Prurience raised its hot head in art-making during the last century. That’s when Salvador Dali pictured “Hitler Masturbating,” and Picasso described his experience with five nude female prostitutes in “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.”

Could that be why 21st-century art-making is spilling over with nudes, as if in search of a story to tell; as if all passion has been spent and there’s nothing left to expose? How else to explain photographer Spencer Tunick endlessly shooting large groups of men and women without their clothes on?

Meaningfulness is so ‘90s.

Is that why a current show of pointless nudes at Lehmann Maupin by Tracy Emin, the confessional artist known for disclosing her sex life pictorially, is titled “I Dream of Being Obscure”? Is it because she has nothing left to confess?

How rampant, you may ask, is the artist’s tendency to create vacuous visions of nakedness now? One glance through the headlines of art news on Huffington Post’s site makes the point: the art world today is fixated on nakedness for no apparent reason. Also in evidence is that the fixated is sophomoric - the way we thought of bared bodies when we were in middle school.

Check out these art news headlines:

  • "Photo  Series Explores How Nude Models Feel In Their Skin They're In"
  • "Feminist Photographer  Wants Women To Love Their Bodies, Hair and  All"
  • “In The Raw Feminist Nude Selfies”
  • "A Book About Sex That Doesn't Talk Down To You"
  • "All-Male Nude Photos Shut Down Body Shaming In Sexiest Way Possible"
  • "The Nu Project Has Been Redefining The Nude Photo For Over A  Decade"

What else is new?

Of course, the nude has always been a subject in art.

But it used to stand for something. In ancient Greece it stood for nobility. In the Dark Ages the story of Adam and Eve became a story of shame and guilt.

Then the  Renaissance brought back the classical ideal and the nude was noble again, but with a difference. As historian Gill Saunders, curator at London's Victoria and Albert Museum pointed out in her 1989 book "The Nude," religious leaders, bent on maintaining their patriarchy, sought to control the notion of women's sexuality by imposing on art the image of women as passive - dispassion made women good and passion made them bad.


Not unexpectedly, feminism arose; although even in 1989 when Saunders wrote her book, she talked about “the polarization of active male and passive female.” Feminism hadn’t yet dug in its stiletto heels. Saunders cited images of male artists with female models, making clear that the male is seen as actively using his abilities and the female is simply seen as the object of his study.

Feminism finally took hold and here we are today: Women are no longer portrayed in art either as vixens or virgins, and males are no longer gods.

So maybe now, all the pointless nudity is just a last gasp of rebellion against art controlled by societal rules and we can get back to art-making that actually says something again.

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