January 1, 2012

A Naked Lady: Your Relationship With The Female Nude In Art


Siren by Messina

She disrobed on the ever-morphing Oceano Sand Dunes of California, sculpting imprints of her soft form in the wet sand. She positioned herself, like a siren, atop the ancient rocks hugging a desolate lake. She let her golden hair mingle with the dark tail of an elegant horse, as she draped her nude form along it’s bare back, framed by curvaceous geography that mirrored her own silhouette. She became a vision that froze time and ignited emotions, and displayed feminine beauty as effortlessly as spring decorates itself in flowers. And he, the photographer, captured this lovely vision in his art.

You are neurologically designed to be seduced by visual beauty. You drink in the world through your senses, and your eyes hold seventy percent of your body’s sense receptors. Life drips with lush, visual imagery, and you are biologically programmed to be drawn into it like a bee to a flower. Optical stimulation is your nectar, and when presented with a luscious vista, not a single one of us will dismiss the invitation nature places before us to be enchanted, awed, mystified and helplessly captivated by it.

While what constitutes beauty may vary somewhat between cultures and eras, each and every one of us are puppets to primal lures that attract us to the same, archetypal sights: the brilliance of the sun, the undulating of the sea, the sparkling cosmos at night, the delicacy of flowers in bloom, etc. These are powerful images that we humans have been infinitely charmed by, and that artists throughout the ages have set out to immortalize.

Last year, my close friend and fellow artist, photographer Michael Messina, and his nude model and muse, Katja Gee, set out to explore the powerful beauty in the female form. Beyond anorexic models on runways, silicone dawning breasts, fashion trends, airbrushed playmates and heel-wearing porn-stars, Michael and Katja sought to connect with the original, archetypal female, and display her in all her respectable glory. The result was their first book of fine art photographs and essays, A Naked Lady, all illuminating the beauty of the nude female form.

At the heart of primal, alluring imagery we find the female form. From stone age sculptures of fertility goddesses, to Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, all the way into twentieth century photographers like Julian Mandel, the nude female has been a powerful theme that has consistently inspired humanity. The female form in art harkens back to ancient goddess worship where women were deified, and represented the continuation of life itself.

In a celebration of life, while disrobing before the camera’s lens, Katja meditates on the artistic nude as a an aesthetic experience that carries one beyond the visual, into realms of myth and might, and magical metaphors: “The metaphor is the reason why I model. At every photo shoot, there’s a moment just before the first pose where you are completely naked before the camera. This nakedness is… like the starkness of a blank page before you begin to write. It’s a moment of complete exposure, and of transformation…In that moment before the lens, you craft yourself into a piece of art. You become a metaphor.”

They say that we can trace humanity’s relationship with itself by observing the metaphorical relationship it’s had with the feminine form. What context do we give the feminine? What do we surround her with? How do we portray her? Are we exploiting her or are we honoring her? Are we objectifying females or respecting them? Are we hiding the female form, or displaying it? The way each society, or individual, responds to these questions might clue us in to what hides in their psyche.


Katja Gee

The extremes in our perspectives of the female nude abound. Just as Katja’s nude photographs were being praised at an art gallery in California last month, (where she and Michael unveiled the book of their collaborative work), on the other side of the planet, in Pakistan,Veena Malik’s recently published nude images became the target of aggressive fundamentalists, who placed death threats on her life. The Pakistani actress is now allegedly missing, and her own father has publicly disowned her.

What is considered a respectful artistic presentation of a woman, and what is considered an offensive one? I believe that there are as many answers to that question as there are people on the planet! This is because the answer will always be subjective as it teeters on the edge of what femininity, art, sacredness, sensuality and beauty means to each of us. Our reactions to nude female forms will be as unique as our DNA.

What one culture may consider a most sacred depiction of the goddess, another culture may call indecent and exploitive. Some wish to pretend the female form does not exist by hiding and destroying it. Others have exposed so much of the female form in such distasteful ways that it has also become destructive. How do we find the fine balance in which the female form is celebrated?

I think each of us can resurrect a healthy relationship with the natural beauty in the nude, female form when we surrender ourselves to a spontaneous experience of it, independent of all cultural biases and conditioning. To do this, we need to stand before the nude, being nude ourselves, figuratively speaking. Stripped of anything that may clutter our minds and hearts of a fresh experience of it. The artistic nude has the power to transport us to a pure state of receptivity, in which we connect with something deep and pure within ourselves, and at the same time, it invites us to connect with everything beyond ourselves.

In allowing the artistic nude to ignite visual ecstasy within us, without diluting that experience with feelings of prejudice, or shame, we tune into the same creative forces artists tap into when executing a work of art. In the words of Robert Henri: “When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it”. It then becomes a means through which we get to know ourselves better, and expand our own creative expression.


Self Portrait by Michael Messina

After shooting Katja in the nude for nearly a year, Michael speaks about the importance in the dynamics created between model and photographer: “I’ve found that the secret to creating an exceptional art nude photograph is the collaboration between model and photographer… this unique bond has afforded me a sense of trust and ease that creates a working environment to foster the expansion of my creative boundaries.”

When two artists unite to create a collaborative piece of art, we could liken the creative process to a musical duet. Both artists are carried away by the creative force, yet simultaneously remain present to each other so that they may enter into harmonious, artistic dialogue. When aroused into art-making, artists feel themselves being swept away by a magnificent and inexplicable energy that engages them somewhat like an instrument being played. What does this dialogue between artists sound like? The answer rests in the beautiful art they produce together.

In this interaction between artists, we might find a valuable model for harmonious exchanges between all humans, even outside of an artistic context. For Michael and Katja successfully create a space in which they are both free to be themselves, and share themselves, in all their naked beauty. Playing with the soft curves and ethereal light that create their collection of nudes, these artists invite the viewers into a safe space in which the often-blurred line between sensuality and sexuality can be comfortably explored.

Through art we explore ourselves and we create ourselves anew as well. George Jean Nathan liked to call art “the sex of the imagination”, for the way it takes us into new and unexplored areas of our beings. Intimate places within us that ache for expression. The creative process can be a very erotic process. When I speak of eroticism, I reach for a definition that includes that mystical energy which permeates the natural world around us. It is not just referring to sexuality, but a mysterious force that moves us from within and arouses in us the desire to create something. The desire to make art, and interact, with art!

As an artist myself, who also engages her own female form in her artwork, I’ve experienced the way each work of art is a unique reflection of the creative process which preceded it. For the observer, the art piece can also function as a reflection of themselves. When we admire artistic nudes we explore our own relationship with everything the nude symbolizes. Central to the symbology surrounding the female nude is new life, new beginnings, new creations, nourishment, growth, reproduction, beauty, goddess power.

Michael and Katja’s beautiful collection of nudes pioneers a greater movement of other courageous artists that usher in a new age of empowering the feminine. Their collaborative work festively echoes the sentiments of poets such as William Blake who once wrote, “Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed,” inviting us all to enter into a new romance with the subject, and ultimately, with ourselves, and our soul’s own “nudity”.


There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.” ~Robert Henri~

 “The living model, the naked body of a woman, is the privileged seat of feeling, but also of questioning… The model must mark you, awaken in you an emotion which you seek in turn to express.”

~Henri Matisse~

(To view more of Katja’s art nudes click here.)

 “The body always expresses the spirit whose envelope it is. And for him who can see, the nude offers the richest meaning.”

~Aguste Rodin~

 “Woman’s nudity is wiser than the philosopher’s teachings.”

~Max Ernst~

 “The nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it, by analogy, to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience.”

~Kenneth Clark~

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