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  • Writer's pictureLéonie Stolberg

Nudity and Society: 1

For some time now, my reflections and artistic explorations have deeply challenged me about the relationship between nudity and the philosophical construction of our society.

This intellectual journey began in earnest with my "Venus" series, where I began to explore the human body and its philosophical implications through photography and painting.

This quest was fueled by the beginnings of in-depth research (which is still very recent), conversations with visitors to my exhibitions, and the study of major philosophical works such as François Julien's "Le Nu Impossible" and Daniel Arasse's "On y Voit Rien", as well as Eva Illouz's "La fin de l'amour" on the sociological aspect of freedom of the body and sexuality. These works challenged the aesthetic and social norms surrounding nudity, paving the way for deeper exploration.

Delving into the writings of European philosophers, I discovered a variety of perspectives on nudity. For Plato, the body was the reflection of the soul, exposing our inner essence to society. This idealistic vision profoundly influenced the cultural norms of the time, promoting the valorization of the intellect to the detriment of the physical.

Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed nudity through the prism of virtue and modesty. His ideas reinforced the moral standards surrounding the body and helped shape the social values of his time.

Antiquity has left us with a solid philosophical foundation on nudity, influencing the arts and schools of art that have emerged over the centuries. Classical schools of thought promoted the ideal of beauty and harmony in art, while influencing representations of the human body.

(It's hard for me not to mention Violette Leduc's manifesto, published in 1964, which challenged social and cultural norms, and the Salon des Refusés, organized in 1863, which marked a turning point in art history by exhibiting works rejected by the classical salons and the Académie des Beaux-Arts, defying aesthetic standards established since antiquity and creating a fracture. I'll come back to this later, but if you're curious, you're welcome to join me.)

Of course, when we talk about a philosopher and quote him in a research discourse, we mustn't disassociate him from his contemporaneity.

In Plato's day, ancient Greece was characterized by a highly patriarchal society where philosophy, politics and art were male-dominated domains. The city of Athens, where Plato lived, was a direct democracy, but only free citizens, generally men of Athenian birth, had the right to participate in political life. Greek culture was imbued with polytheistic religious beliefs and an aesthetic centered on the ideal of masculine beauty in the arts and the notion of the "beautiful".

But what is beauty?

Beauty" is a concept that is often open to subjective interpretation. The term "beautiful" is used to describe something that is aesthetically pleasing, harmonious or visually or sensorially gratifying. However, the definition of beauty can vary according to cultural, historical and individual context. In the context of Western art history, the concept of beauty has often been associated with classical ideals of perfection, symmetry and harmony. Works of art that reflect these qualities are often considered beautiful by traditional artistic standards. Beauty is often associated with a sense of aesthetic pleasure or wonder at a particular form, color, sound or composition that elicits a positive emotional response.

This notion of beauty is important for the question of the body and nudity in the face of the state. François Julien highlights the complexity of perception and representation, emphasizing that our conceptions of beauty are not universal, but rather shaped by our cultural and historical contexts. He looks at how different cultures understand beauty and aesthetic standards.

Beauty" is not an absolute or fixed entity, but rather a contextual and contingent construction.

He emphasizes that beauty emerges from contrasts, tensions and differences, rather than from a quest for perfect harmony. This perspective invites us to rethink our aesthetic criteria and consider the diversity of forms of beauty that can exist beyond conventional norms.

In ancient Greece, the concept of beauty was closely linked to the notion of proportion, harmony and balance. The Greeks saw beauty as a quality emanating from order and symmetry in the natural and artistic world. This idea is well illustrated by the aesthetic theories developed by thinkers such as Pythagoras and Plato.

For Plato, for example, beauty was associated with abstract, universal ideas, reflecting perfect, ideal forms that transcended the sensible world. He saw physical beauty as an imperfect manifestation of these ideal forms, and stressed the importance of education in cultivating an appreciation of beauty.

Aristotle, on the other hand, saw beauty as a harmonious, orderly quality that aroused aesthetic pleasure in the beholder. He put forward the idea that beauty was linked to perfection and balanced proportions.

Although François Julien didn't focus specifically on Greek conceptions of beauty, he could highlight the relativity of this concept across cultures and eras, suggesting that our contemporary understanding of beauty is influenced by our own cultural and aesthetic frames of reference, and this is where I'm obliged to make the link between patriarchy, dominant structures and the notion of universal beauty... And yes, patriarchal and dominant structures often control aesthetic standards, promoting certain ideals of beauty to the detriment of others. Patriarchal norms generally promote ideals of physical and aesthetic perfection that correspond to the interests of dominant groups. This tendency leads to a uniform, universal conception of "beauty" that does not reflect the real diversity of human experience.

We are increasingly witnessing a cultural homogenization in which unique local aesthetic expressions are replaced by standardized norms, as evidenced by the standardization of contemporary architecture.

At the same time, capitalism is exerting a profound influence on the conception of beauty, promoting the standardization, commercialization and massification of aesthetic norms. Challenging this uniform conception of beauty often involves attacking the economic and cultural mechanisms that perpetuate exclusive and alienating aesthetic ideals.

In a nutshell, the link between patriarchy, dominant structures and the universal conception of beauty highlights the mechanisms of cultural and social control that shape our aesthetic perceptions. To challenge these norms, it's essential to value the diversity and plurality of aesthetic expression, while acknowledging the issues of power and inequality that underpin imposed ideals of beauty.

My research is not limited to classical philosophy. I've also turned to contemporary works and international perspectives, because restricting this investigation to European borders would have been reductive, but for this first part I have to talk about what I know best.

But let's go back a little further into what I've been able to find out about antiquity (I'm aware that I'm not a rocket scientist, and new elements are welcome in this investigation).

I'd like to talk about the late-antique philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, who defended a vision of the female body as being as capable of rationality as the male body (this refers to her belief that women are intellectually capable and deserve the same respect as men in terms of rational and philosophical abilities). Her work challenged the patriarchal social norms of her time and paved the way for a reconsideration of women's place in society. Hypatia lived at a time of transition between classical antiquity and the beginning of the Christian era. However, the rise of Christianity and religious tensions influenced the climate. As a female philosopher and mathematician in a largely male-dominated society and an emerging Christian Church, Hypatia had to navigate a complex cultural and social environment..she was tragically murdered in 415 AD by radical Christian monks.

It's important to note that Hypatia's direct writings on nudity, beauty and the body have not come down to us, and we often have to interpret her ideas through the prism of texts and commentaries attributed to her indirectly.

Hypatia often valued beauty as a manifestation of harmony and universal order (Neoplatonic thought), and saw the body as a vehicle for achieving a deeper understanding of reality, seeing the body as an instrument of knowledge and understanding of the world, emphasizing the importance of intellect and rationality over physical appearance and making it clear that beauty was secondary.

In the end, there are more discussions or speeches about the body in a church than by philosophers who can be counted on the fingers of one hand... with religion, drugs and politics, we could add nudity to the list of controversial subjects... but why?

Nudity raises complex questions of morality, ethics, aesthetics and individual freedom. Philosophical debates on nudity often involve considerations of human nature, power, social control and individual rights, which can make discussions on this subject particularly rich but also potentially divisive.

But why DIOS MIO?

Thank you for following this first part of my exploration of nudity and philosophy! As you may have noticed, there's still a lot to explore in this vast field of intersecting histories, ideas and perceptions, and I'm just a student at the beginning of an investigation I'm carrying out on my own in the hope of understanding this contemporary disarray.

The rest of this article is coming soon. I hope this dive has made you think, question and maybe even smile.

Together, let's shake things up and open up new perspectives on nudity, the body and our philosophical constructs. See you soon!

Léonie Stolberg

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