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Nude Art At Chicago Post by :darrelhawes Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :3503

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Nude Art At Chicago

Now the very Old Nick is to pay at the World's Fair, and an exasperating stringency in the money market. The great "uncultured West" is flocking to Chicago to see the show, and is seeing more than it bargained for. Its modest cheek has been set aflame by the exuberant display of the nude in art. And the West is kicking, kicking with both feet, kicking like a bay steer who has a kick coming and knows how to recalcitrate. The culchawed East and blase Yewrup look on with mild astonishment and wondah what ails the bawbarians, doncher know.

We learn from our Chicago correspondent that the great buildings are liberally adorned with "figures of nude men of heroic size, not a detail of which has escaped the loving care of the fin de siecle sculptors. Elsewhere the examples of the nude represent both sexes." Yet the East wonders that the West is shocked,--cannot understand why "wives drag their husbands away and young ladies leave the building with faces ablaze with indignation!" Our correspondent volunteers the information that "a much severer test of the patience of the Western people will come when the art palace is opened"; also that "the treatment the Western people are getting is drastic and cruel, but it will work wonders in cultivating and refining them."

We beg leave to dissent from the conclusion. We hardly think that any of our readers will accuse us of prudery. We are willing to concede special privileges to art. Its province is to portray the beautiful, and the most beautiful thing on all God's earth is a perfect female form. The painter or sculptor who loves his art may be permitted to reproduce in modest pose a naked female figure; but he should not be allowed to force it upon the attention of a mixed multitude. Let him place it where it will only be seen by those who seek it. A man may take his mother, wife,--even his sweetheart to look upon such work of art, and they may be better, purer, nobler for having worshiped at the shrine of beauty; but to compel them to stand before it with a mixed multitude to most of whom it suggests but grossest sensuality, is a brutal crime against modesty. So much for the female nude.

What man would take a woman near and dear to him to look upon a nude male statue or painting,--"not a detail of which has escaped the loving care" of the artist? Certainly few Western or Southern men would do so! Worship of the beautiful may pardon the nude female figure, but the nude male figure never. Hercules nude is but an animal, and Apollo a nightmare. To place nude male figures indiscriminately about the great Fair buildings, where they must be seen by modest maids, whether they will or no, and that while insolent strangers enjoy their confusion, is the very apotheosis of brutality.

The idea that such an outrage upon divine modesty will "cultivate and refine" people sounds like one of Satan's satires. We honor the "uncultured West" for making a heroic kick, and trust that it will keep on recalcitrating until every unclean statue forced upon its attention in the name of art is forever disfigured. The protest of the West proves that its mind is still pure,--that it has not yet reached that plane of "culture" where modesty perishes in the frosts of formalism.

The liberty accorded art has degenerated into license. The beautiful is no longer sought, but the bizarre. It is not the massy shoulders of Hercules, the rounded arm of Juno, the beautiful bust of Hebe, the godlike pose of Apollo or the shapely limb of Aphrodite that painter and sculptor seek to reproduce; it is an "effect" similar to that of Boccaccio or a fragrant French novel. It is not against the true in art that the West is rebelling, but against the vulgar.

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Nude Art At Chicago

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