Poetry vs. Smut

While I’ve been enjoying taking photos of bugs, flowers, and family with my new DSLR camera, the other night I returned to my Fine Arts roots. This yielded some interesting results and fresh ideas. Having spent six years in “art school” environments, life drawing and anatomy studies with nude models, art history, and feminist discourse surrounding the male gaze, etc., were everyday fare. Whether it be Michaelangelo’s David, or Manet’s brazen, and stark naked Olympia, we studied and wrote about it at length from a critical and academic point of view.

The human form has held fascination for artists for millennia, but the rupture, or disconnect for me occurred the first time that family saw my life drawings. The best way to describe it would be nervous giggles and incomprehension at my apparent obsession with “naked people” – naked women in particular. This inadvertently led to speculation about my sexual orientation, which still lingers to this day. Nevertheless, it became clear that although the nude is standard study in the art world, the average citizen (more cognizant of Playboy and pornography than of art history) has been seriously impacted by the overt sexualization [objectification] of women and girls in popular culture, media, and advertising. You could say that the nude is carrying around a lot of baggage. The territory is fraught with fear, loathing, embarrassment, misunderstanding, and sometimes censorship.

Still, I am drawn to the human form as subject, and despite my own acute awareness and sensitivity to the difficulties some viewers have with the nude in art, I proceed – delicately and attentively. To help clarify, I think it’s helpful to think in terms of poetry versus smut. A poem can evoke imagery that draws out emotion, sometimes even on a spiritual level, while smut is designed and intended to titillate the baser senses. To view a work of fine art as a visual poem, complete with meaningful narrative and symbolism, whatever that may be, can be an intensely personal and soulful experience if one is open to it.

In viewing the body (whatever body) at its barest and most honest, we are given a mirror with which to contemplate our own vulnerabilities, and ultimately the impermanence and mortality that we all share. My approach to the nude is considered and modest. It does not push the boundaries, nor does it demand to be “in your face.” It is quiet and meditative. It transcends the carnal and hints at other things.

Click here to view more images from this new series of work.

About Michelle LaRiviere

Michelle is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and Reiki Master currently based in Windsor, Ontario. She has exhibited internationally, and her practice includes traditional as well as digital media. Michelle has a background in education and is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. Her long-time interest in holistic healing led to her recent certifications in Reiki and AromaTouch Technique massage.
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