Feminine Aesthetics: Admiration or perversion?

Tim Jones over at Old World Swine responded to a commenter’s comments in his most recent post, The Nekkid Truth, Too. The conversation touched on some thoughts I’ve had in the last couple years, but up to this point had yet to put down. I’m using his entry as inspiration, thus, and putting the keys to the html editor.

Let’s get started with this statement from The Nekkid Truth:

    God made us men to be attracted to the female form (I consider it his best work, the pinnacle of physical creation), so that is something to accept and to be grateful for. To acknowledge the attraction and the beauty is no sin, in itself.

The commenter is, through the course of the post, expressing a desire to appreciate masterful works of art which include nudity. However, he struggles with this on account of men’s predilection towards lust, the most common affliction of the fallen male.

Sacred and Profane Love, Titian, 1515.

The question that burns me personally is how, as a fallen male, do I distinguish admiration from something more perverse? Can I? Is there a black and white line marking the difference between, in Jones’ words, the desire to “possess” a woman and thinking — in overly simplified terms — “She’s gorgeous!” Do men possess the ability to admire without lusting?

As a man and an artist intrinsically interested in all things aesthetic, all ideas and ideals of beauty, this question intrigues me to no end. And I realize, however unfortunate for my own mental well-being, there may not be an end to wrangling with these questions in this mortal life. I struggle interminably with whether or not I can have a pure thought at all, often wondering if everything that goes through my mind related to the female physique isn’t tainted. I constantly reassure myself that this is not the case, but the concern doesn’t go away. Can a man actually think about a woman in a way, however mild, that isn’t perverse? (And I don’t ask this solely in the context of sexuality, although this is the greatest temptation.). Some people may think this last question is a bit off the rocker, but I would counter by suggesting that none of us really know what is Holy well enough to determine what thoughts in our human minds may or may not be completely pure.

Last year my wife and I visited with friends recently returned from a vacation in Singapore. They talked about how it is illegal, against the written law, for men to ogle at women in that country. While he genuinely appreciated the attempt at a modest culture — and thoroughly enjoyed his visit to such a law-abiding society — our friend also understood the problems with trying to legislate such things. He likened what he saw to a police state.

I long to view all of God’s creation with the eye that He intended. Laws, such as those apparently in effect in Singapore, will not change the fallen mind. They will not allow me or anyone else to overcome human tendencies to pervert, basically, everything we think or do. While my attitude may come across as a bit fatalistic, let me assure you that I still strive for and hope to see as much of the glory of God’s creation — including the female form — before I die. This pursuit constantly drives my work in the studio, even if it isn’t obvious in the forms or titles of my sculpture.

Adding: As Jim points out in the first comment, the Titian above is worth some commentary: “The clothed woman is believed to represent earthly vanity and materialistic love, the nude to represent higher, pure love. A casual observer might think it was the other way around.” See a few more details on Wikipedia.

See my other entries dealing with women and beauty via this link.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

5 Responses to Feminine Aesthetics: Admiration or perversion?

  1. Jim Janknegt says:

    You didn’t comment on the Titian painting. The clothed woman is believed to represent earthly vanity and materialistic love, the nude to represent higher, pure love. A casual observer might think it was the other way around.

  2. TAE says:

    You know, it wasn’t until after I grabbed the image — just to include an image for those of us who need pictures with our reading material — that I realized how well it fit the post. Thanks though for the clarification; I wasn’t actually remembering that about this work of Titian’s, but I’m pretty sure I learned it during some college history class!

  3. Chris says:

    I personally believe one of the reasons American culture is in such disarray at present is their love affair with homo/bi-sexuality. I believe America will continue to lose its world influence unless politicians and the media stop creating legislation in favor of and promoting these unacceptable and disgusting lifestyles.

  4. Marylyn says:

    OK, OK…gosh. The way you can tell if your “admiration” of a female form is “lustful” is if you are getting a watch-a-ma-call-it. A firm bodily response.

    This is INVOLUNTARY. Not perverse. Just natural. Human. It’s how the species continues; most commonly the male carries the burden of this instantaneous species-related wanting that has little to do with who he is as an individual (at least in theory). It’s what he DOES or DOESN’T do with the physical response that is important. I would think you’d just observe yourself and say, “Gosh, my DNA program is operating energetically today!” You don’t jump up and pursue the woman, grab her, wrestle her to the ground, etc. Neither do you secretly find out who she is, get her phone number, and call her and harass her for weeks on end.

    Why in the world would you guilt-trip yourself for not being able to have a “pure” thought? Although I disagree with Chris’s comment, I do think that American culture is addicted to sexuality in general, and everything is overdone. Unfortunately, people are so susceptible (human nervous systems) and think they are supposed to focus on sex because it “feels” good. It’s kind of an abuse of the nervous system, and it does do harm, I think.

    BUT…a healthy spark of lust when looking at a beautiful female form is nothing to be ashamed of. Make friends with your basic instincts, and keep them in good training. It’s all energy there for your educated and considered and even “higher”-purpose use. Celebrate beauty and allow lust to attend the party if it promises to behave.

  5. nataJane says:

    I’ve got to say that this is always and interesting and controversial debate… Personally, I believe that God clothed human bodies for a reason. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were naked and there was no problem with it.There was nothing sinful about a man looking at a naked woman because before sin, it was a pure love. But when they sinned, God changed the rules both in nature around them, and in their own bodies. I think it was at that point that it became a sinful thing for a man to look because it turned into a sinful lust for the woman. His eyes on a woman was no longer that pure love, but sinful lust that he would have to battle with for his entire life.

    I know that the female form is one of the most beautiful things that God has created, but I think that God clothed it because of how the sinful man now views her. God didn’t create clothing just so that humans would have something to decorate themselves with- it is for a covering. He made it for a reason.

    There will always be artists who use nude females as their subjects, but I will always have a problem with it as a Christian. God created marriage so that man could have his own woman to love and lust after. She is with him to satisfy that need. I don’t think those feelings should be experienced casually by a man looking at another woman’s body. Call it art or porn- whatever you want. I know as “art” it is much more widely accepted, but I know I wouldn’t want my own husband to dwell on paintings of other naked women just because it is considered a part of culture. He is an artist too, but has decided to save his eyes for the woman that he married.

    I am glad he does.

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