Skip to main content

Cheap equipment cheapens the classic nude photo. Is it still art?


CC Licensed by eau2001

What constitutes art? defines art as "the products of human creativity" or "the creation of beautiful or significant things". This sounds rather subjective. So where do we draw the line between art and garbage?

Recently, this has been a discussion on a number of artist's forums posed in large part due to the relative ease of taking and posting photos on the web. However, the larger issue seems to be the content of the photos being posted.

Nudity has always been a subject of art. The human body is intrinsically beautiful and artists have always exploited that beauty. Early sculpture and painting is rife with "nudes". It seems only natural that as photography became an artistic medium, the art of the nude would translate. The key word here is "nude". There is a defined distinction between an artistic nude and an erotic photo. This distinction seems to have all but disappeared in this day when anyone with $100, a computer and an Internet connection can purchase a digital camera, post their photos and call themselves an artist. This is not to say that some of these very same people are not artists. Any photographer will tell you that it's not the gear that makes the photo but the vision or visionary behind that piece of equipment that makes a quality shot.

To be considered artistic, a nude photo must be tasteful and taken with the sole purpose of capturing the beauty of the model's body. This generally means soft lighting to accent body lines, a simple backdrop and most importantly, modesty on the models behalf. Whether that is by obscuring the "Full Monty", if you will, with lighting, props, fabric or just the model's own body. For female models, it is generally considered acceptable to show the upper body and the outline of the genitals. For the male model, the full body is acceptable with the one exception of a lack of visible arrousal. The photographer's girlfriend or boyfriend spread out in bed lit by the 100 watt Westinghouse in the overhead misses these qualifications. And there we have our issue.

Most sites have guidelines for what can be submitted ranging from no nudity at all to anything not considered pornographic. There it is again. What is pornographic? We turn again to Pornography is defined as "the explicit depiction of sexual subject matter with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer". While the creator may beg to differ, the intention of the work is not conducive to calling it art and therefore it should not be allowed as such.

This battle is long-standing and is likely to continue as the cost of equipment decreases and the ease of access increases. But let the plea of artists be heard: leave the art to the visionaries and keep your bedroom activities private.