A Celebration of Self

Beyond High-Art, Nude Selfies Are Self-Actualizing

Something inspired you to disrobe and capture your body in a photograph.

If you are reading this article it probably means that you have more nude selfies on your phone than you know what to do with. Or, you have been wanting to start your journey into the sense and sensibility of modeling nude — for YOURSELF.

Maybe you have been into it for a long time (such as in my case), or maybe a more recent inspiration tickled your fancy. Either way, I always like to ask my friends and readers what that “inspiration” was/is…and continuous to be?

The nude selfie is a celebration of self!

In the ritual of acting as both model and photographer, I am required to be fully present in two roles…one projecting and one capturing, one directing and the other being directed. This dual interplay surfaces a very private and intimate dialogue with the self — specifically, the uninhibited sexual self. I feel unbounded and unscripted. I am able to explore my body in different forms. I am able to reflect on the photo after in patience and self-critique.

On April 24, 2020…nearly two months into the US COVID timeline the NYT Opinion section published The Nude Selfie Is Now High Art”; It has become an act of resilience in isolation, a way to seduce without touch by Diana Spechler. Spechler narrates an excellent and elegant piece on the brief history of the nudes in art, it’s current (COVID) evolution of the self nude, and it’s potential as a form of “high art”.

Though the debate about art versus pornography has never been settled, a case can be made that quarantine nude selfies are art. Some of us finally have time to make art, and this is the art we are making: carefully posed, cast in shadows, expertly filtered. These aren’t garish below-the-belt shots under fluorescent lighting, a half-used roll of toilet paper in the background. They are solicited or spontaneous. They are gifts to partners in separate quarantines, friends who aren’t exactly friends, unmet Hinge matches and exes. (Exes are popping up like whack-a-moles these days.)

She shares anecdotes of individuals engaging in and rationalizing the taking of and sharing of nude selfies…she continue with this simple but strong observation.

If historically the nude form in art suggested power in men…and sexuality in women…, nude selfies, especially now, imbue the subject with both. The sexuality component is obvious, the power component contextual: the power to seduce without touch, to connect when physical contact is life-threatening, to impress while we’re home and unemployed (and sweat-suited) and to stir up a strong reaction miles away.

Sending a nude selfie is a request to be witnessed — not objectively, but through rose-tinted (or smooth-filtered) lenses. “When I choose to be seen in this way,” Kat said, “I’m taking an empowered action to receive what we all desire, and what we desire even more now in Covid times: a witness to our own vulnerability, our most private truth.”

My friend put this last piece in slightly more intimate words -

“a yearning to be witnessed.”

So…how do we link this personal “yearning” to be witnessed with the creation of art and its qualification as “high” art. The article by Spechler doesn’t make that connection clear for me entirely.

I am not the only one that felt that way. In the online magazine PROVOKR, Collen Hochberger makes the same observation in NUDE SELF-PORTRAITS: 5 Female Artists Using the Medium to Empower and adds a feminist critique to the shortcomings of Spechler’s NYT piece.

While the article discussed nude self-portraiture’s deep-rooted position in art history, it missed the opportunity to analyze nude selfies to gender, race or sexuality. Historically, a nude self-portrait was a revolutionary tool for female artists to depict the body in their work since they couldn’t attend figure drawing classes with naked models present.

Hochberger continues and adds…

Naked selfies may be “high art” as people yearn for physical connection during this isolating pandemic. However, we still live in a heteronormative, patriarchal society where an insidious sexual double-standard exists when it comes to who’s allowed to display their nude body without being shamed and condemned. So, to expand the conversation, Spechler started — here are five contemporary female artists who have used naked self-portraiture to subvert stereotypes and empower women.

Here are some of the artist she profiles that used the self in making statements as well as some I have chosen to profile…

Polly Penrose; studied graphic design at Camberwell College of Arts in London. Artspace profile. Here work can be found here.

Jenny Saville, Propped (1992)…warps the dominant idea of the female nude that they reinforced by inserting obese women as the subjects.

Renee Cox, Yo Mama (1993)…Jamaican-born African-American artist Renee Cox often depicts herself and other black women as icons and mythical figures to overthrow the white narrative of traditional Christian art.

Carrie Mae Weems, Not Manet’s Type (1997)…She often explores family relationships, sexism, cultural identities, class and power hierarchies throughout her works.

Leah Schrager, Selfie Examination (2016)…Digital artist and online performer Leah Schrager uses nude self-portraiture — which she manipulates by painting over her form — to explore how images of women are shared, criticized and interpreted by the art world, internet and society-at-large.

Schrager wrote on her Instagram, “Sure, it’s trendy to support female empowerment via ‘you go, girl’ and ‘be proud of your body,’ yet a digital ‘art world’ is being built on purified platforms like FB, IG, and Drip that censor out nudity and limit, to a huge degree, how some girls (and artists) wish to express pride, and, yes, even profit off their bodies.”

In closing, I would like to draw your attention to another well presented article in PROVOKR by Ines Valenxia, EROS, YOUR BODY AS AN EXCUSE; Simple Nakedness Leaves Us Desiring + Living. Valencia profiles profiles an exhibit of the same name as the title of the article at the European Museum of Modern Art (MEAM) in Barcelona.

This article is not about Nude Selfies. But it is about nudity and well worth a read and to discover new artists representing the nude and the self.

Eros refers to sexual love or desire, but as MEAM director José Manuel Infiesta says, the exhibition focuses on “EROS understood not as an idea of sexual fantasy but as a reason that emanates from the libido of each human being as something natural and independent of their condition of beauty, sex or sexual characteristic. EROS as a description of the most physical aspect of each human who, naturally, becomes excited by desire, knows and recognizes his own body intimately, and seeks to explore it, savor it and give it pleasure. EROS, not as a Greek divinity, but as an individual reality of every human being who dreams of their intimate moments of sexual fullness, individual or shared.”

I wanted to leave you with three honorable mentions on the topic of this article:

Laura Aguilar’s profile in this New Yorker Article; A Mexican-American Photographer’s Body, On Display and Invisible.

Franklin Liranzo, a professional photographer and Latin dancer. He was born and raised in the Dominican Republic until the age of 12, then relocated in 1996 to New York City profiled in this article…and his Instagram account.

Carolee Schneeman, was an American visual experimental artist, known for her multi-media works on the body, narrative, sexuality and gender.

Exploring the shape and the paths to elevated sexuality.