Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Nude in America

2 AM. Sitting on the porch in Denver. Smoking and eating the finest smothered burrito one can buy in the Western hemisphere (Tamale Kitchen. 104th & Melody. $3.).

The puritan standards of condemnation that ruled the past may have mutated in the minds of current art critics, but many of them are still so afraid of being focused on sex that they automatically dismiss work that cannot clearly be identified as ironic or fetishistic. Artists who refuse to assault the body are usually dismissed as hopelessly out of tune with today's art world. Faced with such puritan pressures, over the past fifty years American museums have relegated to deep storage virtually all painted versions of attractively nude (or recognizably nude) humanity.

Along with Danielewski's The Familiar Vol. 1, I've been reading Naked: The Nude in America. When the book discusses the cultural and historical trends surrounding the visual arts in the United States along with issues concerning how the nude has been displayed in museums and in popular culture, the book is really interesting. When the author, Dijkstra, analyzes specific works, it's not as strong. Feels like a lot of overreaching.

I feel like I may need to write something on Mulvey's famous essay about the "male gaze" soon. Most people who use that term to criticize art in various media, film, television, video games, seem unaware of how Mulvey's argument actually works and that its basis is actually quite antithetical to many of the claims that they otherwise want to make about gender, masculinity, and femininity, based as the original essay is on Freudian thinking and a strong gender essentialist position.

Not that Dijkstra is at all discussing the male gaze. It is just that between this and some other stuff I've been reading and watching lately (in particular, an especially wrongheaded discussion of the "feminine gaze" on Slate that mostly concerned Magic Mike, wrongheaded because the woman in the video I watched used the term "male gaze" and even quoted Mulvey's essay without really clearly understanding what the foundation of Mulvey's argument is) have gotten me thinking a lot about this topic.

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