Wednesday, November 20, 2013

France Day 7: The Nude Male

A popular art exhibit currently showing in Paris, entitled Masculine/Masculine, provides an interesting peek into the history of the male nude in art. The first and most amusing aspect is that a man's most vulnerable private parts (the trinity on the front side) are usually chastely covered, perhaps with a petite leaf, small ribbon, or cloth. Or, the painter discretely blurs the features, not unlike a modern day photographer using an out of focus technique. Granted, for every rule there is an exception in the historical works, but the most blatant in-your-face male frontal nudity comes from painters whose work dates post 2000. When in doubt, use shock value.

For centuries upon centuries, the art world exalted the male figure replete with a six pack, broad shoulders, chiseled musculature and a general ambiance which Abercrombie and Fitch poster boys of today model perfectly. Who knew that the Greco-Roman ideal still haunts today's dream of the perfect male physique? 

The below modern day commercial man reflects accurately the "ideal" of the eons with an eery resonance.

After seeing the Masculine/Masculine exhibit, I find myself having more compassion for men. The modern woman suffers from image distortion, with the Barbie doll figure the most adored and futilely emulated. While television advertising and modern cinema have only profligated the image of this unattainable ideal woman since the Twiggy era of the 1960s, men have had the above image thrown in their face for hundreds of years. No small wonder a certain insecurity and vulnerability might threaten the average male when venturing out to court a female.

Interestingly, the most meaningful and powerful work of art in the exhibit was done by Rodon --  a sculpture of the great French writer Balzac. Seen striding forward with purpose, vigor, and an air of keen focus, this icon of literature had a large potbelly and an undoubtedly stout physique. But he also had character, which none of the pretty boys of history seemed to exude. (He was also wearing clothes, the only fully covered man in the large expo.)

To quote a French saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The presentation of the supposedly perfect body as a representation of the pinnacle of human achievement is at best superficial. Who can blame the young of today, then, for their emphasis on materialism over intrinsic human value?

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