[Viewpoint] Art or voyeurism?From time immemorial, nudity has always been the most controversial issue in the art world. Ever since Adam was seduced by Eve’s apple, nudity has danced on the tightrope between art and obscenity. But only in modern history has the controversy reached its peak.
When French painter Eduard Manet painted “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” in 1863, it became one of the worst scandals in history. A naked woman is painted next to two fully dressed men, with her clothes randomly scattered all over the lawn.
In fact, Manet faithfully followed the artistic tradition set by Titian in his piece, “Pastoral Concert,” which is frequently ascribed to Giorgione, a Renaissance master painter. The goddess of music appeared nude in front of two male musicians, and played the flute with them.
Why did the people who so highly praised the piece painted by Giorgione criticize the one painted by Manet?
It was because the nude in Manet’s painting was a modern Parisian woman. Ever since the Renaissance era, countless paintings of nude women have been painted, but all were figures in mythology or folk tales. Who would care if a nymph appears in the nude?
Anyhow, no one knows what kind of clothes a nymph wears ordinarily. However, the woman in Manet’s painting was a modern woman, wearing clothes popular at the time. With a painting of a person in the real world, it’s a lot easier to imagine unethical things. And as such the people’s negative response was immediate.
The social stir created by the topless photos published of Korea’s top ballerina can also be seen in the same context. It’s not the first time a Korean ballerina has been photographed in the nude. A photo album of top Korean dancers in the nude was published a little more than 10 years ago. The album “Dancers Nude” was the work of Choi Young-mo, a professional photographer who specialized in dance. At that time, people said they were impressed to see the dynamic and delicate movements of the human body in the nude. No one complained about the nude photos. Of course, no one was penalized for them, either.
However, the photo in question this time was not the photo of a ballerina, although the woman wore a pair of toe-shoes. It was just a half-naked woman posing enticingly on the lap of a fully dressed man sitting on a chair. Therefore, it seems obvious what people would think when they look at the photo.
In this sense, I think the stir created by the nude photo is appropriate. Although the poor ballerina got punished with a one-month reduction in her salary, I think it is trivial compared to the disdain Manet suffered.
I think it is time for us to stop making any further debates about nudity. There are no clear boundaries between art and obscenity, and if there were, at the same time, the concepts would be meaningless. Across the ages and countries of the world, regardless of whether the object of nudity is a goddess or a woman or a man, nudity is always intertwined with sexual fantasies. Sexual fantasies awaken the imagination and the artistic inspiration in the same way that artists hold their brush, chisel or camera.
We should stop playing the fool and criticizing them as voyeurs. At present, “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” is displayed at Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The countless visitors from all over the world who gather in front of the painting are not all voyeurs.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hoon-beom