My novel Navaratri explores the nature of the erotic in art. To date I have only been exploring just some of the research that went into the novel, and only in regard to the first section (I haven’t even begun to tackle the themes in the latter sections of the book).

One of those themes is the conflict between the classical view of the naked body, which celebrated it as a thing of beauty, and the Judeo-Christian view, which sees it as a thing of shame. This conflict has waxed and waned throughout the history of art, from time to time and from place to place. Perhaps the most intolerant has been the mainly Anglophone Puritan strand, a strand that, like Islam, was deeply suspicious of any representational art as a form of idolatry. The reaction to the naked child in art seems the most prevalent in English speaking countries tainted by Puritanism.

By and large, the classical view has dominated and the Puritan view, apart from the occasional skirmish, has been silenced. The nude is generally accepted as a perfectly legitimate subject for art, even finding its way into a good deal of famous religious art.

However, in more recent times the Puritan attitude has reasserted itself in relation to the naked child as a subject, this time using two relatively new arguments: that the child is too young to consent, and that such works inspire paedophilia.

Both arguments are nonsense.

Fanny by Jock Sturges

I have already detailed a number of cases where the subjects of such nude studies have spoken in favour of the work. The subject above, Fanny, continues to pose for Sturges as an adult. There have been many instances where protests have been made against an artist, only to have the subject reject the protests and support their work. In both the most recent cases, Bill Henson in Australia and Richard Prince at the Tate, the subjects supported the work (see Brooke Shields).


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18 Responses to The Naked Child in Art: The New Arguments Against

  1. Jim says:

    Very good arguments.There is a hysteria about everything related to the naked human body and this needs to be stopped.Another thing is that teen-agers/adolescents are often treated like little children where as studies like those by Robert Epstein suggest that teen-agers are just as capable or at least nearly as capable as adults.So the “maturity” argument is invalid for all teen-agers/adolescents.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Jim. I’ve studied developmental psychology and written a fair amount about it on this blog. The simple answer is that many adolescents are indeed as capable as adults. I plan to write an entry exploring the notion of consent further. The bottom line is not that children can’t consent, but that moral conservatives don’t want them to.

      • Tom says:

        Totally agree with Jim and Ray. Teenagers are almost as capable as adults.

        So, have you written any more about consent? Also, have you also written anything to clarify the distinctions that exist between little children and adolescents?

  2. Steve says:

    The sad thing is the number of people who equate nudity with sex. The 2 are not necessarily connected, especially when the subject is a child. There is nothing sexually stimulating about a child’s body unless you are a sick paedophile and therein lies my point. Should we abandon this innocent area of art simply because of the mental defects of a few mentally unbalanced perverts who are not interested in art anyway and have many, far easier sources to access real filth from?

  3. Elias says:

    You perverts make me sick. I hope your soul burns for an eternity.

    • Ray says:

      You only condemn yourself with these cruel words. What kind of person wishes an eternity of suffering on anyone? I regard the doctrine of hell to be one of the nastiest and most immoral ideas ever conceived.

    • Brad says:

      Who gave you the authority to condemn others?

  4. CL says:

    the Judeo-Christian view, which sees it as a thing of shame

    Christians who practice the shame reaction to nudity are treating the body as the world treats it but merely choosing a different reaction (denial and shame instead of lewdness and flaunting). This is not truly Christian. I doubt this worldly perversion of nudity is pleasing to God. There is nothing immodest or sinful about simply being naked and the pictures you have chosen here are examples of simple, natural nudity that is not sinful. If someone reacts to either of them in a lascivious manner, the fault lies with that person and his or her likely disordered view of nudity and sexuality.

    The reaction of Elias above is telling as it is way out of proportion to the stimulus.

    JPII from “Love and Responsibility” 1981: “Nakedness itself is not immodest… Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment.”

    • Ray says:

      The Christian attitude to nudity differs according to denomination, country and time. There are many Christians who practice nudism, especially in Germany and Europe. Indeed, during the height of the naturist movement in Germany in the 30’s there was a Catholic naturist club. The reaction to nudity is learned. Elias no doubt belongs to some ‘American’ Protestant sect heavily influenced by that country’s well known puritanism.

  5. Los says:

    “Thanks Jim. I’ve studied developmental psychology and written a fair amount about it on this blog. The simple answer is that many adolescents are indeed as capable as adults. I plan to write an entry exploring the notion of consent further. The bottom line is not that children can’t consent, but that moral conservatives don’t want them to.”
    Are you a licensed clinical psychologist or do you study just enough to read things your way?
    Do not get me wrong, I am not taking sides on this topic but am only studying some of the responses and one that seems inane to me is that “moral conservatives dont want them to” Ridiculous! The first part of this response is as ridiculous as the last part. “Many adolescents are indeed as capable as adults..” Which is absolutely sophomoric – capable at what? Buying a car? Holding down a lucrative job? Capable of maintaining a mature relationship? Buying stock or an IRA for retirement?
    The truth is regardless of how lovely and beautiful the youthful nude is or how much you get turned on by the idea of sex with children might be, adolescents, especially in the 21st Century are scholastically not very bright. This is our dullest generation of students our high schoolers reading at and working 4th grade level math problems. Neither do they possess the wherewithal to buy a car, get to the job, buy gas, keep up the crib, buy clothes etc etc. Regardless of how bad some may want this, Kids cannot handle sex — It is a dilemma because I was sexually active at age ten and my first partner was younger than me at age 8! The mom came out and well it didnt go any further but it was fun. But most importantly, would you like YOUR kids being penetrated by an stronger older stranger? NO! Capable of what? Moral Conservatives have no control over what adults or children do in their private time and space – This is what torques me off – stop looking for scapegoats when the matter Physiologically is clearly defined. A young vagina is not yet equipped to handle penetration! No matter how much you may wish it were so. As for photography and paintings I love the human form and especially the female form — But to paint draw make prints and photos of kids will result in my being banned from the galleries. I do have controversial content to put into visual form but the current arguments I do not think hold any water. Thanks for your time

    • Ray says:

      I think you are a bit confused.

      1. No one here is advocating sex with children.

      2. The issue of consent is confined to children acting as nude models in a strictly non-sexual context.

      3. In regard to the capacity of adolescents I suggest you read ‘Teen 2.0′ by Dr Robert Epstein. You might also look into the work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Also look up ‘The Flynn Effect’ which demonstrates that average IQ’s have been increasing.

      4. I’m guessing you live in America, in which case you may very well be right about American teens not being ‘scholastically bright’. I live in Australia and our teens rank in the top 10. This represents a backward step, we used to rank in the top 5 and everyone is keen to get us back to that standard. America’s problems are for Americans to fix. You might start by spending money on your schools.

      5. There is a world outside America.

  6. Debra says:

    Yesterday an appeals court in Massachusetts handed down one of the most remarkably stupid decisions in this area you are likely to ever read. Commonwealth v Mark Sullivan, I hope the hyperlink works if not google it, there are news stories about it today.

    http://weblinks.westlaw.com/result/default.aspx?db=MA-ORSLIP&findtype=Y&fn=_top&mt=Westlaw&rlt=CLID_FQRLT539792358317&rp=%2FSearch%2Fdefault%2Ewl&rs=ICLP2%2E0&serialnum=2028296077&service=Find&sp=MassOF-1001&sv=Split&vr=1%2E0

    Knowledgeable local lawyers fully expect the decision to be reversed by the State Supreme Court for all of the reasons raised in the exceedingly well-thought out dissenting opinion. Well worth a read, if you ask me.

  7. proud to be an american says:

    hey ray, american children are as bright as any and what does that have to do with these issues?

    • Ray says:

      Indeed, they are. I have not suggested otherwise. I think you are confused about the difference between potential and realising that potential.

  8. otto otowski says:

    “The point is that you cannot prevent the sexual imagination of a paedophile and banning certain images is irrelevant. If preventing paedophiles from misusing the images of children is a serious argument, then it should be applied in all instances where a paedophile might misuse any image of a child (including bare feet)…”

    You nailed it. The same is true in literature. Nabokov’s Lolita is great literature but some may find it more arousing than a nude portrait by Jock Sturges.

  9. ab says:

    Indeed. Good points on consent.
    Did you write any more on the topic of consent?
    Adolescents are neither immature, nor helpless. They are like adults in most ways, and when they are not, it is because the society doesn’t allow them to be.

  10. Magoichi Saika says:

    I once read an online article about this elementary teacher in the U.S. who was thrown out of the school simply because the school gave in to the complaints of parents who criticized the teacher for bringing their children to an art museum featuring statues of classical nude figures.

    America is indeed Puritan because the teacher lost.

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