Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Nude" vs. "Naked" . . . Revisited

Reflection 1 (1985)
Lucien Freud
(Image from Art Observed)

Yesterday, I wondered aloud what William Grimes had meant in his NYT obituary of Lucien Freud by the following remark about Freud's nude portraits:
His female subjects in particular seemed not just nude but obtrusively naked.
I decided to ask Mr. Grimes himself, and I received this reply by email:
I did not really give a lot of thought to the distinction, which seems to me just a matter of art-historical convention in most cases. We usually refer to nudes, and painting from the nude, especially with older artists, but in discussing the particulars of a painting, it seems to me that one can say that a figure is nude, naked or unclothed and it all means the same thing, although I agree that "naked" has a certain force in English, and this word applies particularly to Freud's nudes. If you say that his subjects are not just nude but naked, that's a nuance that's meaningful, and most people would understand what you were driving at. I don't honestly know whether this comes up a lot for art critics or art historians.
I posted this reply on the Milton List, then responded by email to Grimes himself:
Thank you for the response. I understand what you mean about the force of "naked" vs. "nude," but I have difficulty putting the nuance into words. I've conveyed your views to the Milton List, which has been having a vigorous discussion of the difference between the two terms (as well as the difference between pornographic and erotic, etc.), a discussion occasioned by the announcement of an upcoming film version of Paradise Lost. Your earlier words on Lucien Freud's portraits fit the discussion well.
By way of reply, Mr. Grimes added an illustration:
Naked implies, on the part of he artist, an unblinking, even harsh, depiction of the body. On the sitter's side (as in Manet's Olympia or Goya's Maja, a brazenness, a lack of shame that seems to say, I see you looking at me and I don't care, I'm looking right back at you.
I'll need to reflect more on his point about the "sitter," for the Genesis story of the Fall implies that awareness of one's nakedness entails shame, but I've meanwhile also received some thoughtful comments to yesterday's blog entry, particularly one by "Scott A.":
Nude seems to be more of an artistic term -- nudity in an art-related context. Naked seems to be more of the default term for being nude.

That is the answer I would have given before reading the post, and it seems to fit the context in which the people in the post were discussing it.

As in, Grimes might be saying (consciously or not) that the more grotesque (to the audience) the portrait became, the less it came across as artistic and thus the more she became "naked" rather than "nude".

Since the artist's name is Freud, I'll throw out -- perhaps there is some tiny connection to non-physical uses for the work -- as in giving out your personal information making you feel "naked." We don't use nude or nudity to refer to our feelings . . .

We don't have terms like "nude aggression."

Nude, used for the arts for so long, seems not to have the deeply personal, raw aspects that naked can carry in certain contexts . . .
I like the point about "nude aggression." As Scott notes, we don't use that expression. Rather, we say "naked aggression." This fits with the nuance that Grimes suggests, namely, "that 'naked' has a certain force in English." I think that Scott and Grimes are indicating a similar connotation in the word "naked," one that doesn't occur with "nude."

I probably should quote from the Milton List, too, but that conversation has become too complex to do justice to.

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45 Comments:

At 4:34 AM, Blogger dhr said...

To make things a bit more complex: How do you feel on the nude / naked portraits by Lucien Freud (nephew of Sigmund) as reworked by his friend Francis Bacon?

 
At 4:39 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Corrigenda: he was a "grandson" of Sigmund.

 
At 4:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bacon's art raises the issue of violence and its depiction. I don't know what to say about it.

Can good art be bad? Can good art have bad effects?

The question of what art should be is central to this issue.

I don't know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:35 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Bacon's art raises the issue of violence and its depiction

Bacon's case is fascinating because it is SO difficult to 'cage.' The first, and usual, impression is precisely the one you mention. But there is more to it.

My wife and I happened to visit a 'daring' exhibition in Rome, where his masterpieces were shown side by side with Caravaggio's! Well, this made even more clear that Bacon's paintings, in spite of all, have something "glorious" in them. The subject matter deals with violence, decaying bodies, etc., but... the colors (and art IS color) are simply Renaissance-gorgeous.

Besides, the more you study his paintings, the more you notice 'winks,' wit, even humour. Like in Orwell's "1984," horror never lacks style. That's the bare truth :-)

 
At 5:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I still don't know what to say about it . . .

But there is that 'iconic' scene in one of the Batman movies, the one where Jack Nicholson plays the Joker and has his minions set about to destroy the art in a Gotham museum, but he prevents the destruction of a Bacon painting, observing, "Wait, I kinda like this one."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:22 PM, Blogger skholiast said...

I do not presume I am informing anyone for the first time of this poem, but I am surprised not to see Robert Graves' "The Naked & the Nude" mentioned in these threads (unless I missed it). Ever since I first read it in high school, this poem has informed how I think about the n/n difference.

Thanks dhr for the testimonial re. Bacon -- I have never quite been able to dismiss him, but only because people who I assume to be unimpeachable have vouched. It's good to know he holds up next to Caravaggio

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for linking to the poem. I'd known of it -- and it was mentioned on the Milton List -- but I'd never read it. Until now. I'll have to re-read it and reflect more, for I don't yet quite understand it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

We also say things like the "naked truth", and then there was the old TV policier, "The Naked City". i.e., the clear sense of these expressions being to "lay bare" some reality, which is impliedly something harsh, without any comforting illusions/delusions.

 
At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

dhr makes an interesting point. I'm no connoisseur, but when I first saw Bacon's work - which was a long time ago when he still was alive and producing - it immediately struck me as having the same troubling power, greatness and "truth" of Caravaggio's

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good point, Sperwer, and art seems capable of depicting both the naked and the nude.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

On your second point, I'd agree that Bacon's art is certainly powerful.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I'm honored to make the front page...

The following rambles, however. But, I hope it has a few pieces of fruit in it to make the reading worthwhile...

In reading Grimes' comment about brazen nakedness and GS' note on Genesis and shame, I thought back to Paradise Lost and Satan:

"To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

We can say here Satan's intentions are truly naked.

In Genesis 2:25, before the bite, we have: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."

I wonder if the original has this play on naked and nude?

In the English, even here, naked has that force we are talking about, because it is clear that their not being ashamed of their nudity is unusual. Naked should have taken on the negative sense if it had not specifically been negated - seems to be the author's point.

But, the contrast with Satan comes after the bite, when knowlege of good and evil has been obtained, and Adam and Eve, unlike Satan, feel shame and cover themselves. It is interesting that they still hide from God the next time He appears, despite the fig leaves, apparently due to either their continued level of nakedness - or - the fact they were fully naked before.

If Adam and Eve had been wholly corrupted by Satan, they would have been brazen in their nakedness.

"The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."

Satan's stance in Paradise Lost was considered bold rather than brazen to some of the Romantics. I guess we can say that they saw his continued aggreesion against God as nude rather than naked...

But, no matter how heroic Satan's speeches were, he was still trapped in hell, and it wasn't a pretty place - outside of his own delusions.

So, looking back at my first comment, if you are a moralist, no matter whether the painter's models were grotesque or appealing, they are all naked.

But, more and more in modern Western society, the differnce between naked and nude came to rest on how appealing the bodies are...

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Scott. I've not yet determined if "nude" and "naked" have fixed connotations, but the latter still feels more forceful.

Incidentally, Satan 'escapes' from Hell in Book 2 of Paradise Lost.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I wonder if he felt better? If so, I wonder if it made him pause and rethink his previously stated theory of existence?

 
At 2:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

His physical pain was relieved, but his mental torment was all the greater, for he carried Hell within himself and felt the contrast between what he had become and what he saw around him in the as yet unspoiled paradise.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Thanks. I was looking at Book 4, because it has been a long, long time since I read Paradise Lost, and what stuck in my mind was the seemingly heroic nature of Satan's initial stance.

Here is what I found in Book 4, and it is interesting in conntection to things discussed so far:

And like a devillish Engine back recoiles Upon himself; horror and doubt distract His troubl'd thoughts, and from the bottom stirr
The Hell within him, for within him Hell He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell One step no more then from himself can fly By change of place


Here is where the moralist has his revenge against the modernist: It isn't all a matter of perception. It isn't all relative -- not since the first taste of forbidden fruit.

 
At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Maybe Milton's use of "engine" here hints of the traditional vs modern position?

 
At 2:29 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Glad that you liked the Bacon break, fast. (A pun he himself liked, as he was nicknamed Eggs.)

Quite interestingly, he claimed to be a descendant of the homonymous philosopher & father of modern science. The painter was joking, as far as I know, but he probably wanted to stress the process which led from old Bacon's premises to the current "undoing" of them. That has been anyway a coherent process, and Bacon (the painter) showed it by basing many of his paintings on Eadweard Muybridge's pictures, i.e. the father of scientific photography. Though he twisted them by changing Muybridge's wrestling nudes into homosexual encounters; without "adding details," simply by modifying the atmosphere.

So, his paintings look like sort of a twilight zone, where Western civilization (ancient Greek culture included) still lingers, and shows what is left of its glory, but it is about to collapse.

 
At 2:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Those are the very lines I had in mind, along with a few others, and the "engine" is a reference to the cannon invented by Satan during the war in heaven, for it recoils in firing, but whether Milton thought in terms of 'Modernism,' I don't know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Collapse!? I hope not.

Jeffery Hodges

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Maybe Milton's use of "engine" here hints of the traditional vs modern position?

Scott, I happened to rework those verses in the sense you point out, more or less. They read:

Apocalypse Now,
the Dragon as devilish
engine recoils back

linked to this illustration of it.

 
At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

"So, his paintings look like sort of a twilight zone, where Western civilization (ancient Greek culture included) still lingers, and shows what is left of its glory, but it is about to collapse."

I think this is spot on as an explication of Bacon's "intentions".

 
At 8:15 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

many thanks, Sperwer.

Bacon is a great artist, who would deserve to be rediscovered going beyond chichés.

 
At 8:16 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

... beyond clichés

hamen! (word verification)

 
At 12:48 AM, Blogger Debbie said...

Haven't been to your site for a while.

You've just featured and spoken of 2 of my favorite figurative painters, Freud and Bacon. I studied figurative painting in the renaissance tradition. I wrote about Bacon in my undergraduate years. Since I'm not a scholar or a writer it was a bit clumsy, but I was impressed enough with Bacon's work to attempt to comment. Can't say enough about the power and beauty of the paint on the canvas of both these painters.

Still chewing on "naked and nude" seems like you've sorted it out well.

 
At 3:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Debbie, have either Freud or Bacon influenced your own painting?

As for "nude" and "naked," I don't have them sorted out at all -- I'm still utterly confused . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:13 AM, Blogger Debbie said...

Oh yes, I was a figurative painter for a long time. I love Bacon's violent paint as well as his understanding of the figure and it's emotional impact. Love Freud's paint application too and the "nakedness" of the figures.

I am very moved by the beauty of some of the disturbing images created by these artists. The paint conveys both beauty and pain at the same time. Two sides of the same coin.

 
At 5:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the reply. I learn new things every day, but that's why I blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:31 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Me too.

That's why I come bother in the others' blogs.

 
At 5:57 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

I'm not a native speaker, nor do I live among them, but I'd say that "nude" ist a state in transit, between one grament and the next (or the bedsheets, or the pond). It's not its own purpose. Nude paintings will thus have an element of instrusion, of voyeurism, and of unacknowledged partial surrender. They're erotic, but the subject's condition is not sexual. Nudity is for display, not for use.

To be "naked" is to have shed one's clothes to be without them. So the purpose is usually sexual, more rarely exhibitionist. It's an invitation for use, or --more rarely-- an aggressive denial of its use, a display of power.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, thanks for the interesting distinction.

In light of the original query's connection to Paradise Lost, then Adam and Eve would have been "naked" rather than "nude."

This -- "naked" -- is, in fact, the term used in all the translations of the Genesis story that I'm aware of. I can't think of a single instance in which "nude" describes the first couple.

Interesting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

I notice that in German there is no distinction between nude and naked. "Nude" has no equivalent there.

Instead, there's another useful pair: nackt/nackig, the latter meaning being undressed while in a state of innocence. It's exclusively used for little children and trees without foliage -- which makes the use of leafs for cover poetically cogent for the hitherto innocent first men.

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

On today's blog entry (July 30), I note that "nude" is rather late to enter English.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger dhr said...

in German there is no distinction between nude and naked

Nor in Italian either.

(This Blog has its correspondents from...)

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

With Dario, Erdal, Sperwer, and all the others who comment here, I'm fortunate indeed, having such an insightful community of discussants.

Thanks, everyone.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

It sounds like "nackig" serves a similar purpose to "nude". Nude is a more artistic term, as the dictionary notes too, and I think usually comes with a generic or neutral sense for the state of being nude/naked.

"meaning being undressed while in a state of innocence. It's exclusively used for little children and trees without foliage."

That's intersting in terms of Genesis and Paradise Lost. The fig leaves - and perhaps the trees of Life and Knowlege too...

One can assume the two trees in the Garden of Eden were evergreens - with the forbidden fruit year round. (Wasn't this the condition for all of Eden before the Earth became cursed after the fall?)

Following the German sense, then, the trees were without innocence?

Isn't the sense in the Eden narrative that Knowlege is compromised? I don't know. At least it carries something akin to a poison that compromises mankind.

If Eden before the fall was perpetually green and fruit-producing (fertile and reproducing), then were the naked Adam and Eve the only innocent creations in it? (Eve being as yet barren - with childbirth (reproduction) for man not showing up until after the fall with birthing pains being part of Eve's punishment)...

...Interesting.

 
At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

In English, we use "bare" for trees and foilage and the earth in general.

O.E. bær "naked, uncovered," from P.Gmc. *bazaz (cf. Ger. bar, O.N. berr, Du. baar), from PIE *bhosos (cf. Armenian bok "naked;"

I checked to see if barren was related, but it is not or is unclear:

1200–50; Middle English bareyn ( e ), barayn ( e ) < Anglo-French barai ( gn ) e, Old French brahaigne ( French bréhaigne (of animals) sterile), akin to Spanish breña scrubby, uncultivated ground

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that we'd need to look at the Hebrew terms and their connotations.

But the question of the serpent's innocence arises . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

True on the Hebrew for the original intention. In terms of reader response, though, the English or German comes into play.

On the serpent, I hadn't thought about it that way. It made me think that I had generally considered the serpent as an interloper - not really a part of Eden...

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, it raises questions. The serpent is at least a symbol of something in the world opposed to God, but the story treats it as one of the created things, I think.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:36 PM, Blogger dhr said...

The Serpent has always proved quite puzzling to interpreters. Was it a "normal" animal, which was just used by Satan as a channel? (see Dante, Milton). Or, the devil himself?

In art history, both versions were adopted, more or less at the same rate. With the further complication of Lilith, the Anti-Eve, in those pictures in which the Serpent has a female face, often the same as Eve. A Medieval miniature even shows Eve, the Serpent, and Mary (mother of Jesus) sharing the same features.

 
At 10:41 PM, Blogger dhr said...

By using a modern phrase, we could say that the Serpent (in the Miltonian version) is Satan's avatar.

 
At 3:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The serpent might be the powerful, mythic archetype of all serpents.

Since it is condemned to crawl upon its belly after the fall, it has some connection to all serpents, which crawl upon their bellies, also thereby explaining why serpents have no legs.

But it has powers beyond ordinary serpents -- it is very clever and can talk, and it stands opposed to the will of God.

In a few Biblical passages, God is described as fighting a dragon-like creature in 'mythic' time and defeating it. The serpent in the garden might be an allusion to that oppositional figure.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:44 AM, Blogger Tom Castle said...

There has been a great deal of discussion on a variety of sites - especially those discussing art - attempting to draw a distinction between "nude" and "naked". For example, it has been said that "nude" means that you, the observer, have no sexual or erotic thoughts whereas "naked" suggests you do. This distinction is impractical in that two observers can stand in front of a figure who is "nude" to one and "naked" to the other. If this were useful usage then it can only describe the effect on the observer and does not help define the figure of observation. I believe "naked" came to the fore when Europeans in the 18th and early 19th century (the age of prudity in the "Victorian" sense) wished to legitimise their admiration for classical undressed statues and eschewed the conventional term. As they often did, they harked back to a Latin adjective "nudus" and then used it as a neuter form. But the distinction between the erotic and what in photography is called "art nude" or "classic nude" can never, if ever, be complete. By its very nature, a naked human form (in photograph, painting or sculpture) is, to a greater or lesser extent, erotic in that the major erogenous zones are exposed. To pretend otherwise or to suggest that because one is "artistic" the erogenous zones have no effect is fatuous. In photography, the "art nude" seeks to display form, curvature, texture, etc. in the naked human body - mostly women's bodies, too. There is seldom eye contact since that would perhaps betray allure and undermine the sterility and frigidity of "the nude". It almost deserves a capital letter - the "Nude". These artificial and disingenuous distinctions tie us in ethical knots. Pornography, which jubilantly displays not just erogenous zones but eyes and genitals, is held by many - especially feminists -to be objectionable because it "objectifies" women (but not the men?). But what can be more objectifying than to banish from the Nude those characteristics that play such a large part in our make-up: eyes and facial expressions and sexuality. Pornography may or may not be ethically objectionable (and that is less easy to conclude than many would wish) but at least the individuals in it are persons. Often, it must be admitted, they act out an exaggerated sexuality, crudely and without taste. Nevertheless, what can be more demeaning than to deny a model's individuality, character and personality by asking her to pose without warmth while the artist (painter, sculptor or photographer) attempts to rob them of who they are by making them, as did Bill Brandt, into faceless, curvilinear quasi-abstract objects. Let us all face facts: we are sexual beings and that is part of our culture. Let us either drop the pretentious "Nude" or use nude and naked interchangeably with no greater weight of meaning attached to either.

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Castle, for taking up the thread of this old discussion. In response, first, a question. I'm puzzled by this sentence:

"But the distinction between the erotic and what in photography is called 'art nude' or 'classic nude' can never, if ever, be complete."

What do you mean by "never, if ever." It seems to borrow on "seldom, if ever."

Your point about two observers made for an interesting thought experiment. Another way to think about this is to posit one viewer on two different viewings. Suppose that, between these two viewings, the viewer has learned about art and the putative distinction between "nude" and "naked." Natural and cultural come into play here. Where the viewer may have - by nature - first seen the painting as naked and (thus) erotic, the viewer might now, culturally, see the painting as nude and (therefore) as other than erotic.

Jeffery Hodges

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