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Art: The naked and the nude

The Painter: A Novel of Pursuit
Stephen Denning

The previous evening, April had proposed to model for the author:

April is late coming for breakfast, but when she appears, she’s ready for business and wears a silk kimono in the manner of a woman who’s studied for months the various strategies for looking casual. Wandering strands of hair stray picturesquely across her face and shoulders. Her skin has a wonderful natural healthy glow to it, but as it didn’t have quite this hue or texture yesterday, it seems like a fair assumption that the glow has come from the bottles parked in the bathroom. She must have spent hours getting everything to come out this way. Today is her biggest role yet: artist’s model, and evidently she’s ready for the part.

"What else do you have to do?" she asks.

I put up only a token defense as I feel myself tempted by the prospect.

We don’t have to do it in the nude, I say, seeing the inevitable perils ahead.

"That’s the whole point," says April. "Throw off these constraints, embrace life. Isn’t that what you say?"

April’s character is more naked in the inviting gaze of her eyes than in the undraping of her body. But before I can explain again this rudimentary principle, she stands up, twirls around, throws off her kimono revealing that she’s in the altogether, sits down again and recommences eating her toast. The triumphant look is back again in her eyes, and frankly, she’s surprised me.

"What’s wrong? You haven’t seen this much skin before?"

I have, but not tanned smoothly all over in such a lovely cashew color. Now, I see how her days have been spent: sunbathing and applying tanning gel, to attain this scientifically precise finish.

"Will you do me in oils or watercolors? she says, continuing to munch nonchalantly on her toast. "Personally, I enjoy oils."

"Neither," I say feeling the need to regain the initiative, and trying — not wholly successfully — to contain my agitation. April, to be sure, is reveling in her success at unsettling me. "Let’s start with some charcoal sketches."

"Whatever," says April gaily. "But let’s get started. I know how precious your time is."

April is right. I am wasting time, as I find myself not getting ready with the swift eloquent professionalism that characterizes my attack. I know art is in the mind of the artist, but in this instance, there’s also something out there. I try to regain my composure, and get together some sketchpads and charcoal.

Quotations on art: the naked and the nude

To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's body turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked.

    John Berger: Ways of Seeing


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