The other day, while discussing the unlikely New Age representation of angels as Farrah Fawcett style models in pastel garments, complete with immaculate big hair, I ended up looking up an old post on the Men in Full blog, which is now inactive, but did a valiant job of representing a love of the larger male form for quite a few years, thanks to the lady who ran it.
The post I looked for was called Cherubic Fire: The Fat Angels of David Addison Small, and I do like the artist’s work, and his bearish, older angels with their full forms and deep red wings. Then the blogger notes:
“These massive figures seem to me to be more ‘naked’ than ‘nude.’ One reason is because there is little stylized imagery for the fat male body in Western art (outside of cartoon or caricature.) To paraphrase art historian Kenneth Clark, the ‘nude’ is by definition stylized and abstract; the ‘naked’ shows us flesh as it is. In some ways the ‘nude’ has lost its power to move us. But because we literally don’t have a common visual vernacular for fat bodies, to us they look ‘naked,’ and thus intrinsically ‘shocking’ (not in a moralistic sense, but in the sense of riveting our attention.) Only within the gay bear aesthetic have stylizations of the beautiful and/or erotic fat male body begun to emerge”
And whether it is fat, hairiness, age, maleness, or some other quality which might endow a human form with the quality of nakedness, it is a treasure, because it brings us into contact with a living, breathing reality. The nude is what we are expected to value. It clothes itself in an aesthetic language. It becomes in a sense synthetic, refined. It could be a statue, a sculpture, a form in service to something else. The same abstracting, emptying process also occurs in some professional porn. Nakedness by contrast is candid, open, seemingly honest in appearance. It is unconsciously the subject itself.
I think it is this that makes it beautiful and real. There is nothing wrong with it also being erotic, but that is just one frequency in an entire sweep of self-evidence.
To an extent, despite things like nudism and naturism, there is a tendency within our culture to judge a nude as maybe good or justifiable, but naked as suspect, embarrassing, or somehow “bad”. But everyone knows that people crave (or fear) nakedness, not a “nude”.
Maybe that’s part of what those naked, bearded, red winged angels carry with them. A spark of truth that wakes the senses with genuine, real presence.
Chögyam Trungpa used to say “all things are symbols of themselves” – a saying which I always found lovely and profound. In the realm of the physical, nakedness is the quality of that self-evident thing, and self.
Such generosity and candour deserves our gratitude and appreciation.