Photograph taken at Konark Temple
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.