Naked Vs. Nude

Sometimes looking is not always seeing. In John Berger’s, “Ways of Seeing”, Berger conveys this motif in a variety of ways. For instance, in chapter three of “Ways of Seeing”, John Berger discusses how women are seen in art. One, as being nude, and the other, as being naked. Although these two ways seem similar at first glance, they are polar opposites when it pertains to concept. Being nude is to be in the presence of a male viewer, and is usually portrayed in a derogatory way towards women. Being naked however, is subjective. To be naked, is to be oneself. Away from society, away from men, away from culture, to be away from all those of which corrupts the mind, and to be solely in the mind of the beholder, is to be naked. These two ways of seeing can be viewed since culture and art was contrived.

Furthermore, we can see this during the French Realism in the mid 19th Century. Edourd Manet’s, “Olympia”, made from oil on canvas in 1863, manifests the nude aspect of Berger’s statement. As with all nude representations of women, the woman in, “Olympia”, is looking towards us, the viewer. In this culture of aristocrats and wealthy bourgeois, the male figure is assumed to be the viewer. Women were nothing more than a mere object for the pleasure of the male audience. Olympia is without clothes, and in her most vulnerable and submissive state to the male viewer. Her gaze has a promiscuous aspect to it, almost inviting the viewer to come join. However a woman appears to a man, can reciprocate how she will be treated. Her gesture, position, and aloof demeanor, proclaim to the viewer that she is neither timid nor scared, but that she ultimately enjoys being surveyed and an object of pleasure towards the man.

Meanwhile, there are also depictions of nakedness in art during Impressionism in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Edgar Degas’s, “The Tub”, made in 1886 out of pastels, is a great contribution to Berger’s concept of being naked. A major factor in conceiving that this painting is of a naked woman, is that she is looking away from us, the viewer. We can also see this is a genre category of painting, meaning everyday life activities. By making this a genre painting, the subject is more focused on her own life, and her own internal pleasures, rather than that of the viewers. Gesture also enlightens the viewer that the woman in the tub is naked. Because her body is concealed from the viewer, this makes her appear to not care about the viewer’s pleasure. As stated before, to be naked is to see oneself. To be naked, is subjective, and also away from society, culture, and all those which corrupt the mind. To be naked, is solely in the mind of the beholder, and not for the pleasure of the viewer.

Moreover, nudity is depicted during the German Expressionism in the 20th C. The Die Brücke movement fathomed expressionistic colors, which conveyed emotion. The use of color also helps differentiate between subjects being naked and nude. Karl Schmidt-Rotluff’s, “Girl Before Mirror”, made with oil and canvas in 1915, depicts a nude woman. Although being highly abstract, we can depict that the subject is a women from the title and the use of color. Franz Marc made color relationships with male being blue, female being yellow, and brutal matter being red. Although the Die Brücke did not specifically say whether they agreed nor disagreed with this concept of color, the fact that the figure is depicted as being yellow, helps assert that it is indeed a woman. As discussed throughout this essay, being nude and naked are drastically contrasting concepts. The woman in this painting is gazing at the viewer, who is assumed to be male; this is a vital characteristic of the painting to be of nudity instead of nakedness. The gaze of the woman shows the viewer that she is aware of being surveyed, almost inviting the viewer in. Because the Die Brücke used abstraction and crude depictions of human sexuality, this stylistic characteristic further exaggerates the woman’s contrapposto pose. This pose is a sign of comfort and relaxation. The fact that the woman is not only viewing the surveyor, but also comfortable with the attention from a male audience, further exposes the woman being nude and not naked. Another factor in determining that this painting is of nudity, is the mirror behind the woman. Mirrors usually symbolize vanity, or having too much pride in ones own appearance. The key word in that description is appearance. Because the woman has so much pride in her own appearance, she has now become the surveyor instead of the surveyed. She now takes pleasure in seeing her own figure and appearance, as the male viewer did. Once again, making the woman objectified.

Throughout history we see numerous paintings of women. John Berger characterizes these women as having two purposes. Nakedness, which is to be subjective and viewed only internally and of the mind of the beholder, rather then an object of thought. Second is nudity, which is to be viewed externally, becoming an object of pleasure, rather than an individual of intrinsic purpose. Because of the vast amount of evidence that supports this claim, I am inclined to agree with John Berger’s clause of women’s purpose in paintings. In this world, objectivity, and subjectivity characterize everything we do, and why we do it.

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