naked and nude

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.

photo of the cover of "Angeli Terrae" by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae

photo of the cover of “Angeli Terrae” by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae

Naked

“we live in a world where we have to hide to make love,

while violence is practiced in broad daylight”

John Lennon

I saw the above quote this morning, and like so much of John Lennon’s perceptions, it was awesome in its simple clarity. A clear perception makes questions possible.

Coincidentally we were in town yesterday sitting outside a cafe,  and a really delightful thing happened. An enormous and joyous naked bike ride went down the end of the road. Just lots and lots of naked people on wheels, all shapes and sizes, ages, sexes, naked and beautiful and bringing laughter and surprise. Also a few disgusted expressions from passers by, just a few, but mainly people seemed just amused or supportive.

My reaction, after simple delight, was that we so need more nakedness. It was so healthy to see naked people, not naked models, or the standard (usually slim, young and female) consumer depictions of  the unclothed, but real naked people, with bellies and dangly breast, smooth and hairy, genitals showing without it being a big deal. Happy, real nakedness. It was wonderful.

Yet as per Lennon’s observation, our culture still finds it hard to get it. You can have films that show appalling violence, and video games that do the same, but passionate consensual sex gets hedged around with restrictions. A face full of hate is ok, or a fist used to hurt, but what is dangerous and too much? An erect penis, a vagina, an anus.

Moreover, what is the spill over of this into our life and living culture? What on earth is wrong with public nakedness? What is wrong with seeing someone have consensual sex? We watch people box and bloody each other, and seriously injure each other at times. Why is watching people fuck less acceptable than that? We can happily see someone dressed to kill (literally) for war, but we shy away from someone dressed for something entirely natural and pleasurable, and overwhelmingly associated with affection. What is our culture saying to us, and to our children?

We need less violence and less hurt, and less valuation of violence. We need more nakedness, more life, more love and more sex.

I don’t think the promotion of the one is unrelated to the suppression of the other. On that I tend to feel that Wilhelm Reich may well have been on to something.

World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in Zaragoza (Spain) – By Enrique Matías Sánchez (Quique) (dsc_5495) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons