The living model, the naked body of a woman, is the privileged seat of feeling, but also of questioning… The model must mark you, awaken in you an emotion which you seek in turn to express. -Henri Matisse
For all the hoopla they sometimes create, especially in social media, implicit art nudes, or art nudes of any kind, are so far removed from anything sexual as to make the imposition of a sexual comment laughable. Artists, whether painters or sculptors or photographers, are consumed with the details of how to recreate or represent the totality of what is before them. Models are more than flesh and bone, but an architecture of emotion, experience, beauty, and humanity. How does one accurately capture all that in a single image in a way that communicates to the viewer everything the artist is feeling? The model, on the other hand, wonders if the pose looks as silly as it feels, if maybe she shouldn’t have had that burrito for lunch, and if she’s going to be done in time to let the dogs out before they mess on the carpet.
What implicit nudes do to the viewer, though, is challenge one’s perception of what is versus what may be. If one comes to an image from the perspective that all things are sexual, then one is going to perceive a sexuality where none was intended. If one approaches an image while consumed with a given emotion, one is going to find that emotion first and perhaps dominantly within the image regardless of what the artist sought to communicate. One of the greatest challenges in working with nudes is that the artist can only control what’s happening, what’s seen, what’s felt, what’s intended, as the image is created. We do not control the viewer’s experience.
That is not to say that great art does not inherently stir emotion within most everyone; there is a sense of awe that comes with standing in front of a painting so incredibly detailed as to seemingly lift off the canvas. A photograph carefully lit to emphasize a specific element while keeping other details shadowed draws us close and raises our curiosity. Abstract sculpture leads us to contemplate our perceptions of shape and construction even when we don’t understand those factors at all. Art does not require an education to have an impact on its viewer.
Art does require, however, that we approach it openly, honestly, recognizing our personal biases but having the ability to set aside that bias to see more of what the artist desired to communicate. Nowhere is that more true than with an implicit nude. There is much to be said in today’s picture about self-examination, self-esteem, and self-worth. We might ponder what the girl feels about the reflection she sees in the mirror, and how we feel when we look at our own reflection. Emotions in this image may run deep if the viewer is willing to take that risk.
If all one is seeing is sex, the problem doesn’t lie with the image but with the person viewing it.