Quarrels, separation, arguments, spats, plenty of yelling and screaming, sobbing and tears. The male artist and the nude has, as defined by modernism and then post-modernism, a contrapuntal relationship for the most part; the discordant seeking to resolve issues in which the fates of both hang in the balance, or for the artist, on the easel. It was a first love, but through cheating, duplicity, and plain bad faith, the act of getting back to the garden in a utopia with first love has been a tortuous journey indeed….
The most interesting period of this making up is hard to do period was the Bay Area painters of the early 1960′s picking up the shattered shards of abstract expressionism. Any painter who returns to the nude, who goes forward into a new treatment, must bear some comparison to the past, even if that echo is no more deeper than Matisse. The California painters such as Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn, seemed to recall Matisse in combination with less impressive painters such as Anders Zorn, who also painted nudes in sunlight with large, fat, vigorous areas of color. Against centuries of familiar art,any new art can seem a hybrid from sources that supply piquant recombinations.Even the overdiligent search for parentage of abstract art could make Jackson Pollock look like late Monet, which to some extent frees even the painter of the nude from the tradition that will weigh on any artist.
Even surrealism, which insinuated its way into pop art, still left the nude in a high minded position. No matter how much a Picasso or de Kooning could seek to posit nihilistic attributes to justify their sum of destruction, egged on with the rhetoric from that demagogue of misogyny himself, Duchamp, the nude, the inner beauty remains somehow intact and indestructible.
There was an old movie called Dinner at Eight, where Jean Harlow, playing a beauteous high-class trollop, tries to make intellectual conversation with Marie Dressler, playing a caustic matron. “Isn’t it wonderful today the way they’re making machines to do everything?” says Harlow. Dressler looks her up and down and says pertinently, “You needn’t worry.”
Nor need the nude. Firmly rooted in sex and gloriously elevated by the finest traditions of Western art, it can be debauched, degraded, and rejected without losing its potency for renewal.Even if the artists have to deal with critics, and the tastemakers of “the market” who are often unwilling to back down from positions based and dependent on unrestricted, near unlimited maunderings in discussions on post-conceptualism etc.; and it is true, that Botticelli, Manet, Cranach et al. set an impossibly demanding tone, it still makes no difference. The nude will be irreplaceable as a theme for artists as long as men feel the need for a body to enjoy and brains to see with.