Yet another comment on art and art appreciation. We seem to be having quite a run of these right now.
Austin American-Statesman staff writer Chris Garcia seems to have struggled mightily to grok the scene at a fairly ordinary (for participants) viewing of photographic art at an Austin, TX gallery recently. The attempt is almost successful.
All the images on exhibit, by photographer George Krause, are of nudes, and (almost) all the spectators are nude too, members of the local Hill Country Nudists club. So what’s the big deal?
The naked man looked at the clothed man, and then he looked at the naked people, and then back at the clothed man, all the time wearing a scrunched look that said, “What is this weirdo doing here?”
The weirdo, fully dressed, was there to talk to naked people. He told the naked man this, and the naked man relaxed. But the clothed man did not relax, for he was one of only a few clothed people in an art gallery filled with naked men and women. Twenty-one of the naked people were there in the literal, quivering flesh, and about as many were hanging on two long walls, the subjects of life-size photographs by Austin artist George Krause.
Somehow, Garcia’s prose comes across in shades of purple:
Naked people admired the photos’ indiscriminate honesty, and the boxy, concrete gallery echoed with the slappy patter of bare feet. Sipping cheap cabernet in plastic cups, nudists mixed casually in the shocking altogether, proud in their mammalian resplendence. They embodied all sizes and shapes, from pears to bears, though the age scale tipped to ear hair and backaches.
But here’s the part that gets me going:
There was chatter about “liberation,” “society” and the nudist “agenda,” yet a curious dearth about sexuality and the whole naked thing. One wondered how these people abstain from . . . looking.
“With some practice, it’s completely possible to maintain eye contact with a topless woman,” Morgan said. “You don’t stare, but you don’t avoid looking in a particular direction either.” Gotcha.
What the writer is struggling to understand is that looking is simply not a problem. It’s not a problem, because people who really get naturism don’t mind if anyone looks, or at what parts. To be naked means that certain body parts, which the prevailing culture considers to be taboo and “private”, are uncovered. But since these parts aren’t taboo for naturists, there’s no problem with their being seen, or even something one may pay attention to.
That’s subject to reasonableness, of course. A person who stares without interruption at anyone or any part of someone certainly will be regarded as weird, uncouth, oafish, or gauche. But even then, many, if not most, naturists will not be so much “annoyed” or “offended” as simply pitying toward such behavior. Naturists are quite used to seeing nudity. They enjoy seeing it, but aren’t mesmerized by it. Anyone who is clearly hasn’t got the idea yet.
In traditional Japanese culture there are communal bathing facilities known as onsen and sento. In connection with these, the saying is that “nudity is often seen, but seldom noticed.” However, such bathing facilities usually have separate areas for men and women, so there remains a definite nudity taboo.
Naturism is different. It has a culture of its own where even noticing nudity is not a problem. That is because the nudity — one’s own as well as that of others — is something to be enjoyed. Just so long as one doesn’t take it to excess.
There’s another newspaper story on the same event, by Houston Chronicle writer Louis Parks, who doesn’t seem quite so overwhelmed by it all — and thanks to Mark for this:
A great night for art buffs [Link still valid!]
The gallery served wine, the guests stood around and chatted and discussed the photos. What could be more, well, natural?
No big deal.
To a fully dressed observer, the most striking aspect of this gathering — aside from the vastness of skin, the profusion of body hair and the usually hidden wrinkles — was how similar it seemed to a clothed gathering.
And yet not quite the same.
“It’s refreshing,” said Kathy, whose father, a photographer, taught her ‘the difference between nudity and pornography.’ “It’s nice to meet people where you feel comfortable. One thing about people who are truly nudist, you are not looking at the body image thing, it’s more who they are.”
Vive la différence.
Originally posted August 28, 2005