, although I do see a difference in this art from the Sistine Chapel, I do not think it is morally appropriate in the way it is presented. I think the drapes/leafs need to be put back on.
    I also do not agree with West’s interpretation that we will get to a point where our intentions will be so pure it will not matter. That denies, in the very essence, our fallen nature and that of our brother and sister.
    Also, it is telling to me that the most pure person who walked the earth, Jesus, gave the woman caught in adultery the privacy she deserved by looking down and writing in the sand. He didn’t have to but he sure teaches us one thing, that we all deserve to be dressed/dignity.

  26. Paul Healey says:

    Pron is bad. I think the main reason people get interested in pron is because they have a unhealthy attitude about the human body. Most people get interested in pron between 12 and 17 years old. The question is how do get people to have a healthy attitude about the human body?

    • Santanu Dhar says:

      Nothing is bad/wrong if we think in proper way…. whether it is art or pornography….every act are natural comes from our mind…so if we think it in right way then it is useful other wise it is mentioning as a bad thing …think in positive way then there we can’t find anything wrong whether it is nude art or pornography …both have some learning material & somthing for some good knowledge… how can we find them that is the matter & try to pick it up…..

      • hopey says:

        Santanu Dhar, what you just described “nothing is bad/wrong if we think in proper way…whether it is art or pornography” is moral relativism and that IS wrong.
        A thing can be morally wrong and one can and should judge actions etc. Porn IS wrong because it is produced to stimulate a person/sexually entice them.
        Nudity is more of a gray area. I could see where an artist needed to study anatomy to make things, way clothes fit/fall etc, believable. But whether the general public NEEDS to see someone naked in order to appreciate the body, not so much.

  27. James says:

    Hopey, Santanu Dhar is correct, and it’s not moral relativism. It really is all in your mind and whether you think about things the right way.

    Here is an example from way back in my past: If someone views pornography assuming ahead of time that it’s going to be sexy, he is liable to get aroused. However, if the same person is shown pornography when his mind of clear of any presumptions, he will not see something sexy. Basically, he’ll see uncomfortable or drugged people who don’t know each other performing what should be an intimate act and getting no pleasure from it. He’ll see all kinds of evidence of human degradation. And that’s not arousing or the least bit pleasurable. So it’s the person’s mindset that makes pornography attractive to him, not the pornography itself. (And, yes, I’m very much against pornography.)

    So it’s in the mind of the viewer.

    There are people who get riled up over classic nude paintings that I find rather wholesome depictions of the beauty of the body God endowed us with. Sometimes such people will get riled up over nudity that I didn’t even notice was there. I think a person who can’t tell the difference between pornography and legitimate nude art, or who gets aroused by the Sistine Chapel ceiling or a Bougereau nude with a baby on her knee, has a pornographic mind to begin with. And you don’t need exposure to pornography to develop a pornographic mindset. Many religious people suffering from scrupulosity have an outrageously pornographic way of thinking and see porno when it’s not even there.

    Here’s an example of how this works that doesn’t even involve pornography: Often a friend from South America and I go to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. Once in a while we’ll get a very pretty, kind waitress. When she walks away, if I remark to my friend how beautiful the girl is, he absolutely can’t see it. It’s because the appearance of East Asians arouses his prejudice against Peruvian Indians. We are seeing the same thing but having completely different reactions based on our preexisting mindsets.

    • hopey says:

      If you say that porn is OK if you think of it “correctly”, right mind set, that IS wrong and moral relativism.

      IF, you were a man and wanted to rewire your brain, actions, to where you think something ELSE, happy thoughts, when you see porn, then good for you! It still remains WRONG, morally to produce etc. It just means you have not fallen into the trap of what porn was intended to do (sexually arouse you).

      You can not THINK something that is morally wrong into being a RIGHT, morally ok.

      • James says:

        Hopey,. I did NOT say that porn is ever OK! You don’t read carefully! Porn is NEVER good.

        If you had read carefully, you’d have seen that I said the person exposed to porn clear of any prior expectations will see something DISGUSTING!

        How can you discuss when you don’t even digest what the person really said and respond as if he said something opposite of what he clearly stated?

      • hopey says:

        And one last thing, if all the men in the world were to rewire, retrain, their brains to where when they viewed porn it would not get them sexually aroused, it would still remain morally WRONG, and sinful, to produce, etc.

        I think it is good for men and women to train their brains but it doesn’t make porn any less sinful nor any less morally wrong. It also doesn’t mean that we excuse it, porn, because it doesn’t bother us anymore. A wrong remains a wrong no matter what.

      • James says:

        Who said anything about training your mind making porn less sinful? That’s in your head, Hopey, not in anything I wrote.

        I said: “Basically, he’ll see uncomfortable or drugged people who don’t know each other performing what should be an intimate act and getting no pleasure from it. He’ll see all kinds of evidence of human degradation.”

        Then I explicitly stated that I’m strongly against pornography.

        Where did I say training one’s mind makes pornography OK? That’s something you made up.

        Training your mind helps the person RESIST pornography. It doesn’t make pornography sinless, as you stated it would.

      • hopey says:

        Ok, James. You have cleared it up.

        When you gave the example and then added “So it’s in the mind of the viewer.” sounded like moral relativism as did Santanu’s “Nothing is bad/wrong if we think in proper way…. whether it is art or pornography…” And you agreed with him, remember?

        “Hopey, Santanu Dhar is correct, and it’s not moral relativism. It really is all in your mind and whether you think about things the right way.”

        I am the one who tried to make the distinction of “what you think” vs a moral wrong.

        And the example you gave, especially when you ended with your example of the friend who didn’t find someone attractive, supported what I just pointed out in how you were coming across.
        You cleared it up in your last comment.

  28. hopey says:

    James, my response was because of your remark:
    “Hopey, Santanu Dhar is correct, and it’s not moral relativism. It really is all in your mind and whether you think about things the right way.”

    Maybe you need to go review your answer as your response IS moral relativism.

    • James says:

      Just as I suspected. You read the first sentence and didn’t read the rest of the post. That’s why you made up so many things I didn’t say and claimed I said the opposite of what I did say.

  29. hopey says:

    What I mean by moral relativism is this:

    There is no absolute right or wrong, just opinions, ideas, etc.

    It is worth noting that Hugh Hefner is no longer aroused by several naked women in bed with him. It doesn’t mean he has overcome anything, but that his threshold, similar to a drug addict, has been raised.

    It is not uncommon for a porn addict to move from soft porn, as it doesn’t affect him (arouse), into hard core and then on to more.

    • James says:

      I know very well what moral relativism is. What I was talking about was not looking at so much pornography that one becomes inured to it. I was talking about looking at pornography with clear eyes and interpreting what you see with your heart and not your loins. Once the person sees clearly what is in front of him, he can see that it’s not sexy and that it’s degrading to the participants. That doesn’t take a lot of exposure to porn, just one viewing where the person has his eyes truly open.

      Hugh Hefner is now in his 80s, so I very much doubt he’s aroused by much of anything at this point.

      That said, I think that a person who sees smut in the nudes depicted in classic art has a very perverted mind not much different from that of a pornographer. A person with a relatively pure mind and heart can easily tell the difference between pornography and nude art.

      • hopey says:

        The one problem with looking at porn with “pure” eyes is that, although it may be true for you and a few others, it is not common for men in general. Nor would it make it morally permissible to view it/make it either. It still remains morally wrong regardless if you have “pure” eyes or not.

        I remember following a debate, which I think stemmed from Christopher West’s talk, in which the man felt there was something wrong with him because he could not look at porn with pure eyes – always tempted. There was nothing wrong with him other than trying to do something that is sinful and make it OK. At least he was honest as an addict would lie and say something to the sort that he was just looking at it with “pure” eyes, etc. I am not calling you an addict nor a liar but men are geared to be visually stimulated. That is why the porn business is so lucrative. They target women with literature because we are generally geared that way.

        Part of growing as a Christian is knowing your temptations and weaknesses. The above man will always have a weakness and needs to avoid it.

        As to the nudity in art, I don’t think it is needed to convey the message in most cases but it is a gray area, not the same as porn. A person, say a woman, who may be bothered by the nudes in the Sistine Chapel needs to respect herself, not look, and move on. It doesn’t mean s/he is perverted.

      • James says:

        The idea of looking at pornography without the preconception that it will be sexy, and with “pure” eyes to see what is really there, is not to make it acceptable to keep on viewing pornography. That would be ridiculous. The purpose of it is to make pornography REVOLTING to the person, so that he will not want to watch it.

        A guy who’s focusing on the “action” is liable to want to watch more. A guy who starts looking at it clearly is going to see the degradation, humiliation, possibly even makeup-covered bruises and cigarette burns on the girls. That is NOT sexy, but heartbreaking, and once a normal man notices it, he’ll be much less interested in pornography. I know this can happen.

      • hopey says:

        Yes, looking at the women in a different light does help especially they are a child of God, someone’s daughter, etc. I see what you are saying.

        Would the above from the Sistine Chapel look any different if the models or inspirations were from prostitutes? Male and female prostitutes or patrons at the local bath house is probably where he got his subjects. That should make us at least say a Hail Mary for those subjects. Or at least I am.

      • James says:

        In the Sistine Chapel, who the models originally were is a completely separate issue from what those images are, because Michelangelo transformed their images for a sacred purpose. Those are not photographs, you know. Many of the images of people could even have been composites, and in any case, good Renaissance artists knew anatomy and light so well that they could create accurate nude figures from a clothed figure or even without a model.

        In any case, what an evil person did to someone does not make what well-intentioned person later did sinful. What you’re saying is not very far saying that a man who marries a former prostitute is guilty of what her johns did to her in the past. That’s ridiculous, because the nature of the men’s acts is completely different. And the nature of Michelangelo’s employment of models for creation of sacred paintings is completely different from the nature of the actions of a man who may have sexually exploited them previously.

        It’s even possible that IF the models were prostitutes (which we do not know), they preferred modeling because they didn’t have to engage in prostitution.

      • Hopey says:

        I do believe he frequented the bath houses. For whatever purposes is debated, etc.
        I do agree he changed the subjects in the portraits to a degree. We probably won’t know. And if the priests knew he didn’t change them, I doubt they were going to out themselves as to how they knew.
        We know the one priest who objected to all the nudity in his pieces got his face on a person on Hell.

      • James says:

        Did it occur to you that the priest whose face wound up on a figure depicted in hell might have had something wrong with him? Maybe he was corrupt. Maybe he was sinful in other ways. As I said, often people who can’t distinguish between art and pornography are perverts themselves, so maybe he had some sexual problem. Why was it okay with the priest’s superiors to see him depicted in hell?

        Or maybe the story about the priest protesting isn’t even true. You know there are thousands if not millions of people walking around now thinking the figure of St. John in DaVinci’s “Last Supper” is Mary Magdalen. All kinds of folktales get spun about art masterpieces, and you can’t take those anecdotes too seriously.

      • Hopey says:

        Or he could have been someone like me, who doesn’t see a need for all the nudity in a chapel? That is why they were covered later.

        When he objected to the pope, it was said he had no authority over those in hell.

        It is believable to me because of the temperaments of artists in general.

      • James says:

        Oh, boy. Now you’re really engaging in some ugly stereotyping. During four years of art school and years in the art world, I never saw anything that can be called “the temperament of artists in general.” Can’t imagine what that would be, especially spanning centuries.

        I’m more prone to think those stories are folktales. And if you think you’re superior in moral wisdom to a whole line of popes, so be it.

      • hopey says:

        Maybe it is evident to mothers of artists, temperament that is? I think their great art is produced because they feel at such degrees and it was one fault that my daughter still works on. To this day, I still would not purposefully criticize an artist nor a cook – One can immortalize you in a painting. The other could kill you.

        Knowing the history of the Sistine Chapel does not make me morally superior to anyone. All the nudity did cause an uproar and people complained. Drapes were later added to the genital areas as commissioned by the Pope. To this day, because of what the Council of Trent issued on the subject of art, a Bishop can remove a piece of sacred art for whatever reason, his call and authority if it doesn’t meet what he thinks to be worthy/suitable. The Bishop in Rome, Pope Francis, could commission the painting over of these again. Or, he could tell them to remove it. It is his call.

        This is also an area where good people can disagree without one or the other being perverted, etc.

      • James says:

        Your daughter must have been poorly trained as an artist, because one of the traits of properly trained artists is that the CAN take criticism without getting emotional about it. In a real professional art school (not a state university), they have to submit their work to regular critiques, and participate in those critiques. As a result, well-trained artists not only can take constructive positive or negative criticism without emotion, they even seek out that criticism. One of the things I like about the friends I still have from art school is that we can offer and receive criticism not only about our art, but about anything in life, without anyone getting upset. If your daughter gets upset, she did not receive a proper art education.

        Drapes were added to the genital areas of the Sistine Chapel figures by the commission of A pope, not THE pope. Previous and later popes didn’t appear to have a problem with them.

        Hopey, you read a lot into other people’s words. I didn’t say that “knowing the history of the Sistine Chapel” makes you morally superior. I said that some of the stories you claim to know about its history may not be so. The barb about you thinking you’re morally superior to a whole line of popes comes from your second-guessing them on the morality of the paintings. It had nothing to do with your knowing anything.

      • hopey says:

        “The barb about you thinking you’re morally superior to a whole line of popes comes from your second-guessing them on the morality of the paintings.”
        It wasn’t second-guessing anyone but making the observation that at any point from when they were covered up to the current restoration, it could have been changed. It can be changed today also.
        That isn’t second-guessing.
        A person’s temperament is their own regardless of schooling, etc. A person could have the best schooling and still be sensitive in areas.
        And given that, the story is believable to me.
        🙂

      • James says:

        Temperament can be modified through upbringing and education. It sounds like your daughter has some other problem and you’re just blaming it on her being an artist. It’s like blaming someone’s explosive temper on their being a redhead. Both are bogus explanations.

  30. hopey says:

    I find it ironic that I am chatting with an artist who has indicated that if a person has a problem with nude art, the problem is with them; they must be perverted. Not that each can be judged by their own merit, just nude art in general.

    It also saddens me that Rome is becoming loosely known as the city of penises. That can be changed but it will take time.

    My daughter, as long as she is alive, will have things to work on which may or may not be helped with schooling etc. Part of our fallen nature.

    Thank you for the exchange, James. God Bless you in your endeavors.

    • James says:

      Again, you’re grossy misrepresenting what I said, but since it’s apparently in your nature to distort people’s words — as you have amply done here — there’s no point in going further.

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