Monday, January 18, 2010

Some Reflections On the Human Body In Art, Viewer Reception and Mass Communications

Viewing Dony Mac Manus' presentation on TOB and art (see previous post) stirred up again in me some questions I've been mulling over for some time now. One such topic that surfaces for me which he touched upon is how my art will be received and my responsibilities as a figurative artist.

Pope John Paul II dedicated four of his 129 Wednesday audiences where he spoke of Theology of the Body to reflecting on art. His message regarding the unclothed human body and art have a strong cautionary tone, and rightly so because the human body and sexuality are so sacred they are subjects that need to be handled with extreme reverence and care. JPII spoke about how there is a danger of the gift of the model's body represented not being met with an appropriate reception from the people who view the art. To illustrate this I can speak of my own experiences as a figurative artist. There is a special relationship between artist and model. There is a deep level of mutual understanding and trust. The model reveals his or her body to the artist trusting that they will be received appropriately. The artist in turn makes a gift of their whole person through their art. As fine and dandy as that all is, there is also a fear in me in showing my art portraying the human body to others, because I don't know and have little control over how it will be received. This isn't as much a problem showing my art to other artists or people who I trust know where I'm coming from. When you show your art to someone you are making yourself vulnerable, especially if the piece is significant to you and if you are a figurative artist your model is vulnerable through your art as well. This hesitancy or fear on my part has been fostered by instances where my art wasn't received well. One instance I was showing my art to some friends and one friend covered her eyes and scurried out of the room upon seeing a painting of a nude model. Or comments such as "I'll check out your art as long as it's got no naked people...". Granted more instances than not my art is affirmed but I just mention these negative experiences to illustrate the challenges artist who work with the human form face.

JPII also spoke about the danger of a person's body being reduced to an object, that is as opposed to a body revealing a person. This point I need to reflect on so I can unpack it some more but my understanding is that we must create art that reveals the whole person, and doesn't divorce a person's body from their personhood, reduce it to an object as opposed to revealing a person to be loved. An artist's responsibility goes only so far, then it's up to the viewer to receive the piece of art in purity as well. One thing I appreciated about Dony Mac Manus' presentation was how he spoke of challenging those who view his art to purity. That's what I want to do through my art, to challenge those I share my art with to see the human body in purity and to recognize the dignity people have as being created male and female, in the image and likeness of God.

Being a figurative artist in a mass media world also raises some interesting questions. Especially seeing as how I want to evangelize with TOB through my art and the new forms of communication have the potential to expand my audience and impact. This raises questions relating to communicating the human form through art to a mass audience and the responsibilities that entails. As a point of discussion, I'll post a flier I made last semester that was an advertisement for a TOB study:

Theology of the Body@Sacramentality

I took the image out of my sketchbook, from an open figure drawing session I attended a year or so ago. This brings up for me such questions as, is this even OK? I believe the model has graduated so I didn't ask her permission if I could post her image all over the campus, what are the guidelines regarding such things, is permission necessary or was permission already in a way given in her modeling in a session that was open to the public? What about, and I hate to use this word, using a person's image to promote an ideal that they may not necessarily adhere to or agree with without their knowledge or permission, especially to a mass audience? Even in such a case as this where the ideal is something I believe to be positive. Also, seeing as how this image is a bit more "anonymous" than other images I could have selected, seeing how this is a quick sketch with the facial features largely undeveloped, is there more of a danger for the viewer seeing this body represented as an object rather than as revealing a person?

I hope to contact Dony Mac Manus, I would love to discuss with him such things as well as other topics I'll touch on in future posts. I would also like to contact Fr. Thomas Loya again, he's a TOB artist/ presenter as well who utilizes mass means of communication (e.g. DVD's, live web streams).

Anyone and everyone who has any input regarding any of this please share by leaving a comment!

1 comment:

  1. These are just my opinions on some of the questions. First, I think when a model offers their body for the sake of art, I would expect that the fruit of that session would be open to the public since that is what art is. As far as permission, it seems, if I were a model the important thing about nude models is possible embarrassment about people being able to link your body (unveiled) to your person. So, I think if you can not easily tell, specifically showing the face, that they would not mind. Finally, if there is a strong idea going into the art, I would probably at least want to let the model know, so they could make that decision. Because essentially, by the representation of you, you are supporting a certain ideal to some extent. Some may care, some may not.

    The question about seeing the body as an object is a different sort of question, and one I am unsure about. I guess I would have to think about what sorts of images would make me inclined to think that...I suppose if it is offered up to the viewer in a sexual way, that would. There are probably other more subtle ways to offer the body as an object that I am not even aware of my mind taking the body as an object. Maybe context? If the body seems to be selling something rather than illustrating something? It is fuzzy for me obviously. And maybe something to think about.

    Keep blogging Shana! It is very thought provoking and inspiring to an artist!