Nudity in art-work may enhance the beauty of the subject of that art-work or it may turn the art-work into a pathetic and vulgar piece. It all depends upon the subject of the art-work as well as the mind and style of the artist. If the subject does not demand it and just for the sake of making it look attractive one paints it nude, there are chances that it will destroy the beauty of the subject. And if the subject demands nudity and one do not include it in the subject, and then also it will ruin the beauty of the artwork.
The outcome of an artwork also depends upon the character and the mind-set of the artist. How an artist understands a subject and the imagery he forms about the subject in his mind plays a crucial role in the way he depicts it on canvas or stone etc. Hence, the mindset, character and the background of the artist plays an important role. An artist may just steal a character from a mythology and twist it to suite his storyline without caring about it’s real meaning and symbolism. Or he may research about a character, draw inspiration from its meaning and symbolism and then create his art-work accordingly.
In the first case, obviously the ‘artist’ will have no interest in the character’s real meaning and symbolism and all he would care about is his own whims and fancies. He would go to any length to twist the qualities of the character to suit his own depictions. In such cases, the painting will surely hold the name of the character but it would no longer truly represent the same character. In the second case, an artist, being a genuine art-maker, will study deeply about the character and will try to immerse himself in the said mythology and understand the meaning and symbolism of that character. Then, he would use his skills to depict the character in the way he had understood them. The former is a case of incompetence, carelessness and recklessness on the part of the artist. The latter is a case of genuine love, respect, dedication and seriousness on the part of the artist.
I believe that in the case of nudity, there is a very thin line between the soberness and vulgar-ness and some people do not realize that their art-works crosses this line and looks vulgar. Especially in case of the paintings of gods and goddesses when this happens, it kills all the good aspects of the character that was meant to be represented and the only thing that remains behind is “nakedness”. Today, many artists without even researching or having the basic idea about the essence and meaning behind the image of a deity, feel that, painting a Hindu deity as naked is ‘Cool’ and ‘good’. And most of the times, the outcome looks disastrous. As they end up painting only a “naked figure” and not “a deity which represents particular aspect of the Universe”. Their artworks fail to bring forward the “Bhava- the Essence, the feeling” of the deity.
Recently I went across a few paintings of Hindu deities where in the artist, under the pretext of modernity, made paintings of a few deities naked in such a way that it looked completely overdone. There was no spark in the face, no soberness in the character, no aspects of the deity were painted and so the painting did not bring any feelings of seeing a particular deity. To defend themselves they ask, why should an artist limit his imaginations just because a character is a part of a certain mythology? The answer is simple. If a person is interested in his imaginations alone, then he should work on it alone without stealing characters from any mythologies. What is the purpose of such a person in taking a character from a certain mythology when he has no care or regard for its meaning and symbolism? Why not he simply creates a brand new character from his imagination? What is the reason of stealing the subject from a certain mythology and then twisting it in such a way that the character becomes totally opposite and contradictory to its essence and meaning?
The reason people choose such a character is because it gives them fame and money. There are thousands of people who are fascinated by these characters but have no idea about the meaning and symbolism of the characters and hence they buy anything that some artists create and sell- it may be paintings female deities as naked and seductive or paintings of male deities as having gigantic muscles and body where no such portrayal was necessary. It is said that “Ignorance is Bliss” and ignorance of people about mythology is being used by some ‘artists’ for selling their art-works. These ‘artists’ do not even make a genuine attempt to understand the mythological characters they are depicting. They do not ask themselves, whether a particular character and subject requires nudity or not, whether it requires muscular portrayal or not. The worse thing is, they over-do it. Even in the cases of characters where portrayal of nudity or strength is required, the artists simply over-do it. This completely ruins the art-work.
There are a lot many temples of Ancient and Medieval India, where we can see lots of sculptures that are naked. Many of them also deal with topics like Sex and family. But, none of them look vulgar. They are extremely beautiful masterpieces of some amazing artists of those times. These sculptures are the best examples of Nudity that exhibit beauty and soberness. And if an artist wishes to take those sculptures as a reference to create his art-work, then along with the nudity, he must also imbibe the characters of beauty, soberness and grace that the sculptures exhibit. Only then, the art-work will become beautiful and worth admiring.
My only advice as an artist to any artist who wants to portray nudity in his art-work, especially when his subject is related to mythology, is that he/she should take some time before starting with his work, and do proper research, read as much as possible, trying to go deep into the character and its meaning, if possible meditate on them and only then start creating your work. This would give lot better results.
An art is a Sadhana(spiritual effort), an ever learning process in which an artist is always a student. He may or may not have a physical teacher. But he is always taught by his own thoughts and sense perceptions. Nature is the greatest teacher and one learns a lot of things just by observing her. The work of the nature and the Physical teacher is to help a student to discover his own inner Self which is the inner guide and teacher. And once the inner self starts to guide an artist, art will flow out of him spontaneously. It is this state of spontaneity, an artist must aspire to achieve because without spontaneity it is impossible to achieve perfection.
Perfection as for as an artist is concerned is an ability of the artist to paint on a canvas or carve in a stone perfectly the image which he had in his mind. That is, if the physical image created by an artist is a perfect replica of his mental image, only then his art-work can be termed as perfect. Practically speaking it is almost impossible to create an exact replica of the image, the artist has in his mind.
This near perfection can not be achieved in a day or a month. An artist must continuously and patiently strive hard to improve his skills with dedication and a sense of detachment. He must make his art a sadhana, spiritual effort towards this goal of perfection. Only such an attitude of commitment, humility and detachment will lead to purification of his heart and mind(chitta-shuddhi) which will in turn help him develop spontaneity. More the mind is purified, more the spontaneity he develops.
No matter if the artist is a beginner or a professional, there is always a scope for learning in every art work he accomplishes. Sometimes it could be a new trick for an old concept and sometimes a solution to an old problem or it could be a completely new perspective of looking at things. With every effort, he walks a step further in an eternal process of being perfect. Even though an artist may or may not achieve perfection, it is important for him to enjoy the journey. An artist himself is the best judge and critic of his own work. Because he alone knows what he expected from the outcome of his painting and where he failed, what mental image he had and how much he was able to depict in his work.
Production of any art work not only involves the actual physical work done on a canvas or paper, but also the mental effort put into conceiving the image. Most people assume that art involves only a play of colors. But it is not so. The mental effort put is as important if not more than the physical effort.
Traditionally in India, the production of art was divided into two stages- 1. The mental conception of the Image and 2. The Physical expression by way of painting or sculpting of the mental image.
1. Mental conception: This is the most important stage in the creation of an art. An artist may spend weeks meditating or simply day dreaming about the theme he desires to put in colors. In many cases, the time spent to conceive the imagary may be much more than the time taken to paint on a canvas. Especially, when a person desires to paint on a mythological or religious themes, like portraying a picture of God or a deity, one must first understand the essential nature of the deity. He must first understand the aspect and spiritual truth that mythological figure represents. Some may represent peace, some destruction and some again knowledge. An artist must gain firm understanding of this. Then, he should contemplate on this understanding of the deity using the Lakshanas (symbols) given by the mythlogies for such deities. Only when in his mind, he perceives a proper imagery, he should attempt at painting them on canvas.
2. The actual production of art- An artist having thus conceived the image in his mind, will then proceed to physically created them on canvas or stoneor wood etc. Many a times, the outcome of the real painting/sculpture will not be as good or as beautiful as one’s mental imagery. But, the Physical image will always serve as a medium for that person and the others to mentally construct the image which was originally in the artist’s mind.
Hence, Anand k Coomaraswami says- “The picture is not in the colours but is in the heart(Hrdaya) of the artist(Karaka) before the work is done and of the spectator(Bhogin) who when the work is done has grapsed it’s meaning.”
There are two distinct ways in which an artist creates his works. He proceeds from universal to the particular or from the particular to the universal. In the case of the imagery of the deity it is the first case. It is called Dhyatva Kuryat, the intellectual conception precedes the actual creation of work.
For example, in the imagery of Brahma, apart from representing all the lakshanas(symbols) like the four heads, four hands, lotus etc, one must make sure that the real essence of the deity is represented. Brahma is basically a Rajasik(active) deity always involved in the action of creation of universe. Hence any depiction of him as being extremely violent bordering on Tamas(inertia) or extreme sweetness and serene bordering on Sattva(equipoise) should be avoided.
Another example is that of Hanuman, the essence of Hanuman exemplifies Veera Bhava(heroic nature) and Dasya Bhava(attitude of a servant) that is one of extreme courage, strength and at the same time humility and simplicity. It is important to keep in mind that a depiction of courage should not turn into a depiction of extreme violence or animalistic behavior.
The goal of any image of a deity is to be a medium on which the spectator can meditate on the essence of the deity. It is important for an artist to depict the essence properly in his works. A wrong portrayal of essence by an artist leads to a wrong conception of the deity in the heart of the spectator. Hence the portrayal of excesive mucsles to depict strength, excessive violence to depict virility and excessive sweetness to depict equipoise should be avoided.