Tasteful Nudity

May 5, 2011 | 74 comments
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In one of the strangest Fast Sunday testimonies I recall from my youth, a member of the ward spoke about his recent trip to Las Vegas (or was it Reno?) He’d gone down there with some other church members, and they had seen one of the shows. He went into the show somewhat naively, and was surprised to suddenly be confronted with on-stage nudity. The only part of the testimony I remember was him justifying staying through the show with something along the lines of, “…but it was tastefully done. And besides, the stake patriarch stayed and watched too!” (I wish I could go back and hear the whole testimony again, if only to understand why he felt the need to insert that particular story there…)

Up to that point in my life, nudity and pornography were synonymous to me. The idea that nudity could be “tasteful” or “acceptable” was a foreign concept and — as a teenage boy — a potentially awesome loophole. For better or worse (but probably better), the question was really just academic to me, since I didn’t have access to Las Vegas.

The next time the issue came up in my life was as a freshman at BYU in 1997. The school was going to present a Rodin sculpture exhibit. The administration deemed a few (three, I think?) of the sculptures offensive, and chose not to display them. This resulted in a BYU student revolt — which is to say, there were a few incensed letter to the Daily Universe (and a few equally incensed responses).

One of my roommates took a film class at the school. The professor showed a scene of a naked old guy. The professor commented, perhaps half-jokingly, to the class, “He’s not attractive, so it’s not inappropriate.” I think that sums up a common school of thought in the church — nudity is fine as long as it doesn’t turn you on.

So, my tastefully conscientious readers, I put the question to you — is there a place for nudity in the life of the (latter-day) saint? Is it always offensive to the Spirit, a net negative? Allowable in paintings that are at least 200 years old? Or are there uplifting and ennobling messages that can be conveyed through nudity? This isn’t a question about whether pornography is appropriate (we know the answer to that), but rather, to what extent all nudity is pornography.

74 Responses to Tasteful Nudity

  1. Jim W on May 5, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    My wife was in a lot of “Life drawing” classes in her university work -undressed models from every walk of life. She’s not at all fazed by nudity in art, ancient or modern.

    There was an exception, in one class. The teacher insisted on one reading that looked extensively at Penthouse photos. The teacher threatened to flunk her, but she held firm and suggested they let the dean settle the issue. My wife won.

    Nudity itself need not detract from the spirit…but I qualify that by saying it depends on individual circumstances. When I was single, I was much more sensitive to it. Married, I can appreciate the difference between an artistic Nude and…Nekkid.

  2. Sonny on May 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

    What a great topic, and one I have had to deal with a good part of my life. My father, active LDS, RM, High Counselor–has always been an artist and photographer, and his subjects (for paintings) have frequently been the female form. I grew up with him practically bearing solemn testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ one minute, and him giving me impassioned lessons on the beauty and wonder of the human form the next! He would analyze for me various paintings or photographs, some nude, and why some are great and others not. So I grew up never thinking of such art as anything other than, well, art. However not all in our ward had the same opinion. And to me that was okay. It never crossed my mind that all nudity is automatically by definition wrong or improper. I don’t feel the spirit flee when I view tasteful art of the human form. However, others may, and I respect that. I usually draw the line at what I feel is the purpose of the art. If it is meant to arrouse or titillate (no pun intended), then I don’t view it. For some ANY nudity arrouses or titillates, and perhaps those should avoid it entirely.
    Just my 2 cents. Your mileage may vary.

  3. makakona on May 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

    i’m interested to read the replies to this. i was not raised lds and while my parents were very conservative, nudity did not equal pornography. it fascinates me when i meet members of the church who are afraid of nudity.

    several months ago, a sister at church was shocked that my 3yo daughter knew the name of her soon-to-be-born baby brother’s genitalia. i explained that she knew that her dad had one (trying to be vague so as to avoid turning into spam!) and the woman was horrified. she shared that her daughters had “never, ever” seen male genitalia because her husband always changed and showered behind locked doors. her position was that this was the healthiest way. i was really disturbed by it.

    in our home, “parts is parts.” our kids are young enough that sexuality isn’t even a thought, but isn’t that how it should be? that by the time they’re old enough when things become exciting, they’re already familiar with form and function and have at least a dose of inoculation? that’s our hope, anyway.

  4. KerBearRN on May 6, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Well–having spent the last 11 years of my life as a labor and delivery nurse and also as a lactation counselor, the answer seems academic to me. In fact, I have frequently taken issue with the concept of “false modesty”, such as when I have seen nurses working with laboring women or breatfeeding mothers going to ridiculous lengths to “maintain her modesty”. I fear that it ends up having an opposite effect and just perpetuates shame and embarrassment instead. There is a time and a place–and having been a near daily witness to the awesome power of women in “immodest” situations, generalizations have never worked for me. I think if we demonstrate (and teach our children) respect for the near miraculous abilities of the human body and are matter of fact in how we present “parts”, we will do more to promote appropriate modesty.

  5. Geoff-A on May 6, 2011 at 1:08 am

    The problem seems to be ultra conservaqtive culture, not the Gospel. Read a blog recently pointing out that the Godhead didn’t have a problem with Adam or Eve being naked, it was Satan who had the problem with it.

    Went to a spar in Germany a few years ago. Pool, water slides, sauna complex, where whole families socalised completely naked. In theory you could meet the Bishops family there all naked. No more sexuality than with clothes on.

    Other than that I was a furniture sales rep and on occasions had appointments in pubs some of which had strippers on some afternoons, which I found a bit sad and embarrasing.

    Conservative US seem most hung up with modesty and yet have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in developed world, and Utahs rate is about triple that of Canada and 8 or 10 times that of most developed European countries. Is this the best figure to show that a more open society is more effective in training youth about apropriate sexuality?

  6. Stan Beale on May 6, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I have always acted on whether or not to view nudity on the basis of three criteria: It is of historical or artistic importance. It does not appeal to pruient interest. It is not degrading or insulting.

    I remember viewing “The David” in Florence. The brilliance of Michelangelo was unbeievable. It certainly fit all three of my criteria. I Used to say, “I would hate to have someone not see it and appreciate it because it was nude.” Now in my curmudgeonitude, I have changed to “don’t see it, because you will get in the way of people who could truly enjoy it. The reason. If you are that consumed about the evils of nudity, that concern will dominate your impression and you ability to appreciate the art.

  7. Wilfried on May 6, 2011 at 2:57 am

    Thanks for these thoughts, Dane. Indeed, overall, in many European countries the perception of nudity is conditioned through different cultural and social traditions.

    A major problem is that our leaders often speak out against pornography, but it is never defined, as if everyone understands it “from experience”. Hence the confusion, in particular in a more puritan environment, when nudity is equated with porn.

  8. Dan on May 6, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Yes, some nudity is tasteful, even celestial! After all God created the body. And he didn’t plug his nose and look away when he created our sexual organs.

  9. Jon Miranda on May 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

    KerBearRN
    False modesty to you is an genuine issue to someone else.

  10. Jax on May 6, 2011 at 7:38 am

    There are very legitimate needs for nudity like breastfeeding, medical care, etc. And some art uses it very tastefully without any suggestion of a prurient nature. But some use the claim of art to justify porn. I’m thinking here of athletes posing nude for playboy and other mags, and supporters claims that these women have beautiful bodies, made by God, and that it is appropriate to show them off as art. Of course the reason they are there is because the pornographer wants to make money off of the womans nudity.

    I agree with the comments so far, but thought I should add this as a barriar against the “God created the body” argument to that some use to justify all nudity.

  11. Jon on May 6, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Our Bradley instructor would draw clothes on all the naked pictures of women in here birthing books. I thought that was strange.

    My favorite nude sculpture is “The Kiss” by Rodin. Granted, I don’t find it prurient.

    I started questioning what they mean by good books vs bad when in General Conference they quoted “Roots” and of course that book has the very vivid rape scene.

  12. living in zion on May 6, 2011 at 8:10 am

    After giving birth to three children and having a couple of random surgeries. I am so over it. I could totally be nude all the time and it wouldn’t bother me in the least. If anyone got a rise out seeing me, I would be very flattered and suggest they get their eyes checked.
    I don’t wear swimsuits in public anymore. It is my contribution to cleaning up visual pollution.
    Back in the dinosaur days, my husband and I did the required-for-celestialzation time at BYU Mecca. I heard rumors that the BYU art department offered life studies classes using nudes. Is that true? If so, how does that work? If not, how can they graduate anyone with a Fine Arts Degree? It would seem a necessary part of the curriculum.

  13. Syphax on May 6, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I never had a problem with nudity until I first entered the showers at the MTC. There’s good naked, and there’s MTC naked.

  14. R. Gary on May 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

    The essential characteristic of obscenity from a gospel perspective is its offensiveness to modesty or chastity. For many centuries, that is how the word was defined in all English dictionaries. But in 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court formulated a new legal definition of obscenity. The Court used legal technicalities instead of modesty and chastity to define obscenity. That’s when dictionaries began to define obscenity without regard to modesty or chastity and that’s when “tasteful nudity” was born. But the current legal definition of obscenity is not the result of modern enlightenment, it is the result of moral apostasy.

  15. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Gee. Then I guess all those pre-1957 Renaissance painters-of-nudes (you know, the ones whose images are studied so freely in so many BYU humanities classes) were peddlers of obscenity. Or maybe they’re excused because they couldn’t read English dictionaries?

  16. Dan on May 6, 2011 at 9:13 am

    uh, what is modesty and chastity? Are those things that we know when we see them?

  17. Mark Brown on May 6, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Ardis, please do not try to minimize the seriousness of this kind of moral apostasy by pointing to examples from BYU. Everybody knows that the Y went off the deep end long ago, ever since they started teaching eeevil-ution.

  18. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

    True, Mark, true. Okay, I revise my example: A week ago I went to the studio viewing of a painting that will soon hang behind the recommend desk of a Central American temple. The little girl standing next to Christ in that painting had a bare shoulder, which I recognize is immodest from today’s North American LDS standards, and therefore in no way tasteful. Justify that bit of moral apostasy going into a temple, Mark, I dare you.

  19. Mark Brown on May 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Bare shoulders in the temple, yikes!

    When I was in the YM presidency in our ward, we planned a joint activity with the YW to the public art museum in our city. They offered free admission one night per week, it was on our regular Mutual night, and we thought it would be an opportunity to help them learn to be young ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t realize until then that many LDS people react strongly to paintings and sculptures of the undraped human form. Lots of parents were angry and incredulous, and didn’t allow their sons and daughters to attend.

    I also remember a painting which hung in the room where I attended seminary, back in the days of horse-drawn carriages and before correlation took hold completely. The picture depicted Jesus teaching the sermon on the mount, with his followers sitting around him, listening. Off in one corner was a woman with an infant at her bare breast. It is entirely possible that a seminary teacher could be reprimanded today if he brought a painting like that into the classroom.

  20. Bob on May 6, 2011 at 9:56 am

    “Tasteful Nudity”___???
    This is a hard call for a lot of Mormons who see a bare female shoulder as ‘nudity’. Who think a showing female belly button is ‘nudity’. I guess in the Middle east__showing anything_ for a female_ is ‘nudity’.

  21. psychochemiker on May 6, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Makakoka:

    Regarding knowing the proper names for body parts: You should probably check out the Gospel Principles chapter on the Law of Chastity. I know that subject is banninated from the bloggernacle, but that church manual explicitly states that members should use the proper names.

    WRT your relationship with your children, I think it would be better to couch it in terms of “all males” instead of “what her dad has.” It sounds far less creepy. It’s also just a little creepy that it’s possible your daughters might have seen your genitalia, which is kind of implied by your statement. Please make sure this wasn’t the point you were trying to make, else the perma’s will be bound by state reporting laws to turn you in to the authorities.

  22. Dan on May 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

    yeesh

  23. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2011 at 10:30 am

    It’s easy to be glib, I know, but obviously (or it should be obvious) there is a line to be drawn somewhere. I don’t see how we can draw a line, though, except in the fuzzy area of “I know it when I see it” or, in LDS terms, “when the spirit is offended.” But I think the spirit is offended vastly less by young people going to an art museum than by the pharisaical imposition of senseless and unsupportable rules — that is, I don’t think the spirit is offended according to a fixed measure of the square centimeters of bared skin, or whether that bared skin is at the top of the shoulder or the front of the thigh. It’s more likely to be offended by the suggestiveness of the look in a subject’s eye than by a bare midriff, or by the positioning of limbs than by their nudity.

    It’s a too handy abdication of our spiritual and reasoning faculties to ban (even for ourselves, if not for the young people under our stewardship, or for society as a whole) every depiction of the nude human form — while, presumably, allowing as “modest” and “chaste” every depiction of the fully clothed human form, no matter what activity that form might be engaged in.

    (Having lived so many years in Las Vegas, though, I can say unequivocally that there’s no excuse for a faithful Latter-day Saint to attend a show with on-stage nudity. The ticket prices are obscene, regardless of the on-stage action.)

  24. jks on May 6, 2011 at 10:35 am

    psycho – Within a family there is often innocent nudity. If you have your children with you when you go into a public restroom there might be some nudity. If you change at the swimming pool. At home, some people have only one bathroom.
    At home if there is only one parent present some parents would rather let babies and toddlers come in and out of the bathroom so they can supervise the kids while showering. Showering and dressing can take a lot of time and young children need to be supervised close to constantly. In fact, many mothers of young children fantasize about the days when they can shower and dress in peace.
    I’m not saying you can’t be super ultra vigilant about not letting your opposite gender child see you naked, but most moms have needed to use the restroom while having a son with them at some point. Now that fathers are more willing to take children places without mom or are at home supervising the children on their own, they have those same situations too.

    As for tasteful nudity in art. It is difficult to define. I don’t have an answer. However, I find it hard to believe that nudity in a Vegas show was “tasteful.” Perhaps I have the wrong impression of Vegas shows.

  25. Howard on May 6, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Nudity is natural in fact you can’t get much more natural than that the problem is hyper modesty. Are there tasteful nudes? Yes. Are there tasteful love scenes? Also yes. Do people become addicted to pornography? Of course but the dangers, evils and fears of a fleeing Spirit have been oversold.

  26. jks on May 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Sorry psychochemiker. I didn’t mean to shorten your name. I meant to scroll up to read it again so I could spell it correctly. I am going to blame the constant interruptions of my 3 year old non-same-gender child who seems to constantly be talking and getting into stuff while I try to go about my day.

  27. Dane Laverty on May 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

    psychochemiker, are you seriously suggesting that parents are guilty of child abuse if their kids see them naked?

  28. makakona on May 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

    might as well turn me in now. my kids have been present at the births of their younger siblings, so they’ve seen a lot. we’re not worried about being “super ultra vigilant” about them not seeing nakedness… we’re aiming more for healthy and respectful views about bodies.

  29. ads on May 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Having been an art major at BYU I took dozens of human drawing classes. The females young and old wore bikini’s and the men young and old wore speedoes. I completely agree that there can be tasteful nudity, and tasteless nudity. Modesty is absolutely situational. What is appropriate at the beach isn’t appropriate in sacrament, and what is appropriate in art isn’t appropriate or the same as what is in playboy. my two cents

  30. Grant on May 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    What if Jon McNaughton had painted the founding fathers and political heros in the nude? Art? or not art? (now you see how my perverse mind works).

    Seriously, though. This is one of the areas where people can strain at gnats and swallow camels. Mainly, because the line between purient interest and art or healthy sexuality is not so much a fine one, but different for each human individual. And each human individual, if they are honest with themself, knows exactly where that line is for themself. Institutions to promote the arts as art should be free and open about nudity, and some, maybe even much of it may be troubling or offensive to some. And those offended can choose not to view such “art.” Families should be free to set their own standards short of actual sexual abuse (even if the law is a little cloudy sometimes on such things). Institutions supported by rather conservative churches with high standards for sexual conduct and modesty, should probably be drawing the line fairly cautiously so as to not offend the weaker among us. (probably not the weakest, though – Rodin should have made it at BYU IMO).

  31. Kevin Barney on May 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I’m married to a major art geek, and our daughter like her mom is also a major art geek. So I don’t have any say in the matter; of course there is such a thing as tasteful nudity, and nudity =/= pr0nagraphy.

    ads, you might get a kick out of this old post of mine on art modeling at BYU:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/05/18/taking-my-clothes-off-at-byu/

  32. psychochemiker on May 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    makakona,
    Accidental and incidental is one thing. There’s also and age when children remember things and when they don’t, but I do not feel it is appropriate for adults to be bearing themselves to their children of opposite sex past a certain age. I don’t have children yet, so I’m not sure about the low side of the cut off, but certainly by the age of 8 children should not be seeing their parents nakedness of opposite gender. In the local public University, there’s a sign on the gym locker room that states, unequivocally, no children of opposite gender regardless of age are allowed in.

  33. Jonovitch on May 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I heard the Dalai Lama speak once at an university, and the one thing he said that stayed with me was this: “Violence is not defined by the action, rather by the motivation.” (BTW, I’ve compared that statement with aggressions of all sizes over the years, and it tends to hold up.)

    In that same light, I think we could define indecency/immodesty not by the lack of clothing (or as Ardis so well put it, “the measure of the square centimeters of bared skin”), rather by the motivation for the nudity.

    In other words, is a particular subject of nudity truly meant to illustrate, educate, or enlighten? Or is it meant to arouse, entertain, or titillate?

    Starting at one end of the spectrum: Penthouse is obvious. A Vegas show, I think leans more toward the erotic, too. Works of art (ancient and modern) are very debatable in my mind, depending on a lot of things. A textbook on anatomy, though, is probably quite innocent and tasteful.

    The answer is obvious on both sides of the extreme. It’s the cases in the middle (college drawing classes, European beaches, etc.) where I think it’s helpful to look at the motivation.

    Jon

  34. Dane Laverty on May 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I agree things get fuzzy in the middle, but the two examples you give (drawing classes and European beaches) both seem to me very much an acceptable part of their respective culture (in other words, nudity in both situations is in keeping with the atmosphere, and not there for shock value).

  35. Jonovitch on May 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Two personal examples to further the discussion:

    1. I remember walking through the grand halls of a German art museum, in awe of the paintings in room after room. But I started noticing how many of them were nudes. I couldn’t help thinking some of these works of art might have been a kind of pornography of the day. This was the only medium they had, I thought to myself, and with the relatively conservative morals of the time, these depictions of fully unclothed women might have been quite indecent. Even to me, many centuries and many moral reservations removed, the nude paintings, one after the other, started to appear titillating. Of course, I don’t know the motivation behind each individual painting, but that’s just the impression I got.

    The middle ground of artwork is debatable. In my mind a classic Peter Paul Reubens with a pile of corpulent people is not the same as a single beautiful woman draped across a couch, which is not the same some modern photography or even films. I don’t think just because something is really old and on canvas it is by default “tasteful.” Likewise I don’t think just because a movie has a naked person it is pornographic. This middle ground is where we really need to start looking toward the motivation of the creator, and even the motivation or reaction of the viewer.

    2. A few years ago, my wife and I saw a romantic-comedy movie for our anniversary. During the obligatory “love scene,” we came to realize that the only reason the movie wasn’t rated R was the camera angle. The depiction of sex between the two unmarried characters was so audibly graphic that if you had closed your eyes, you would have thought it was an actual porn movie. In my mind, despite the MPAA rating, despite the camera angle, despite the A-list stars and the amount of clothing they had on, it was an indecent and immoral movie. There was no redeeming value in that scene — the motivation behind it was purely for titillation. That scene, along with a few other crude and unnecessary (and unfunny) jokes, spoiled the otherwise clever take on the subject. That movie helped reinforce in my mind that you don’t need to see naked body parts for something to be pornographic and tasteless.

    Jon

  36. ads on May 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Kevin, that was an amusing article to read. I actually grew up in Schaumburg in your ward and babysat your children over the years. It put a smile on my face to know that the smart guy that made all the youth sit through a real passover celebration in Hebrew, also had to sit through a bunch of co-ed’s staring at him. And point of interest I still have the handouts you gave to us about the symbols of the temple and have used them in lessons over the years….

  37. Eric Russell on May 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Jon, making any kind of judgment based on the assumed motivation of the creator is always a bad idea. You never really know. Any assumption you make is likely to be wrong. And even if you did know, it doesn’t matter. Once a work has been created, it stands for itself.

  38. Sonny on May 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    This thread reminded me of an article I read online in Psychology Today last month. It was written by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., and it was titled “What Distinguishes Erotica from P0rn0graphy?”. He was trying to make the distinction between the two from an academic/psychological perspective and not from a religious/moral one. If anyone wants to google the name of the article you will find it (content warning). Don’t know if I should directly link it or not here.

    If you choose not to read it, the short version is that he views erotica (which he does not concretely define but I assume to be any “artistic” expression involving nudity) on a different plane than p0rn, but that there is overlap. Additionally, he also feels what many have expressed here: that intent and motivation is a big factor in the distinction.

    Again, he is taking an academic view, and not a religious one, so FWIW.

  39. Kevin Barney on May 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    ads, wow, what a small world it is!

  40. Jonovitch on May 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Eric (38), I’d have to disagree with that argument. If you follow that logic, my judgement that a Penthouse magazine is indecent would likely be wrong because (according to that logic) I couldn’t assume the publisher’s motivation is selling raunchy sex, rather a simple artistic endeavor to portray the beauty of the human form.

    Likewise, my judgement that a textbook on anatomy is educational and done in good taste would likely be wrong because I couldn’t assume the publisher’s motivation is to inform rather than arouse students.

    Of course both of these conclusions are ridiculous.

    For another example, I don’t need to interview the directors and actors about their artistic intent to understand that the nudity in Schindler’s List is different from the nudity in Showgirls.

    We don’t have to read people’s minds to understand (or at least make a pretty good guess at) their motivations. I think gut instinct, past experience, simple “duh” observation, and/or spiritual guidance can be fairly accurate in identifying (or at least getting close to) someone’s motivation for portraying nudity.

    Jon

  41. Eric Russell on May 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Jon, I understand what you’re saying. What I’m saying is that the motives are irrelevant.

  42. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Eric Russell, we know there are entire schools of academic thought that insist that readers/viewers/listeners create all the meaning that exists in works of art, that an artist’s motives, if he intended anything at all, are relevant only to him. In the real world, though, most of us find that to be sophist nonsense — we have a good idea of what we intend to communicate when we write something, and we can form a pretty good idea by the response whether we have been reasonably successful in communicating that. Your blanket statements of “always” and “never” and “irrelevant” aren’t persuasive because they go against our direct experience of the world. (I’m betting you know that, though.)

    I think Jon is right to consider motives. It beggars belief that Penthouse does what it does purely for the disinterested joy of doing what they do, that they don’t have a clear-eyed understanding of exactly what they’re doing, and why it works, and how much profit it will yield. There is no rational reason for pretending that we can’t be just as aware of what they’re doing and why and how, and factor that into our understanding of their creations. Ditto for the medical journals, and most other illustrations that could be given.

    Don’t be offended by my contradicting you. My motives must be irrelevant, after all, so any offense has been created within your own mind.

  43. Adam Greenwood on May 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Maybe what constitutes tasteful nudity is intersubjective, instead of either objective (Eric R.’s opinion?) or subjective (Jonovitch’s opinion?).

    Also, let’s hear it for tasteless nudity. Woot! Er, within the bounds the Lord has set. Naturally.

  44. Eric Russell on May 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Ardis, I’m not entirely sure in what sense you’re contradicting me. I’m just saying an image should be judged on its own terms.

    Imagine a painting in a museum of a woman who perhaps isn’t even nude, or is barely so. You definitely don’t think there’s anything distasteful about it. Later on, journals reveal that it was originally both produced and consumed as pornography. Does that mean the museum should take it down now?

    Going the other direction, imagine you find a coverless magazine on the street that is essentially identical to a Penthouse in photographic content, but you later find out that the creator genuinely had no intention other than art. Does that revelation suddenly change your judgment of the material?

    It’s the consumer who gets to decide whether or not he or she deems something appropriate, not the producer.

  45. Sonny on May 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    45)

    Eric,

    Ultimately you are right in that the consumer decides what is appropriate or not. However, I don’t see why the consumer can’t use his/her idea of producer intent in that process.

  46. JDH on May 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Nude Vegas dancers do not hold a candle to last year’s Marina Abramovic installation last year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Abramovic is an “avant-garde” performance artist (who, frankly, resides at the corner of Art Avenue and Insanity Blvd.) and the museum was presenting videos and recreations of some her more famous (or infamous) performance art pieces. Included were several nudes in various situations, including a door way with two nudes on either side (could be women or men, depending who was on duty at that time of day). Patrons could pass through the doorway between the nude people, which led to all sorts of issues, including allegations of sexual assault against some patrons.

    My wife and I got free tickets to the museum, not knowing about the exhibit. We stumbled on the Abramovic exhibit and were more shocked more by the self-abuse pieces from the past, where she had stabbed herself, or cut herself, than by the nudity. Art? Maybe. Erotic. Ehhh. Pr0nographic? No way. Thought provoking? Sure. Was also cheaper than any decent Vegas show.

  47. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Eric, I’m saying that (allowing that there may be some borderline images) someone who intends to produce porn generally does produce porn and reasonable people will recognize that he has successfully produced porn; and the producer of a medical textbook who intends to produce clinical illustrations with clarity and accuracy generally does produce such illustrations and reasonable people will recognize that he has been successful. I think few reasonable people could confuse the two products, even when the label “art” is applied to both. “Art” is a neutral term, IMO.

    Until now, I wasn’t aware that we were talking about appropriateness, which is a very different matter. People can acknowledge that porn is porn (or art) and still find it perfectly appropriate for consumption. People can recognize clinical illustrations as such (even call it art) and find it inappropriate for non-medical settings.

    The consumer does decide whether something is appropriate — but that doesn’t change its basic nature at all.

  48. Howard on May 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    A young woman sends a nude photo of herself to a young man is it a tasteful nude or pornography? The same couple video their lovemaking is that pornography? They need money and sell the video is that pornography? They are married so is any of this is pornography? If it is exactly where does evil enter and when does it actually become pornography? Would the presence of a video crew make it evil or pornography?

  49. Eric Russell on May 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Sonny, sure, nothing’s stopping you. Just keep in mind there’s always the possibility that you’re wrong.

    Ardis, I was responding to Jon’s comments about how we determine whether something is “tasteless” or “indecent”. I was using “appropriate” as essentially synonymous with those terms.

  50. Jax on May 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    The problem of defining and judging is not in the Porn producer who succeeds, or the medica textbook producer, but in the ‘artist’ who wants to titilate but make it look like that is not his intent. The person who uses nudity with no intent to be erotic is almost always able to NOT titillate. But the porn producer knows if he can disguise nudity as art he may be able to lure a future customer into greater and greater levels of indecency. I don’t know where to draw any lines, or even if lines should be drawn. I do know that it is best to avoid as much as possible rather than endure as much as possible.

  51. Howard on May 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    As we enter the studio a man is giving direction to a scantily clad voluptuous young women in a provocative pose it is a very titillating scene is he painting making a commercial or shooting pornography?

  52. Sonny on May 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    What do you think, Howard?

  53. R. Gary on May 7, 2011 at 1:52 am

    The 1957 United States Supreme Court did not change or revoke modesty, but the Court did change modesty’s status with respect to the law. Let’s not forget who made the first coats of skins (Moses 4:27). Even today, endowed members wear a modern equivalent and what that coat of skins covers is nakedness. Unfortunately, some sophisticates of the day say the fig-leaves were just fine. And “if we resist them or speak out against them,” as Elder Bangerter once observed, “we will be scoffed at. We will be called prudish, Victorian, puritan, and self-righteous, as if we had become the sinners.” (Ensign, May 1984, 27; emphasis in the original.)

  54. Howard on May 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

    My attention and excitement began rising as the the computer screen painted the image I felt myself locking on visually and slipping into a trance the image of the new car, beautiful woman, nude woman, lovemaking, f#c%ing (pick one) that I lusted for filled my mind and took up my time. The “evil” of pornography lies within it is lust in the eye of the beholder and guys need to take responsibility for it, it is not the fault of women. Pornography is addictive and can detract from our significant relationships if we let it.

  55. Alison Moore Smith on May 7, 2011 at 11:49 am

    To clarify some statements above, the teen pregnancy rate in Utah (according to the Guttmacher institute) is 45th of the US states.

    I love private nudity. I’m probably more open about it than most people and I’m positive I love sex more than anyone here. :) But I really see little purpose in drawing David or Adam or God or anyone else in the (mostly) raw. I find most claims of “art” to be justification. Yea, I know it’s “reality” that David was naked sometimes, but do we need to sculpt him that way? Why not a nude President Monson in marble or bronze? (I hear he’s naked sometimes, too.)

    One of the arguments I’ve often heard for sketching and sculpting nudes is that it’s the only way to get good results at sketching and sculpting clothed bodies (apparently from those who will suggest that they are doing it for education, not because the end result is to draw/sculpt nudes). I’m no artist, but it seems like problematic reasoning for two reasons:

    (1) So what? If I can’t be a perfect sex partner without having sex with 15 different guys every year, maybe I forgo the idea of being a “perfect sex partner” for the sake of principle and settle with being a good enough sex partner by practicing with the guy I’m married to. Applied to artists.

    (2) I don’t see general artists spending hours and hours drawing disembodied muscles, bones, tendons, lying on tables so they can figure out how to draw muscles with skin on them. I figure that you can draw clothes draped on bodies with practice about as well as you can draw skin draped on muscles with practice.

    Yea, I’m sure these are flawed examples, just throwing it out there. I’m on vacation. :)

    P.S. If you’re wondering why I included the first couple of sentences in the third paragraph up there, it’s because invariably people who are “conservative” with regard to public nudity are labeled prudes, puritans, prigs, pietists, etc. (A little alliteration for today.) It’s simply not true. I’m a big promoter of sex and nudity. But the context is incredibly important. I really haven’t seen a great benefit from people walking around museums or cathedrals gazing at exposed parts of Biblical or historical (or anonymous) figures. But I see a lot of benefit from married couples who enjoy each other. Your milage may vary.

  56. Julie M. Smith on May 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    “I’m a big promoter of sex and nudity.”

    I hope you run for office some day so I can take this out of context. ;)

  57. Jax on May 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Alison,

    The best part of that post (56) was reading it to my wife and watching her blush furiously ;)

  58. psychochemiker on May 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Some bloggernacle perma taking something out of context, proposterous!

  59. Geoff-A on May 7, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Allison, the point of raising the rate of teen pregnancy in this post is questioning how we can measure success of a position. You say Utah is 45th in US, what is that figure and how does it compare to countries in western Europe or even Canada. Do you see any relationship between teen pregnancy and our teachings on modesty. If modesty works why isn’t Utah the lowest in the world, after muslem states?

    The assumption is that modesty is the opposite of nudity (though I also pointed to public nudity which didn’t seem any more sexually charged than dressed). We hear a lot about modesty in the church, and if this were accepted unquestioningly you would think nudity would be out of the question.
    Most of the ideas above have been about nudity in art or entertainment, I was trying to see how it fitted into our everyday thinking about modesty, and the relavence of what we teach our young people.

  60. Mark N. on May 8, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Utah must be doing something wrong. Which state is 50th?

  61. jks on May 8, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Alison Moore Smith – I did have an epiphany and art and nudity recently. I was looking at a painting with the huge 16th century collar on a guy and it dominated the painting. I realized that fashion does distract. When you watch an old film it takes a lot to get past the 70s fashion or hairstyles or makeup. Nude art is one way to make a statue or painting timeless. So while I wouldn’t choose to create nude art, I am able to understand in a new way why it has a an important place.
    However, I fail to see why every artist must be an expert in drawing nude genitalia. So I’m glad that BYU doesn’t require this. Not every artist is going to specialize along those lines so learning to draw arms or feet or backs ought to suffice.

  62. L. on May 9, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Wow. This is fun!

    I think semantics are really getting in the way, here. How about this…

    Pornography: Media that, by design and regardless of creator intention, inspires sensual desire and/or action that is not dedicated to pursuing a sexual relationship that is…
    -Spiritual
    -Mental
    -Emotional
    -Physical
    -Marital

    Thoughts?

    As for nudity, here’s an experience I believe to be true. A boy I once knew shared a dream with me. He said he had experienced a dream vision in which he saw Eve, and, coincidentally, she was stark naked. He claimed to feel the power of the Spirit, and gained many answers to some questions he had based on this.

    Thoughts? (in regards to the vision, I will completely ignore “Oh, that’s just hearsay” statements. I don’t care – just take it as a hypothetical, if you must. This boy was one of the most honest young men I’ve ever met, though.)

    In response to Geoff A. – “The assumption is that modesty is the opposite of nudity.” I’m not sure of your general message in the post, but that idea is a classical Mormon culture invention, passed on as doctrine, I would think.

    Alison –
    “I find most claims of “art” to be justification.” Completely agree.

  63. document on May 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    My wife appeared in a book recently called “Questioning the Taboo”. It was a collection of black and white photographs with three themes: people eating food in places that infants are forced to breastfeed (such as in a McDonald’s stall).), people eating food under blankets, and finally, animal mothers feeding their babies with blankets. The rest of the photographs are beautiful full-color prints of a collection of local mothers openly breastfeeding in public.

    It is tasteful and thought provoking. My wife’s breast is exposed. It remains on our coffee table and probably will for long time. Yet, some people have openly criticized my wife for taking part in pornography. One person asked her outright how she can justify having a temple recommend.

    That experience made me realize that it is completely in the eye of the beholder. Some faithful LDS people (such as myself) can find the beauty in even some erotic art, while other equally faithful LDS people see only sexuality in an exposed breast to feed a child. It’s a spectrum.

  64. ideasnstuff on May 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    It’s a real stretch to ascribe pristine artistic motives to nudity on a Las Vegas stage. It’s really just one of those secret-combination-like calculations designed to put butts in the seats.

    And yes, much of the painting of nude figures during the pre-photography era was intended for the private delight of the owners, under the cover of art. (That doesn’t mean it wasn’t really art, don’t get me wrong.) Check out “La maja desnuda” and “La maja vestida” by Goya, painted just before and just after 1800, respectively. Both are magnificent works of art, but one was clearly intended for private viewing, the other “suitable for the public.”

    In spite of any presumed purpose ascribed to these works, I wouldn’t hesitate to have them in an art book in my home. Not that I would lay it out on the coffee table when the home teachers come to visit!

  65. Catania on May 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    I’ve read most, but not all of the comments. One idea that I think is interesting: If our culture wasn’t so entrenched in pornography, would it be easier to tell the distinction between beauty and obscenity?

    I have studied art for a while, so a naked body has never bothered me. However, I also know people who have porn addictions and can be titillated by the most innocent idea or picture.

    Perhaps an unfortunate result of so much pornography is that now it is difficult for many to view the human body as beautiful rather than overly sexual.

  66. joe on May 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I strugle with nudity everyday! I love to see women nude. That being said

    I DO NOT agree with tasteful nudity!!!

  67. Matt Stevens on May 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    “Perhaps an unfortunate result of so much pornography is that now it is difficult for many to view the human body as beautiful rather than overly sexual.”

    Difficulty to view the human body as beautiful rather than sexual may also be the unfortunate result of other factors. Surely an unhealthy, overprotective parental posture exhibited and taught to children as it relates to sexuality and nudity contributes to this difficulty. While the sexually-drenched media isn’t helping, I don’t think the outside influences are the only problem. What other factors create problems within the Mormon culture with sexuality?

    Perhaps teenage pregnacy is not the best metric to measure how well we are doing. Knowledge and practice of birth control and/or abortion may obscure the results if we are interested in sexual purity more than just unwanted pregnancy rankings among states.

  68. Sonny on May 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    This post and the comments remind me of when I taught ESL 20 years ago. I worked at a school in California that accepted students from all over the world wanting to learn English. We had students from all over– South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. From time to time the school would organize trips to San Francisco and other places/cities of interest. Please excuse the huge generalization here, but it became apparent to me and the other teachers/staff that when we brought a culturally mixed group to San Francisco, those students from culturally strict countries regarding nudity (predominantly from the Arab peninsula) inevitably wanted to go straight to the strip clubs, while those from countries where nudity was less taboo than even in the US (European countries, Brazil) would rather go to scenic places and meet people. It was like this again and again–and again. They were all pretty much free to do what they wanted while there (they were all adults). I am not drawing any conclusions from this, but it was a consistent observation nonetheless.

  69. Sonny on May 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Okay, I’m going to add one more comment–just so a post titled “Tasteful Nudity” does not ridiculed for ending up with 69 comments.

  70. Cameron N. on May 11, 2011 at 12:17 am

    “I’ve read most, but not all of the comments. One idea that I think is interesting: If our culture wasn’t so entrenched in pornography, would it be easier to tell the distinction between beauty and obscenity?

    Perhaps an unfortunate result of so much pornography is that now it is difficult for many to view the human body as beautiful rather than overly sexual.”

    Catania, I have a good friend who was addicted to pornography, and have talked about it a lot with him. I think your comment is spot on.

  71. BP on May 15, 2011 at 5:09 am

    “If God wanted us to live naked,” I remember my Grandmother saying, “we would have been born that way.”

  72. Jason on May 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I wanted to suggest a few links that may help in assisting people that looking for help with Pornography / Sexual addiction.

    I think this site is very helpful, and a great resource for individuals who are looking for help with their addictions. I have also found the following sites to be very helpful as well.

    http://www.lifestar.com – Addiction Counseling based in SLC, UT. Many of the affiliates are LDS.

    http://www.rowboatsandmarbles.org – LDS man in recovery that provides wonderful insights into addiction.

    http://www.salifeline.org – LDS couple in recovery who started a foundation to educate those that struggle with this addiction.

    http://www.outinthelight.com – Media driven, effort to assist women in the fight against pornography. Many if not all of the site contributors are LDS.

    http://www.combatingpornography.com – LDS churches site on Pornography.

    http://www.ldshopeandrecovery.com – Online Counseling for LDS members to recieve qualified Pornography / Sexual Addiction counseling.

  73. BJH on August 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Interesting discussion. Sorry to come late to a discussion that appears to have ended. But I do have a question that I have pondered at great length. I would be interested in hearing the feelings of others.

    If nudity is a sin in and of itself, why did God wait until Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness to give them garments to cover their nakedness? In considering this question, keep in mind that modern scripture leads us to understand that, before partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were regularly in the presence of the Father and the Son. Of course we know that they were also visited by Satan.

    If nudity is inappropriate, wouldn’t it have been more pure to clothe them, to cover their nakedness from Satan, Christ, and The Father?