That’s a click-baity title right there!
Though no, in all seriousness, this is our topic for today. On drawing and re-representations of the nude, genitalia and all. Why is there an outcry? Do we need to talk about it and more importantly, why is the notion that letting kids learn to draw genitals is seen as a ‘bad’ idea? Why do we consider it taboo and even more so, as something ‘immoral’ ? This is a huge box to unpack, but hopefully by providing some alternative angles, we can break down some of these pre-established notions. Lets put a pin on this and dive in.
Nudity in public – a shock factor
What really perturbs or shocks public sensibilities on the matter is not the nudity in itself, but more of the raw guttural display of genitalia that comes with being bare-all stripped down to the fleshed nude. We have become so desensitized to seeing bare flesh in media, what with Instagram and many other visual-centric platforms that really, what more could shock us? Save for the strict nudity policy that social media platforms have, the very discernment between nudity as art, sexual material, education and everything in between has become somewhat a blur, to say the very least. Regardless of the reason for nudity, it is still considered indecent in the normative public eye.
Whether it be a social construct or not, covering up is heavily intertwined with the ideas of modesty and shame. I am not a religious person by any means, though in the book of genesis, the Lord made garments for Adam & Eve upon them eating the fruit of knowledge, thus realizing their ‘shame‘. These garments could be interpreted as a view of their cognitive awareness and limitations, for only upon knowledge, do they see their modesty in full. In a modern sense, it works the same way, removing clothes for public display, disregarding the reasons for it, would warrant expressions of shock and expressive liberation with each culture having their own varying standards for what would be considered being decently covered and/or exposed.
Nudity as linked to sexuality – taboo
The naked body has always been inextricably linked to sexuality (directly or indirectly so). Naked statues and representations of large female mammaries from the Bronze age were tied to fertility and sexual health, serving as a prayer for good fortune for expectant mothers and young virgin daughters. Large wooden penis statues at Japan’s ‘Kanamara Matsuri’ was popular amoung men wishing for fertility as well as prostitutes for protection against STDS. Some have also said that the infamous penis shrine offers divine protections for business prosperity, and for the clan’s prosperity; and for easy delivery, marriage, and married-couple harmony, amoung other things. Heck, we don’t even have to look too far back or away from us. ‘Send nudes’, is a popular trope and saying used via online dating services (a horrible trope at that imo), but the purpose and function rings true, as a sexual signifier. Streakers and nudist activists exist and while there are places in the world that consider it completely legal in the court of law (NYC being one of them), that doesn’t mean it sits well with everyone if you were to walk down the street, pop into your local coffee brewery to get your morning latte and welcome everyone with an unprompted image of your butt.
Hence, this is why nudity displayed publicly is considered “taboo”.
The word “taboo” originated as a Polynesian word where according to Sigmund Freud, bears meaning in two of the opposing directions of sacred and forbidden. Nudity taboos are inherently part of our own culture and familiar to us all. However taboos are rarely ever universal and in some cases, can be weak as displayed Where taboos are impressionable, the avoidances are enforced through beliefs in the immoral potency and sexual deviancy of the nude and are more widely regarded as taboo rather than not. By treating it as taboo, it gives the word and idea of being nude a sort of unintended fear and reverence, which is exactly what the term ” taboo” is meant to inscribe.
Instead, of just seeing the naked body as forbidden in the public eye, nudity is also seen as something sacred as well, sacred for its link to intimacy, sexuality and partnership, for rituals and the body as a temple. As a sanctity and it plays off these two ideas unapologetically as explained earlier by the two opposing directions of the sacred and forbidden. If we transpose this social understanding of nudity into art and mark-making, we can begin to see why it becomes such a controversial mess.
Nudity in art – drawing
If you’ve ever attended art school or a live drawing class, you might be familiar with this ; a nude model in the middle of a circle of canvasses, drawing boards and stands. Charcoals rubbing away at these large sheets of paper, artists and enthusiasts alike trying to get that drawing down just right, it’s a common sight we think of when we think of live drawings with models. Also more common, you don’t usually see kids attend these classes, at least the ones involving the bare-naked models.
To disregard the cultural implications of nudity throughout the history of art would be a disservice, though for purposes of making this article legible in one sitting, we might have to pen most of this out. To grossly oversimplify, nudity in art serves many purposes and functions, though at the heart, it is representation to be used equally in forms for inciting sexuality, for reverence, for shame, for transgressions and then for some, even more.
I mean, I began this exploration looking into nudity and drawing for ‘kids’ but is also shows there are resistances for full grown adults drawing boobs and dicks in public as well, lest be berated as a sexual deviant, mischievous or worse being a ‘sicko’. Perhaps this is just a very long form explanation to what most of us already knew, that there are just too many connotations towards sexuality in nudity, that kids are too ‘young’ and immature to understand the social implications and reverence of their bodies.
Nudity in art – for kids!
I posed this open question on social media a while ago.
If a kid drew a dick image, is there a level of social outcry that is acceptable? What if the image of a dick has a stick-figure aesthetic? What if the kid is a technical artist and could emulate some level of hyper realism? What if the kid was curious and is growing up, its a level of deviancy, not sexual by any means, but an exploration into the taboo because their parents told them ‘no’?
Let me be strict in saying that this is in no way to encourage kids to explore their own sexuality at such a young age necessarily.
On the contrary, to make them be aware of their own bodies, their genitals, what is considered decent/ indecent, and in a way, giving them the full run down of proper sexual education can ONLY be beneficial to the community as a whole. We would need the help of certified educators and instructors for this but, by explaining to kids what their bodies mean and how it looks like, by treating the nude body as less a sexual object and something to be appreciated and normal, it weakens these taboos and give rise to healthier community of kids who will not snicker in the corner or go ‘EEEEEEE’ because they saw someone drawing an image of a dick.
Which is what i think this is, a doctored public outcry. Truly, what are the negative implications of drawing boobs, butts, vaginas or dicks in public? Do we not all already know what is behind the black censor bars? Opening up to the normalization of this in a healthy environment removes the stigma and taboo nudity has as more of show of sexuality and one more of normality. That does not mean it should be forced upon no, for normalization, a healthy amount of stigma,reverence and knowledge needed to know ‘when to cover up’ is equally as important. It is less a suggestion to be transgressive and more to be open about it.
For without understanding this as taboo, how can we begin to embrace it as normal?