Week 6: Nude vs Naked & Work in Progress

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

I have been looking at history of nudity in art – mainly West European oil paintings. In this article I would like to summarise some information I have researched.

Women as a sight:

Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.


In the nudes of European painting we can discover some of the criteria and conventions by which women have been seen and judged as sights.


It is worth noticing that in other non-European traditions - in Indian art, Persian art, African art, Pre Columbian art - nakedness is never supine in this way. And if, in these traditions, the theme of a work is sexual attraction, it is likely to show active sexual love as between two people, the woman as active as the man, the actions of each absorbing the other.

- John Berger


Idealised women:

By recognising patterns in how Female Nudes are created, we can learn more about how gender is defined through some of the most famous artworks in history.


1) If a subject is not painted in “reality”, then it makes the nudity safer, because it’s a fantasy or fabrication. A good way to check this is to see if the subject is in a mythological, ancient, non-Western or otherwise exotic setting.


2) Hairless bodies or bodies without visible genitalia make the subject otherworldly, as two things that signify “real women” – body hair and genitalia – have been removed.


3) This factor is slightly harder to define, but what you have to look for is the way that we are allowed to look. How much power do we have over the subject, and how freely can we look at them? The Nudes we’ve examined so far are all reclining, sitting or standing passively in an open invitation for the viewer to look. Often the subject will avert her eyes, sometimes throwing an arm over them to emphasize her passivity and allowing our gaze to roam, uninterrupted and without guilt.

- Ellen Oredsson


Controversial work in the 19th century:

In the art-form of the European nude the painters and spectator-owners were usually men and the persons treated as objects, usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women.


In modern art the category of the nude has become less important. Artists themselves began to question it. In this, as in many other respects, Manet represented a turning point. If one compares his Olympia with Titian’s original, one sees a woman, cast in the traditional role, beginning to question that role, somewhat defiantly.

- John Berger

Manet’s Olympia (1863):

She's not a Venus, her name is Olympia and she looks very much like a real woman in a real apartment in Paris. Her features are not idealized. In addition, the representations of the academic artists always show Venus or other nudes in a coy way. This woman is looking directly at us. She is sentient, she is thinking and she's confronting us even as we look at her.

- Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Gustave Courbet's Bathers (1853):

The painting features two contemporary French women in a dense woodsy glade. One is a corpulent nude, stepping out of a shallow pool and walking towards her clothes, which have been draped over the branch of a tree, and the other is undressing on the ground beside her, frozen halfway between removing her stockings.


It was immediately attacked by critics for its subversion of the age old bathing tradition with its aggressively realistic nude.


He invented a new genre for the depiction of the nude, one in which to use the critic Louis Arnold's words, "The female figure is more than nude. She's undressed."

- Nicole R. Myers

Fig. 3 Nude vs Naked:

To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one’s own skin, the hairs of one’s own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.

- John Berger

Women as sights nowadays: Today the attitudes and values which informed that tradition are expressed through other more widely diffused media - advertising, journalism, television. But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. Women are depicted in a quite different way from men - not because the feminine is different from the masculine - but because the ’ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.

- John Berger


All of this is, of course, not to say that artworks should not depict naked women. It’s important to note, however, how they depict naked women, and that there is something amiss when the only acceptable paintings of female sexuality are those specifically painted as an unrealistic fantasy. There’s also something wrong when there are more famous Female Nudes in Western art history than there are actual female artists.

- Ellen Oredsson

How is my practice wrapped around it:

I truly enjoy doing this research, it is very eye-opening. I believe that as a nude photographer it is important for me to understand the history of nudity in art and the way women have been depicted and why. I hope it will help me to discover new perspectives how to approach nude photography when working with the new knowledge. Perhaps I can also learn more about myself.


I do not want to fight against these idealised depictions. I want to learn more about myself and my photography in order to find out what I would like to tell through my work.


I have printed some of my photographs and tried to find connections between them. I have found some repeating patterns in my work.


In some of my photographs I have been depicting the body within space. The body as part of the surrounding world – it complements the environment and the environment is as important as the body.


The body can also be a reflection of someone’s skills and hard work – for example by showing off their flexibility. The body can stretch, bend and be dynamic. However, I am not a gymnast or ballerina, there are limits what my body can do. But I enjoy testing these limits.


I have found some feminine photographs in my work, too. That is because I accept my feminine side, I am a woman and I like to look at myself and make myself look good. Not just for men but mainly for myself – to feel good in my own body and be proud of myself.


Lucie Nechanicka, 2017-2020 Perhaps it would be good to understand why I do nude self-portraiture. I already mentioned it in an article in Week 3. https://www.lucie-photography.com/post/week-3-collaboration-working-independently-in-my-practice However, I would like to elaborate on it. For me it means spending good quality time with myself and enjoy being in my skin/body.


I like testing the capabilities of my body and I like feeling pretty. I consider myself the main and most important spectator of my work. The photographs are created to mainly please me. Not just by the visual side but also by the experience of the creating process – the backstage part. I realised that the making of is equally important as the final result.


The photographs I take outside have completely different vibe than those taken indoors. Of course, it makes sense.


Outside it is more about the adventure of getting to the location, undressing there, hoping no one would turn up, try hiding if someone is passing by or dealing with challenging weather and etc. However, it is exciting. When I find the right location I feel like I have an unlimited amount of options what to shoot, where and how. The shoot is more spontaneous and I mainly improvise with what is available in that specific environment.


Shooting indoors is in other words shooting at home in my apartment. It is more relaxed as there is no time pressure or fear somebody could turn up. For me it is another casual activity I do at home, besides reading books or watching films. I make coffee, play music, set up the scene and get the job done. The advantage of shooting at home is that there is no rush, I can think more clearly what I want to achieve and how, so in a way these photographs are more creative and unique than my outdoor ones. Unfortunately my current place is slowly becoming less and less inspiring as I have done a numerous photo shoots here.


Lucie Nechanicka, 2018

Lucie Nechanicka, 2018 When discussing this topic during our weekly webinar my tutor had a fair point when she said that some of my outdoor photographs are on a border line with ever recurring cliche images – woman and landscape. I see her point. The locations I use are rather remote places with idyllic landscape. I choose them for a reason, though – the lack of people‘s presence. Choosing more contemporary places would automatically put me in a higher risk of being distracted by others. However, I have always wanted to shoot at more ‚populated‘ , rural or industrial places, it would be a completely new, exciting experience!


For now I would like to experiment more with the landscapes I know are safe. What I have in mind is also something I have not done much before. I am planning on bringing props I would normally use for doing photography at home and try setting up the scene in a similar way I would do in the environment I am used to. I think it might be a good way of killing two birds with one stone – use new locations but keep the style of my indoor work.


What is the purpose of my work?

As I have mentioned previously, I create for the sake of creating, spending time with myself, having fun and on top of that producing photographs I like to look at. Of course, I am happy and I appreciate when other people enjoy looking at my work, too.


Are my photos nude or naked?

Who am I in my photographs? I am an actress, it is not the real me. When I look at my photographs I see a body there, not myself. Does it mean that the photographs are nude? Perhaps. However, the experience of the photoshoot is real. Straining my muscles in a difficult pose, feeling pain, or having fun and etc. When I look at my work I recall all these feelings - at that point, in the memory of the shoot I am able to see myself, not as an actress, but as the real me.


But the photos themselves do not reflect my experience. This might be an area for an improvement. From now on I would like to take a few ‚real‘ photos each time I do photography. To document the process of creation. Then I could display the ‚pretty nudes‘ alongside with the ‚backstage‘ photos so the audience can share the experience of the shoot with me. This is my Work in Progress Portfolio:


Lucie Nechanicka, 2020

References: Figure 1 Olympia image: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/edouard-manet-olympia Figure2 Venus of Urbino image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Urbino Figure3 The Bathers image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bathers_(Courbet) John Berger, Ways of seeing, Chapter 3 – Nude http://waysofseeingwaysofseeing.com/ways-of-seeing-john-berger-5.7.pdf

Ellen Oredsson http://www.howtotalkaboutarthistory.com/art-history-101/art-history-101-the-female-nude-nsfw/ Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bihBbqzL96Y

Nicole R. Myers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvKDVvHiVNA

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