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Where do you draw the line?


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#1 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 09:29 AM

My wife and I are planning a little vacation to Memphis and St. Louis. Yesterday in the paper, an article highlighted a regional sculptor who has 2 acres of sculptures on his property, right along I-40 on our drive to Memphis. I thought it might be worth stopping to see.

So I went to his website, FintonSculpture.com, to see if his work was any good. Well, his craft is good. But some of his subject matter left me scratching my head.

When it comes to nudity in visual art, I'm usually much more "liberal" than most other Christians I know. Taking figure drawing classes didn't bother me in college. Though I struggle with lust as much as the next guy, that atmosphere wasn't sexual at all for me.

But some of Finton's work seems to have crossed a line in my head. If I may think out loud here, when considering nudity in visual art I would probobably make three classifications: nude (in a classical sense), eros (yet still tasteful, what some people in the art world would probably call "naked" as opposed to "nude"), and then you've got the pornographic (just plain lewd).

The works that bother me seem to fall between eros and porn. One is particularly graphic in a sexual manner, but is odd because it lacks most of the bodies it's very abstracted. This one probably bothers me most.

So anyway, now I've pretty much decided I don't want to stop there along the way. I'm just wondering what other people would do, and what you think of this guy's work, and what you think of my three classifications. Because in some ways I feel as though my aversion in this instance may be irrational???

Edited by Chashab, 25 July 2006 - 09:31 AM.


#2 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 10:12 AM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ Jul 25 2006, 10:04 AM) View Post

I don't think it's possible to address it systematically, except perhaps at the extremes (e.g. it would be hard to classify some things as anything but pornographic).

Context also matters here. For example, Sister Wendy can comment on Michelangelo's David, but the work is (tragically) considered a gay icon. Context (and subtext) is everything in such cases.


Hmph, I didn't know this. I was looking through my old history books a couple weeks ago though, and wondering why so many "Davids" were nude . . . tres sad.

And I don't necessarily expect a systematic addressing of the issue, in a black and white sense, per my subtitle for this thread. But, yeah, I understand the somewhat subjective nature of the issue. I guess a question to follow, thus, might be: Should we as Christian's "play it safe?"


#3 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 11:18 AM

I've noticed a personal change along these lines since getting married. What I would have previously watched with some guilt (or at least distraction) I can often now view with discernment and enjoyment. Before marriage, I'd've probably allowed for or expected this shift, but I don't know how much I really believed in it. It sure didn't stop me from watching some films that, while good, were still rather discomforting, and probably would've benefited from a post-nuptial view.

Three particular ways in which I've noticed the change:
1) Bad sex looks/feels bad, or at least silly. It's difficult to get turned on by the ridiculous.
2) I'm more able to enjoy classically nude art. I don't feel bad about lingering on a nude as my wife and I page through an art book. And this, in turn, has helped me to appreciate these works in a new way.
3) It's less of a BIG DEAL to turn off or choose not to watch/see something that seems too explicit.

I'm with Alan as to the extent to which the subject is contextual, even subjective (minus the extremes, which get all the focus). I don't have THE answer but I suspect that finding one's boundary has a lot to do with simply being honest with yourself as you process what you see.

#4 Greg P

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 12:04 PM

I watched Painting With Fire, the Frank Frazetta documentary, over the weekend on IFC. Although I was never into fantasy genre paintings, I did used to buy Creepy, Famous Monsters and Epic when I was a kid-- mags which all featured Frazetta-- so his work has a strong nostalgic appeal to me.

One component of his work highlighted in the film, was his trademark voluptuous, nude female forms. I forgot how powerful those images were-- in a beautiful, way. But they do seem to represent that "middle ground" for some. I think in Frazetta's case it's not necessarily the explicit, detailed renderings, but often the poses that seperate them from classical nudes. Frank had a penchant for putting women on all fours.

While I find his work exhibits the highest level of artistic ability and I dont necessarily have a problem with his curvy vixens, I can see where some might.

#5 SDG

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 12:06 PM

Some good stuff in the Lusting at the movies thread.

#6 Greg P

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 02:03 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 25 2006, 02:04 PM) View Post
... I also think this guy is deliberately playing with the eros/porn thing. A lot of his work strikes me as being pretty tasteless, and there's also an "objectification" thing going on re. his depiction of women's bodies, in some cases, at least.
Wow. This shows you how subjective this debate can get, because I didnt see anything on his site that I would consider "tasteless". (Although I wouldnt have his "P__ & Bullet" sculpture in my living room)


#7 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 03:00 PM

QUOTE(coltrane @ Jul 25 2006, 02:03 PM) View Post

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 25 2006, 02:04 PM) View Post
... I also think this guy is deliberately playing with the eros/porn thing. A lot of his work strikes me as being pretty tasteless, and there's also an "objectification" thing going on re. his depiction of women's bodies, in some cases, at least.
Wow. This shows you how subjective this debate can get, because I didnt see anything on his site that I would consider "tasteless". (Although I wouldnt have his "P__ & Bullet" sculpture in my living room)


Primal Urge (look closely to see what's actually going on) and Cosmic Love are the ones I have problems with. The bullet bit doesn't bother me; it's not trying to do anything other than make political commentary (which art is often used for though I'm sure I don't really have to say this here) so far as I can tell.

Primal Urge is the one that seems to me to have crossed a line. Cosmic Love, not so much, but possibly. And I wouldn't put the C.Love in my living room (although, possibly in a bedroom). The Concubine could also be of concern, but I can't really tell what's going on in the picture (looks like a man with breasts?).




#8 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 04:46 PM

I've always found Donatello's David strange. Had no idea he was gay.

I envy your knowledge of art history my survey classes as a student were so-so, and other than than I took history of photography, history of architecture, and Roman art and archeology. Feels like I'm lacking in much important detail; of course, it may also be that I've forgotten much of it.

Finton's titles do elude to a certain new-age bent; I did notice that. But perhaps what is most strange to me is the few erotic/pornographic pieces mixed in with a majority of other innocuous, more classically influenced works. What's he trying to pull? Was it a phase?

The Primal Urge reminds me in an uncanny way of a piece a fellow student did in a ceramics class. The shape was the same, but instead of being covered in breasts it was a blob of a male whose limbs had become phallic, which was performing fellatio on itself and masturbating all at the same time. Despite being a public university, he didn't get much love for that piece. But Finton's Primal Urge distinctly brings this student's piece back in to mind.

I suppose an argument can be made for such works, knowing the artist's intentions. I suppose it could be speaking directly to the the over-sexed nature of the U.S., or some other politically charged subject. But Finton explained his Penis and Bullet piece which makes me assume if the others also had some political or social meaning, he would do the same for those.

#9 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 06:56 PM

The youthfulness other than the nudity of someone acting as a soldier I have noticed before and have considered part of the odd nature of the work.

Morpheus Dream is strange, but not in the lewd way the others are. At least not to me. The craft seems sub-par in comparison to the rest of his pieces, although this may be on account of the medium. It seems to be the only one done in clay. But, yeah, I've no idea what's going on there!

And how do you get an advanced degree and not an MFA? I haven't heard of this. A friend recently pointed out over lunch how my wife and I live like "academics" in his estimation. He should know; he is a professor of theater and debate, and has multiple masters and is working on a PHD. My wife especially would appreciate this wink.gif But I can see myself, if the circumstances were very correct, going back and studying again as well. Thus, I'm curious about this "advanced degree."

(My wife, reading over my shoulder, is saying you probably got a masters in history as opposed to an MFA in studio arts. I suppose this is the case . . . )

#10 Chashab

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 10:06 PM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 25 2006, 07:14 PM) View Post

Yep, your wife guessed right - I didn't go on in studio art.

Now see, I can look at Brancusi sculptures that are seemingly phallic and not bat an eyelash. But they're so different than this guy's work.


I don't see that in Brancusi. But someone mentioned earlier in the thread, as I recall, there seems to be an effort to "bring out" these things in artists and their works of late. When I was at the University of Nebraska, the contention was whether or not Willa Cather was a lesbian being an author of renown from that state. I hadn't heard any such discussion about her when I read some of her fiction in high school. Also, to people in Lincoln, the state capitol, the capitol building was phallic. This wasn't pointed out to me until I'd lived in Lincoln for 5 years though, and I had never thought such a thing prior to the suggestion. It's actually quite a renowned piece of architecture too.

Why do people insist on extrapolating (some of) these arguments?

I suppose it's kind of like being drunk (Not that I would know, in truth. Just what I'm told. Never had the hankering for a hangover.), in that when you're inebriated what's really coursing through the dark alleys of your mind spills forth. May art works in a similar way? blink.gif

A person can, if they want and try, find genital references in a lot of shapes and forms in art. Sometimes we are privy to the intent of the artist and others we aren't. I have, as a visual artist, often not divulged my intent despite opportunity in order to see how something is perceived as well.

I'm still plugging away at a paper Crimson Line wrote, and this afternoon he said some interesting things about the artist being more important than the art, in our modern society. This sentiment, as much as I may dislike it, may also play into this discussion.

#11 Greg P

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Posted 25 July 2006 - 10:44 PM

For the record... I took a closer look at the sculptures tonight, away from the prying eyes of our web-monitoring software at work, and I did find a few of the images distasteful. Concubine and Primal Urge, in particular seem poorly rendered compared to some of the others (like Cosmic Love), which only serve to highlight their tackiness.

In other words, I dont object to the phallic images or undulating mounds of angry breasts, just the way they are so crappily presented. And Concubine is about as crappy and tacky as you can get.

Edited by coltrane, 25 July 2006 - 10:56 PM.


#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 01:25 AM

nardis wrote:
: (Torso of a Young Man, for example.)

I'm getting a "403 Forbidden" message here -- most of it in Chinese, apparently!

For cinematic examples, Alan mentioned In the Realm of the Senses. That's certainly one of the artier films of this type, though I don't think we've discussed it much here. We did, however, have an extended discussion on some of these issues in connection with Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs.

#13 Chashab

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 08:44 AM

QUOTE(nardis @ Jul 25 2006, 11:03 PM) View Post

Chashab, I agree in general on Brancusi, but some works fit the description, albeit far more tastefully than the ones we've been talking about here. (Torso of a Young Man, for example.) But then, Freud was in vogue for a long time, and several generations of artists - and art historians - took him a little too seriously. (or a lot, depending on what you read!)

Re. Willa Cather, I think that's been a somewhat "open" secret for a long time, but has recently been made much of in order to further various agendas - not unlike Donatello. But I also feel a need to point out that that's a whole different ballgame than, say, the books and papers on "heterosexist" art and literature that have been prevalent for the past 15 years or so. (i.e., I have no objection to knowing X or Y about Willa Cather or Donatello, but I don't need details, let alone an ideology! To me, it's kinda more to the point that Cather loved classical music... honestly.)


Peter, if you click on the top one of the two english links on the forbidden page, the picture will load.

Torso of a Young Man, in this context, comes across as phallic. But if it hadn't been brought up in this discussion (I've never seen this one of his before), I honestly wonder if I would have thought that so quickly. Especially considering the title. And regardless, it is much more tastefully done, as you've pointed out. And Brancusi could very well have intended for the dual conveyance for it to look like both, yet be abstract so as to keep you guessing.

And you couldn't call it pornographic, even remotely, whereas the Finton pieces we've mentioned are at least dangerously close to that description, if not over the gray line.

If Finton's Primal Urge were abstracted and not recoganizable, would it still be offensive?

I heard recently Freud did a lot of cocaine. Hmmm, the things they don't teach you in your high school psychology classes! They give a person so much credit and flaunt his theories, and all the while the guy is binging on drugs the school is contantly beseeching the students to avoid at all costs. The irony. The hypocrasy. The, the . . . .



#14 CrimsonLine

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Posted 26 July 2006 - 12:58 PM

For what it's worth, I took a look at the Finton Shaw sculptures (in my office at the church, no less!) and I think he's well over the line into the pornographic.

In the bullet/penis sculpture, he complains that the one is celebrated and the other is considered disgusting:

QUOTE(Finton Shaw)
This piece signifies how man has perverted the purpose of these images. The penis was created for perfect purpose-love, affection, pleasure, and the perpetuation of life. The bullet was created for imperfect purpose-suffering, death, and annihilation. We tend to glamorize the bullet through movies of heroes that kill. So the instrument that kills is okay to watch but the instrument of love is obscene.


The problem is this - the penis is not obscene, it is private. Placing public emphasis on a private thing is obscene. Sometimes it's necessary, but it should never be done thoughtlessly. Finton Shaw does it shamelessly and thoughtlessly.

Incidentally, a penis on its own cannot produce ANY of the things that Shaw says it was created for (except, perhaps, pleasure). It needs a partner. And a penis is not ALWAYS an instrument of love.

Thanks for the ref to my paper, Chasab. I'm grateful for the thoughtful way you are engaging with it.

#15 Chashab

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Posted 01 August 2006 - 08:57 PM

Well, our vacation is in a week and I'm thinking we won't be stopping here on the way wink.gif Hopefully we'll be going to begin with; our car is having an issue the shops in town can agree on how to fix.

We'll probably hit Memphis for some jazz and barbeque, and we were thinking of going north to St. Louis after that. There is a Chihuly show in the botanical gardens there. We've seen a Chihuly exhibit before, and it's quite spectacular. St. Louis also has a museum of religious art I've yet to see.

#16 Chashab

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Posted 30 August 2006 - 02:20 PM

This girl's blog had an brief entry about the role of eros in art a few days back, titled "Erotica."