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.
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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