art, sex, erotica, Christian faith

Christian art and sexuality: exploring boundaries

Can Christians view or create art depicting sex?

Good Christian art (and good Christian work and all things) are to show truth, beauty, love, and goodness. Can this be done by genuine depiction of the human body in its various forms without idolizing it, objectifying it, worshipping it, or exploiting it?

Some considerations about the Christian perspectives and views and morality on artistic nude, natural figures, sexuality, eroticism, figuratism::

"Erotic Dimensions of Art and the Pursuit of Chastity: Mixed Signals in the 'Epiphanies of Beauty'"

Corinna Delkeskamp-Hayes, International Studies in Philosophy and Medicine [via] -- she has given a talk titled, “Art, The Erotic, and Chastity: Recovering a Christian Appreciation of the Sexual,” about which Delkeskamp-Hayes explains: “My talk on the erotic in art, chastity and a Christian appreciation of the sexual is about philosophy, a philosophical reflection on the experience of those who ‘consume’ art and on those who ‘produce’ art, that is, on from where to draw criteria concerning what kinds of experiences one should expose oneself (and one’s children) to given the fact that ‘art’ and ‘higher culture’ always seem to suggest something worthy of attention and dedication. Ever since art has become ‘for its own sake’ (and for the market), defining such criteria has become very difficult. I claim that the erotic dimension of art (in both its formal and material senses) is one area where this problem can be assessed (there are others, of course). My thesis is, that in order to draw a limit in this regard, the concept of chastity is helpful, even though it has been almost lost in an age of increasing secularization. If art is about experience, and (at least in some areas) about ever more invasive and shocking experience, a category like chastity permits us to decide where to draw a limit. But in order to make sense of chastity you must have a very robustly Christian understanding about what sexuality is about. So my second leg is this Christianity.”

Ed Knippers is a Christian artist who paints compelling narratives using natural human form and figures. His artistic statement include these excerpts:

The human body is at the center of my artistic imagination because the body is an essential element in the Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection. ... Disembodiment is not an option for the Christian. Christ places His Body and His Blood at the heart of our faith in Him. Our faith comes to naught if the Incarnation was not accomplished in actual time and space – if God did not send His Son to us in a real body with real blood. ... The response to this discomfort for the physical world can be at least two fold. When it come to our bodies, we can resort to worshipping the physical creation as seen in contemporary sexual idolatry, including pornography and other sexual exploitation. When it comes to nature we can also feel a need to worship as is seen in the resurgence of pagan creation-centered religions. A second response is a resort to a kind of gnosticism, prudishly rejecting the physical creation’s importance and disdaining as evil what God Himself called “good.” Neither worship of the created order nor Gnosticism is a Christian response, especially when it comes to our bodies. The body (both Christ’s and ours) is a mystery.

Comment on Ed Knippers' work:

By using nudes and setting the stories in general, loosely described landscapes or interiors, Ed is able to concentrate his and the viewer's attention on the narrative. His goal is not the appearance of accuracy, with its attention to the facts of anatomy, dress, and locale. Rather, Ed wants to serve the narrative and unfold its meaning by creating a visually compelling drama. He believes that artists create a poetic parallel to reality, and his idea of being faithful to his subject is guided more by Matisse's maxim that "truth is not exactitude" than it is by any idea of scrupulous transcription.

But conservative Christians are not the only group to react negatively to Knippers's work. His acceptance and continuation of the great Western Christian traditions in art have been a stumbling block for some people. There is some hostility to this tradition in the art world and in contemporary culture. Ed recalls the director of a well-known gallery in Washington telling him that while he loved Ed's work, he'd never exhibit it because it would "mark the gallery." This view has also affected audiences one might expect to support Ed's work.

Also see A Christian View of Sex in Art, an address by John Stuart Peck (November 1998)