Is There Still A Place For Nudity In Art?

John Patrick
John Patrick , Artist
17 January, 2024
Is There Still A Place For Nudity In Art?
"Is there still a place for nudity in art?"

It's a good question!

When I started out as an artist of the figure nude in 1990 there was no shortage of venues wanting to show my work, I went from total obscurity to showing in Central London Art Galleries, Municipal Art Galleries, Bistros and Community Centres across the UK and abroad.

I taught life-drawing of the female nude to the public, at over-subscribed free workshops funded by the UK Arts Council, and then to Celebrity Presenters on National TV (did you see me?). Pop-up galleries became trendy in empty garages and I hosted a couple myself along the way in retail shops between tenancies. I hung my art on the walls of restaurants, bistros, nightclubs and bars where members of the public went to eat, drink and be merry. There was no need to hide, none of these places were strictly "adult only".

Painting, drawing and openly showing the female (and male) nudes was never an issue. That said, I never intentionally sketched or painted genitalia, if unavoidable in the pose I would tend to conceal the area within natural shadows. Plus, when I had a pop-up gallery in a retail shopping centre I was intentionally "sympathetic" to the location within the local community. For instance, I didn't show nudity in the window or within easy view of a child looking in through the window. From the perspective of an artist who was also an active businessman (selling my art and the art of others) there was no value in embarrassing a mother, or grandmother, with young children who might be prompted to ask awkward questions as a result of what they saw in my gallery window. That could never be described as a "good sales strategy".

Yet, over the last 10-15 years of austerity the appetite for nudity within public spaces seems to have declined. When was the last time you visited an art gallery filled with modern art showing clearly depicted female or male nudes? I am not talking about purely anatomical photography, as might appear in a medical textbook. Neither, am I including pictures similar in style to top-shelf men's magazines but galleries full of paintings and drawings in the classical style? It's several years since I've been accepted for a solo exhibition of my nudes and I have even been declined for "open exhibitions" (where any member of the public can apply to exhibit, no matter what artistic experience they can show).

However, the News this week has reported on the rise of sex in movies, that movies are feeling a new found freedom after the social close-down of the pandemic. Emma Stone has been interviewed, explaining all the necessary sex in the movie "Poor Things" to name an example.

Yet, how can sexuality in movies impact upon my question: "Is there still a place for nudity in art?". My question doesn't talk of "sexuality" or "sex", it only mentions "nudity".

To many people these phrases can be interchangeable. But they're not. Do you understand the differences?

But to stop this article becoming an academic essay, I ask you to consider two valid points that, in my opinion, clearly show an existing desire for nudity within art:

  1. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. A very famous painting, of a large number of naked people. Did you know that 5-6 million visitors travel to see it every year? (25,000 per day is usual). Also,
  2. In just the last 12months, over 60 mature women from all over the world, have approached me asking me to draw or paint them nude. Most of these ladies have approached me from North America and Canada via my Instagram profile. Later they have sent me private nude pictures I've directed them how to pose for and from which I've then created an artwork which in turn I've sent back to them in the post. 

Perhaps nudity in art isn't quite so offensive??
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