Our study addresses the topic of the nude body in art. We pose questions concerning the way in which the nude body is interpreted in the medium of painting, as well as the effect level of exposure to art and gender have on how people react to nine images that we provide. Our results proved that the 52 respondents to our survey were more likely to rate the nine images higher on the artistic/beautiful scale than the sexual scale. We also found that level of exposure to art and gender of the respondent had no significant effect on the perceptions of the images. However, there were statistically significant differences in the artistic and sexual ratings when the images were compared to one another. Our study concluded that there is a separation between nudity and sexuality in a painting and our culture has an effect on the way we perceive images.
The purpose of our research is to take a closer look at human beings from a creative perspective. We are asking the question: Through the medium of painting do human beings view a representation of the naked body as artistic or sexual? Our specific hypothesis is: Human beings view nude paintings as sexual, while artistic views are trained and developed through experience and understanding of the art world. The fundamental issue of human nature that we are addressing is sex, in the sense of sexual feelings that are aroused by visual stimuli. We are drawing upon the idea that humans are sexual beings, and we will find out if humans see nude paintings as sexual because of this, or if we are capable of seeing them as artistic creations.
We have additional questions that naturally sprung from our main question because in order to answer the larger question there were many smaller questions that we could not avoid asking. We are posing a question about the individual’s experience and knowledge of the art world and whether or not that has any effect on the way one perceives a nude painting. We hypothesize that individuals who have taken art classes, have studied art history, or who visit museums often will be more likely to view nude paintings as artistic and not as much in a sexual way. We are questioning if the gender of the individual viewing a nude painting has any affect on their perception of the subject matter. We are making the hypothesis that males perceive nude paintings differently than females. Another hypothesis that we are making is that the gender of the subject within the painting will have an affect on the way the respondents rated the image. We hypothesize that paintings with female subjects will be rated higher sexually. We base this hypothesis on the fact that female nudes have traditionally been used as objects for a male gaze and their bodies have been highly sexualized in our culture, which we go into further on detail in our literature review. We also are posing a hypothesis that the respondents will rate those images with male subjects higher artistically. In historic and classic art spheres, males have dominated not only as artists but also as idealized subjects.
We decided on this research project because we wanted to work with a section of human creativity, which is a fascinating subject that we both feel has an important position in life. Painting is one medium of art that expresses creativity, which is why we chose to focus on it. Nude paintings, specifically, have an interesting mix of both creativity and sexuality. We wanted to incorporate sexuality into the project also because it is a topic that has much to do with our Human Nature readings and class discussions. Both art and sex play powerful roles in society, so we thought it would be ideal to combine the two topics.
Our questions arose out of the process of researching the subject and searching for our materials. We discovered through our research and through looking at images that there are many different variables that are involved with how or why one might view a painting as sexual, while another might see it as artistic. This is why we decided to ask significant questions about one’s artistic experience, because we believe that this would have a considerable effect on the way one sees and understands an artwork. This is also why we are focusing on gender and religious practices, which are both basic aspects of human nature that we discuss in class, quite often due to the fact that they have huge affects on the ways in which we perceive our world.
We must integrate the research of multiple disciplines and apply this knowledge in order to answer our questions. To understand the ways in which humans view nude art we will incorporate psychological, sociological, anthropological, biological, and artistic disciplines. Some of the sources that we found on these disciplines discuss differences in terms of gender, while others observe cultural or social trends of sexual behaviors. This information about how the body is seen from the discipline of natural science will be compared to our own data about how people react to nude paintings. To study the ways in which the nude representation of the human body through painting may be viewed as artistic, we will be looking into the philosophical and historical role of how images of the body are interpreted. This will involve most of our sources that focus on the philosophies of the artists and the responses of art critics and audiences. Through using and integrating all of these sources we will be able to make a judgment on the views of the naked human body. During this project, we plan to develop for the audience, and ourselves, a better understanding of human sexuality and the role that it plays in our art, our culture, and our lives.
Literature Review and Relevance
One of the research questions involved in our study asks: Do males and females rate and react to the nude images that are presented to them in different ways? Many of our sources were chosen to give us a better idea of why differences may occur due to gender differences and what possible variations to expect.
The article “The Forbidden Gaze,” by Tamar Garb in the book The Body Imaged offers interesting cultural and historical information related to women’s exposure to nude art. The article discuses the controversy that came when early women artists used nude males for subjects of their paintings. The culture of the time expressed concern for this in both public discourse and literature. It was worried that women would be easily seduced by their male subjects. Also, an underlying more current analysis recognizes the threat that women artists brought about. The gaze that had for years made women subjects vulnerable to their male controllers was suddenly reversed. This brings into question if there was, and possibly still is a culturally instilled taboo that inhibits the way women are expected or allowed to view nude art. These issues may offer insight into possible differences in the way each gender might react to the paintings.
Curve: The Female Nude Now focuses on the contemporary female nude in a range of representations, both abstract and realistic. This is beneficial because we will be testing perceptions of both abstract and realistic art to see if the perceptions of them differ. Each set of images, many of which are paintings, are accompanied by descriptions and philosophies behind the works from the artist's point of view. Many feminist artists are represented in this book and their art consists of issues such as female sexuality and converting the male gaze. We can use this knowledge to better understand contemporary reasons of nude art and also to compare the difference of the average viewer’s interpretation, and an interpretation of somebody from the art world.
As a supplement and slightly different view on the body, we chose to include Margaret Walters' book, The Nude Male: a New Perspective. Walters shows the double standard that has existed between the male nudes and their female counterparts. She interprets the roles the genders have played both as subjects and observers of art. She considers the differences that exist between nude art and the body itself, the role art played in masculine identity, and the lack of an active role that women play in much of the history of nude art. These books will allow us to compare the way female and male nudes are used from the perspective of art history. Some of the pieces we are using are classic nudes. For us to analyze our audience’s reaction to those paintings, it would be best to understand what was originally intended for them and where our ideas about nude art came from.
We selected the source Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation by Abigail Solomon-Godeau for the reason that it asks questions and researches the male nude from an interdisciplinary perspective. The book strays from aesthetic criteria and focuses more on political questions that focus on the way in which visual culture both reflects and produces ideologies of gender, encouraging hierarchies of sexual difference and in that way naturalizing male supremacy and female subordination. This book takes an interesting look at the male nude and its spectators from the neoclassical era to the present. It will help us with our project because the author focuses on the nature of nude male representation through questions that stretch the limits of art history and focus in fields such as psychology, which will hopefully give us an insight to the intended viewers, why they would have a need for male nude art, and why this need has changed over time.
The book The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, by Lynda Nead, offers a critical look into the ways in which the nude female body has been represented in and a symbol of western art. This book is beneficial because it observes the ways the genders are represented in art, but it also investigates the nude in art in a general sense. Nead uses the history of art as well as some philosophical views to see the boundaries between the nude as a sexual object and as an artistic object. We chose to incorporate this book to offer a perspective on the body from a critical art history perspective.
Sexuality is an essential theme in our study. As was mentioned in some of the sources on gender issues in art, the nude in art and the naked body can be seen as two different things. Eroticism in Art by Alyce Mahon deals with our subject from a wide range of perspectives. The title itself is interesting because it presupposes that nude art is erotic, meaning that it is designed to arouse feelings of sexual desire, which poses an interesting idea in relation to our research question. It gives many examples of art works, their intended spectators, and meanings behind the works. The sections of the book that will be particularly useful to us are, "Visual Pleasure and Identity Politics", and "Eroticism and the Culture Wars of the 1980's and 1990's". Both of these sections will help us to understand how people see art in relation to themselves, and how nude art effects a culture.
The book, Picasso: Erotique, by Jean Clair allowed us to study the intensions of the specific artist. Picasso intentionally drew upon the sexuality of his nudes and believed that is where the beauty lies. Picasso’s art was deliberately sexual. This combats much of what the art historians theorize about classic art. If Picasso intends the naked body to be both sexual and aesthetic at the same time, it will be interesting to see if the modern audience interprets it as such.
The ways in which we react to paintings are based on a number of influences from ourselves and our social institutions. We researched things like psychology, sociology and cultural influences on art because these things affect the way we perceive our surroundings.
From a psychological perspective, we found a website discussing the philosophies of Sigmund Freud and his theories on the libido (Discovery Health). Freud's ideas about the strength of our sex drives can be interpreted to say that the naked body must always be seen as sexual. Marco Costa's "Gender differences in response to pictures of nudes: a magneto encephalographic study" is a biological psychology article on how women and men react physically to images of nudes. Both of these sources will better our understanding of how people mentally react to the body.
William Thomas's study “The Psychology of Modesty and Clothing” investigates our need for clothing, how we see the body, and where these views originated. This is a much older article and it may help explain some of the beliefs of artists from older time periods and movements. We can apply the psychological understandings of why we must cover ourselves to question if seeing the body as sexual is a possible trained behavior.
From the biological perspective, Leonard Blank's "Nakedness and Nudity: A Darwinian Explanation for Looking and Showing Behavior" compares human's reactions and beliefs about the body to behavior in animals. This perspective will allow us to see links or themes that exist between the species and the way nudity and sexuality are perceived.
Culture nearly completely creates what level of nudity we view as acceptable. However, not every culture creates the same story. Even in daily life, it is obvious that ideas about the naked body are drastically different in many cultures due to the varying amount of coverage from one culture to the next. It is no surprise then that the naked body in art for those cultures is not about lust, but rather reproduction. Many African figures, such as the Akuaba figures from the Akan peoples are used to teach girls about motherhood and bring good luck for fertility and safe delivery (www.africans-art.com). Although the ways in which we view representations of the body are culturally assigned, the fact that these views vary from culture to culture proves that this is an answer that culture must provide for us.
To study the views of the naked body in a culture, and to use anthropology as a source, we have chosen to use the website titled, "The Skinny on Nudism in the U.S." This article looks at the nude body from the viewpoint of nudists, who ignore the taboo of being naked in public, and do many activities completely naked. Such people are well known in our culture by the term “naturists”. This group is an important one to study because they have a position that is different than the average person. The fact that a group like this exists may suggest that culture, not human nature, creates a certain perception of the naked body. Two other sources offer an interesting look into how some people perceive the naked body. Both David Bell's article "Naked as Nature Intended" and Mark Storey's "Children, Social Nudity and Scholarly Study" discuss the reaction and affect of social nudity in nudist or naturist communities. Bell's article specifically incorporates the philosophies of nature and human nature into his study. This differing perspective is necessary to observe how humans innately see the body.
To study the perspective the general public has the human body, we chose to include perspectives from sociology. Beth Eek's sociological study, "Nudity and Framing: Classifying Art, Pornography, Information, and Ambiguity," observed people's reactions to images on nudes in poplar culture and whether those images were seen as sexual, artistic, or informative. This relates directly to our method of surveying. Also, the website titled, "To See of Not to See" relates very well to our research topic. It is an article written by Julia Courtney, a woman who has taken up an interest in nude art because of society's rejections of it. This article relates to ideas of society, culture, history, representation, and philosophies behind art. The most useful segment of the article is when it looks into the different ways people understand nude art, and why they might understand it that way.
The study "Factors Affecting the Sexual Arousal Value of Pictures" is included in our research sources because it tested variables in art that make an image more sexual. This not only will offer us an example of methodologies, but it will also give us research to compare to our own. Seeing the level of sexuality in certain variables helps us to discover the boundary between sex and art.
The Muse? edited by Thaddaeus Ropac is a book that we picked purely for the paintings that it provides. We will use this book in order to find examples of nude paintings for our surveys that we will conduct. The images include a variety of female nudes, which we can relate to the cultural, social, and psychological perspectives of art and the naked body that we will have researched in other readings. The images portray women both as objects and subjects, and this should play a significant part in how people view them. We hope to find a variety of samples of nude art to use in our surveys in order to understand how, no matter what they are meant to portray, a viewer sees them.
We hope that through this research, along with our own data collection, we will gain a better understanding of the way people view art and the possible reasons for any variations that may arise. Because so many different elements contribute to the way the public may interpret a piece of art, the discoveries we find in our study are going to reflect themes and norms in many different fields. The result of our main question, is the body is viewed as more sexual or beautiful, will display the ideals of our culture. If we discover that women are more inhibited in their reactions to the nude images, then we have discovered something related to gender roles in our society. It is through these changes and divergences that the implications and import of our study will arise.
Materials and Methods
Our experimental design consists of surveys, which include a number of images that we will show to fifty-two people with an even number of males and an even number of females. We will divide the surveys so that we each conduct twenty-six. Our respondents will vary in age and hopefully geographical origins, religious beliefs, levels of education and exposure to art. It will be difficult to assure this range in information because we are conducting surveys among college students and community members of Oxford, Ohio so we have to take into account that the diversity will not be as large as we would like. We will stay in the room with the subjects, presenting the images to them as they go along. This might have an effect on the ways our subjects answer sexual questions about the images because twenty-year-old college girls, who are not professionals, are surveying them. But, we believe it is the most appropriate way to conduct the survey because we want to make sure that the respondents understand the survey process and go through the images in an appropriate order.
Our survey is set up in such a way that we can statistically use the information that we ask our subjects to provide. We met with Dr. Cummins and Dr. Wolfe in order to look over our survey and ensure that the questions we are asking and the information that our subjects will provide will be of use while we are processing the overall information. We purposely split up the sexual scale, and the beautiful/artistic scale so that people wouldn’t be forced to decide that an image was either sexual or beautiful/artistic. Instead our subjects can rate the qualities on different scales, not being forced to go one way or the other. We purposely left three of our closing questions open-ended in order to provide us with insight as to how a variety of people judge what is beautiful, sexual, and pornographic. In order to ensure unbiased results, we placed the questions about exposure to art and art museums, the opinions on beauty, sex, pornography, and feelings of the naked body at the end of the survey. This way those being surveyed would not have any of these thoughts circulating through their minds while rating and describing the images.
Materials that we have used for this project include books, journal articles and websites on anthropology, sociology, psychology, biology, and art history. For our surveys we selected a set of appropriate images of nude paintings as well as a copy of this set for each team member to conduct surveys and, of course, we have also had subjects to participate in our surveys.
In order to select the images, we used a variety of art books that included paintings with both female and male subjects. We incorporated pictures that represent males and females because we believe that gender will have a large affect on the way our subjects view the images, and decide how sexual or artistic each of them is. We went through a process of listing the possible images that we could use first by choosing art from different periods in art history such as neoclassical paintings, modern paintings, and abstract paintings. It was also important for us to focus on the composition of the image. This included: the number of subjects in the images, the positioning of those subjects, their surroundings, the activity that was taking place in the composition and the realism of the painting. In the end, while taking these aspects into consideration, we decided on nine images. We tried to stay away from our own aesthetic judgments of the art because we didn’t want to have a group of images that we personally found to be either beautiful or sexual; instead we chose images with a variety of portrayals of the nude body and with specific philosophical and cultural meanings.
Our first image of the selection is titled The Shepard Paris 1786-87 by an anonymous artist. This painting illustrates some of the traits of neoclassical art, mainly that of the male body being created for display and a site for desirous gazing. In this particular painting the male body functions not only as the ideal figure of man but also as, “a powerfully psychologically loaded representation whose successful embodiment was perceived as a serious artistic challenge” (Abigail). We chose this painting for its classical nature and its depiction of a male subject in a way that we do not typically see today.
Our second image Blessed Mother (2000) is by the artist Richard Phillips, who is best known for his discomforting in-your-face frontal close-ups of women who look like fashion models. The artist’s intention was to, “demonstrate how aspects of ‘respectable’ society (conservative groups such as the girl scouts, or the institution of religion) are often combined with sexual situations to inspire a titillating sense of taboo” (Molon 248). We choose this image because of its realistic almost photo-like representation. Also, we decided that it would be a good image to include in our survey because it only depicts the top half of a female’s nude body, thus not showing any actual sexual organs and leaving the rest up only to the imagination. We are curious as to how people will react to such an image, and we hypothesize that even though there are no sexual organs, or even a full body present, people will still rate it as highly sexual.
The third image in the survey is Picasso’s painting, The Embrace (1970). We had Picasso in mind for our project from the beginning because of his unique and abstract way of portraying human beings. The painting is very colorful and attractive, much like most of his work, but the special thing about it is the artist’s use of shapes and lines that distort the human body to an almost unrecognizable figure. We chose to use this image to present to our subjects something different, yet still representing the nude body. We think that Picasso’s move from realistic representation silences the sexual themes of the painting, possibly causing our subject to react in an indifferent way to the image.
We picked the famous painting Olympia by Edouard Manet due to the important history of the painting. When first introduced to the public it caused uproar among viewers at the Salon in 1865, it was believed to be an assault on the art academy, and on bourgeois morality. We chose this as an illustration of how nudity is growing to be much more commonly accepted and portrayed in our culture, perhaps uncovering the nature of human beings and their desire to portray, and view the naked body in art. Through our survey we will discover whether this painting is viewed as highly sexual today as it once was in 1865. We will also possibly find out whether it is a subject of controversy through the words picked by our subject to describe the image.
We chose Sylvia Sleigh’s The Turkish Bath (1973), which is a parody of the original by Ingres, because it contains six men casually lounging in the nude. We want to see if there is a difference between the perceptions of a large group of naked males, as opposed to one single naked male. In this painting Sleigh turns the tables from the original by presenting the nude male as an object of desire there to pleasure the viewing female, as opposed to the other way around. The painting is said to, “turn Freudian theory on its head as a feminist artist’s reappropriation of male scopophilic pleasure” (Mahon 205). Sleigh, though, has a, “tendency to transform all men into her personal image of beauty” (Walters 319).
Vanity (1984) by Eric Fischl is a part of our selection due to the subject’s placement in the outdoors. The female is sitting comfortable in the grass while reading a card that is covering her entire face. Because of these components of the composition we feel that the nude will be viewed in a different manner than if she were inside. This way she is in a more natural setting, perhaps making her nude body appear to be just as natural. The female appears to be very comfortable and because her face is being covered up, the spectator can feel just as comfortable looking at her focusing only on her body.
We decided that we should include a painting of a single female in a standing pose with her whole body open for the spectator to see. This is why we chose K (1999) by William Bailey. The image is plain and the female’s nudity is blunt and simple. We chose the image for its banality; there is nothing on the canvas except what is necessary. An image such as this allows the viewer to concentrate on the main subject, and that is just what we wanted. We needed an image in which one could focus entirely on the nude body, but not be distracted or persuaded by anything else in the composition.
We also chose a representation of solitary male nude. The painting is titled John J (1974), by Connie Greene. It is a strikingly casual painting that represents an entirely naked man sitting on a concrete wall with his dog, full smile on his face. It is a painting of a “real” person, instead of an idealized body. It appears to be someone that you might actually meet, unlike an idealized representation of a nude man like The Shepard Paris. It is striking to look at because his genitals are as distinctive as his face. This is one that we included because of they way it poses such a comfortable appearance along with nudity.
Women Undressing (2002) is by Julian Opie, an artist who intends for his figures to be universal symbols for the things they depict. About his paintings, “Opie’s nudes are about as personal as the men/women icons on bathroom doors, but given that, thery’re remarkably expressive” (Valdez 159). It’s important to notice that the head is a perfect circle not even attached to the body and the female is reduced to a simple symbol. We choose this particular image because of the female’s reduction to a symbol. This alludes to a story about turkeys in Robert Wright’s book The Moral Animal in which he describes the act of turkey’s attempting to copulate with anything that even resembles another turkey, even if it’s just something as simple as a wooden stick. This sounds silly, but in a way humans do the same thing with two-dimensional images. And that is why this image is so important to include, because not only is it two-dimensional (like the rest of them), but also so simple in form that it is reduced to a mere symbol, yet we hypothesize that it will still be viewed as highly sexual by our spectators.
Our survey will consist of a number of both quantitative and qualitative questions. We will begin with basic demographic questions on the subject’s: age, gender, geographical origins, educational background, religious beliefs, and how these beliefs affect moral judgments. Following the question on background information, the respondent will be shown the series of nine images. After each image, the subjects will rate both the sexual quality of the painting and the artistic/beautiful quality of the painting. The rating scale will be from 1-5, 1 being low and 5 being high. Subjects will then be offered a word bank including words like sensual, taboo, seductive, elegant, flowing, and delicate. From these words, the respondent will be asked to describe the image by circling words from the list. They may circle any number of words they choose, and the lists will be consistent through all of the images.
The next section of the survey will consist of questions about the respondent’s familiarity with art and a number of qualitative questions. To determine the level of exposure to art, we will ask the subject’s exposure to art, art classes, and art museums. Based on the responses to the questions, the respondents will be separated in three groups: highly exposed, somewhat exposed, and slightly exposed. The last section of qualitative question will be used to investigate the subject’s beliefs, opinions, and definitions of art, beauty, sexuality and nudity. Then they will be asked their opinion on what makes a work of art beautiful, what makes an image sexual, what makes an image pornographic, whether or not they feel that naked body is something to be ashamed of, and the last question will ask how much of an influence the respondent feels sex or sexuality has on how they actively view the world?
We will work as a team to agree upon images and plan the organization of the surveys. We will also analyze the complied data and construct the paper as a group. We plan to pick a final set of images and write our survey during the week of February 21st through the 24th. By March 27th we hope to have all of our outside research of past works finished. We are aiming to have finished fifty surveys by April 7th. After all research is conducted we plan to construct a book of the images used to initiate others’ inquires into the subject.
Because our study offered a large number of variables and possible correlations, we performed multiple comparisons and tests on different sections of our data to sufficiently answer all of our original hypothesis questions. This first chart (below) offers a visual representation of the average ratings given to each image on the main categories of the sexual quality of the painting, listed first for each image, and the artistic or aesthetic quality which is listed second for each image. Both categories are based on the 5 point scale on which they were rated by the respondents.
Images 1, 3, and 5 were rated much higher on the artistic section than in the sexual rating. However, many others, such as images 2, 4, and 6 were rated nearly equal in each section.
To gain solid proof on this issue and to have an object test that addressed our main hypothesis on the general tendency for people to rate an image higher sexually, we did a one-way t-test in the JMP program on all of the scores for the combined images. In this test, we compared the total sexual and total artistic ratings.
This chart shows the ANOVA of the t-test performed. Contrary to our initial assumptions, the artistic rating in the column on the left is visibly higher than the sexual rating on the right. The P-value for this test was < .0001 and therefore significantly different. It was therefore proven that our respondents were more likely to rate the images higher in the artistic category than in the sexual category.
Secondary Hypothesis Questions
As an extension of our main hypothesis, we posed a secondary hypothesis that the level of exposure a respondent had to art and art museums would have a positive correlation to a higher artistic rating for the paintings. To address this question, we divided our respondents into three categories based on their claimed exposure level to art: high exposure, some exposure, and slight exposure. To begin testing the effect of exposure levels, we calculated the average of each artistic rating for all of the images combined and used that average to detect differences. The t-test performed on the average art rating by the exposure level did not show significant differences. As seen in the following graph, each exposure group rated the images beauty/artistic levels in a similar fashion.
The P-value for this t-test was greater than 0.05 (p-value=0.8969) and therefore failed to reject the null hypothesis. This test proved that the level of exposure the respondents claimed did not have a significant effect on the level of beauty or artistic value they perceived in the images.
Inversely to the question on the affect of exposure levels on beauty/artistic ratings, we also posed questions concerning the affect exposure levels would have on the sexual ratings of the images. We performed a similar test to the previous one, an average sexual rating t-test by exposure level.
Again, the P-value was greater than 0.05 (p-value=0.0819) and not significantly different. The level of exposure did not have a significant effect on the sexual rating of the images.
We decided to inquire deeper into these questions and perform further tests because all of our images were extremely different in content from each other. We performed a second group of tests, which consisted of a series of t-tests on each individual image’s ratings. We tested the affect that exposure level had on each image’s beauty/artistic and sexual ratings. To address another hypothesis we created concerning the affect the gender of the respondent had on their perceptions of the images, we also performed t-tests on both artistic and sexual ratings by gender for each image. For nearly every individual image, no statically significant differences were found.
This series of graphs shows the results for image 2, Blessed Mother by Richard Phillips, as an example of the results found. The top two graphs are one-way tests on the effect of exposure level on art ratings (on the left) and sexual ratings (right). The bottom two graphs display the effect of gender on art (on the left) and sexual ratings (right). The circles provided from the student’s pair t-test offer a visualization of the similarities in responses. For image 2, as for nearly all of the images, the p-values for every comparison were greater than 0.05 and no significant differences were found.
Only one t-test performed on the individual images resulted in a significant difference. For image 7, K by William Bailey, the t-test done on the sexual ratings by gender showed that men significantly rated the image higher on the sexual 1-5 scale than women.
This graph visualizes the difference. The men’s ratings fall higher than the women’s. The p-value for the test was 0.0284 and therefore rejected the null hypothesis. Image 7 was statically proven to be perceived as more sexual by men than women.
One area in which our results were significant was the tests done to investigate the differences in the way each image was rated. To address our hypothesis concerning the effect the gender of the painting’s subject would have on the sexual and artistic ratings, we performed two t-tests comparing the ratings of each image. In the test done on sexual rating by image, there was a significant difference found in the way each image was rated. The p-value was less than 0.0001.
This graph also separated the images into groups based on their ratings and shows the order of sexual ratings for each image. The images in the highest rated group, group “A,” were image 2 and image 9. The images in the lowest rated group “D,” were images 8, 1, and 3.
The similar test done on artistic scores by image also proved significantly different.
The p-value was again less than 0.0001. The order of images by artistic rating from highest to lowest was: 5, 1, 3, 7, 2, 6, 8, 9, and 4.
Male and Female Word Choices
While tallying up the outcomes for the adjectives chosen to describe the images by both males and females we found that there was a commonality of words used to describe each image. For example for image nine, Woman Undressing, a very frequently used word throughout the various responses was the word ‘seductive’. Another example is the image The Shepard Paris in which the word graceful was used often by both males and females. This generality of word choices occurred throughout all of the images, illustrating that there were words in our list that applied specifically to different images.
We hypothesized that there would be a difference in the way females used the adjectives to describe the images from the way males used them. In other words, we thought that the females and males would react independently of one another. While it appeared that this might be so through simply observing the surveys and writing down the various words chosen, it turned out that the responses of males and females were not independent of one another. We found this through a statistical test conducted through the JMP program. The test is called a Spearman Rank correlation. The test compares the "rank order" of each word by number of responses of one column (male) against another column (female). The null hypothesis of this test is that the ranks are independent of each other. If we got a p-value of less than 0.05, then we had to “reject the null hypothesis”, meaning the ranks are not independent of each other. Another way to state this is that the rank order of responses of males is very similar to the rank order of responses of females.
This test also measures the Rho value, which is a measure of correlation, where a 1 means the two ranks are perfectly positively correlated and a -1 means the ranks are perfectly negatively correlated. The closer the number is to 0, the less correlation there is between the two ranks. In general terms a Rho value of 0.845 means the two ranks are about 85% correlated, or similar. The p-value and the Rho are generally correlated - as the p-value goes down, the Rho value will also go down.
The majority of our images (7 out of 9) rejected the null hypothesis. So, two of them failed to reject the null hypothesis, meaning the responses of males and females were in fact independent of one another. One of these images was Olympia, which had a p-value of 0.0687, with a Rho value of .04152 (a 42% correlation between males and females). The other image was Vanity, which had a p-value of 0.0669, with a Rho value of .04176 (a 41% correlation between males and females). We have included graphs of these two images so that the differences in word choices in males and females will be visible.
When asked qualitative questions about what makes an image beautiful and what qualifies as a sexual image there were lots of reoccurring themes in the answers everyone gave. Many of the descriptions of a beautiful image pertained to the emotions, messages, and meaning that were meant to be transmitted through the image. Some descriptions also dealt with the physical qualities of aesthetics like color and balance, but by far the emotions communicated was the main emphasis.
On the subject of what makes an image sexual, other interesting correlations arose. Most of the respondents described a sexual image by the context in which the body was placed. Things like body and eye position, and interactions between subjects, and types of feelings invoked were explained to be the qualifications of sexuality in an image. Many people directly stated that the body did not need to be nude for an image to be sexual. According to the qualitative section of the survey, nudity does not go hand in hand with sexuality or beauty.
Our main hypothesis that the images would be rated higher sexually than artistically unless the respondents claimed a high art exposure level was proven wrong by our survey results. All of our statistical tests showed that the images were rated higher artistically and art exposure level did not have a significant effect on respondents’ ratings. Through our initial research and the analysis of our data, we have come to conclusions about causes for these results.
Through our research we have found that art aids in certain cultural constructions that affect the ways in which we perceive the human body. Essentially, our research question is tied to our cultural views about the body. As seen in our research on African art, had our survey been performed in another setting, the results would be extremely different. Although we were incorrect in our assumption that images would be rated higher sexually than artistically if we view our results from an anthropological perspective, it would be seen that the outcomes are still a trained behavior. These views are not trained through exposure to art, but rather a general trend in our cultural beliefs.
Art has the ability to help us interpret our social reality. Our respondents were presented with symbols of the body in the artistic medium of painting. Therefore, they perceived the human body through a lens that carried certain social expectations. The fact that the body was being symbolized and represented through artistic means altered the way it was interpreted. In the majority of the images the paint strokes were visible, or there were unrealistic or abstract aspects to the images, in short, it was obvious that they were paintings. It is a socially trained behavior to rate a work of art high on an artistic/beautiful scale when that option is presented. In contrast to our hypothesis, the fact that our images presented nude subject did not change this tendency.
When we observed the responses to our qualitative questions, we began to better understand the separation between nudity and sexuality. Our respondents’ comments that images can be sexual without including nudity furthered our understanding of why all of our images were not rated higher on the sexual scale. This separation brings about questions for further studies on what qualities of a composition make an image sexual.
Many of our secondary hypotheses dealt with the variations that we predicted would occur between males and females. All of our initial assumptions were proven wrong by our statistical outcomes. This means that men and women responded in a similar fashion to the images. A possible explanation could be found in the role that gender has played in art history. In our research, we discovered that men were both predominant subjects and artists in the classical era. Later in history, women began to be integrated into the art scene, first as subjects and eventually as artists. Many of our sources on modern female artists described the way that art has begun to be used as social activism for change in gender roles. Art is no longer a sphere dominated by males to which females are enabled limited access. In result of this progressive movement, our society allows women and men to experience and perceive art with the same standards. Even though the subjects of our images were nude, all of our respondents were viewing the images within the same culturally constructed ideas about art. For these reasons, gender did not play a significant role in our results.
Another component of our research project was how the gender of the subject within the painting affected the respondents’ reactions. Our initial hypothesis that female subjects would be rated higher sexually than male subjects was proven correct. Images with female subjects, such as images 2 and 9, were rated highest on the sexual scale, while images with male subjects (images 1 and 8) were in the lowest rated group. In particular, the high sexual rating on image 2 has many social implications. It shows how highly sexualized a woman’s body is in our culture. Even when her genitals are not shown, she is rated sexually highest of the images. Our culture sexualizes a woman’s entire body, especially her breasts, even though it may have no immediate connection to reproduction. Image 9 also supports the idea that female subjects were sexualized. The image was such a vague symbol, merely a series of shapes, yet it was still seen as sexual.
In conjunction to our hypothesis about female subjects being seen as sexual, we estimated that male subjects would be interpreted as more artistic. This thesis was not proven to be accurate. This could also pertain to the previously discussed progressive gender movement in art. Thus, similar to the way the gender of the respondent did not affect the artistic ratings of the images; the gender of the subject in the painting did not have any effect on the artistic qualities of the piece.
Although our project is concluded, many other avenues for further study have been created. Our study was performed primarily in Oxford and mostly in a narrow age group, 18-25 and therefore only observed the opinions and beliefs of one specific culture. If possible, the study would benefit from broader cultural representations. If one were to have the means in a future study to conduct the surveys in multiple countries and a variety of locations, the study would begin to penetrate the cultural boundaries that constricted our findings. The project would also gain from a broader array of images from multiple cultures.
Additional issues concerning the respondents of our survey possibly affected our results and would be advantageous to attempt to eliminate in future studies. Had we the ability to survey more respondents and have more possible views represented, our survey would have been more accurate. Also, all of our respondents volunteered to participate in our study. Some individuals chose not to take our survey based on a discomfort with seeing nude images. Those individuals who chose not to take our survey for those reasons may have made for more accurate representation of moral and social beliefs in our culture. This may have also developed more homogenized views in the group that volunteered to participate. This issue of volunteer respondents also made it difficult to ensure that everyone put the utmost time and effort into their answers. Had we been able to compensate our respondents for their time and effort, they may have been more likely to reflect longer on their answers. The last aspect of our study that we found slightly problematic was the fact that our respondents rated themselves on their level of exposure to art. There was an unrealistic ratio of highly exposed respondents, which most likely altered our outcomes. This is always a possible risk when a survey asks its respondents to rate themselves because they have the ability to alter the truth without consequences.
Due to the time, effort, and interest involved in this project on the perceptions of the nude body in art we created a way for part of what we have learned to be passed on to others. We have put together a book of blank pages and our images. We intend the blank pages to be filled with the audience’s opinions and interpretations of the images. We have titled the book and the images but left the remained of the book open-ended in an attempt to spark an interest within the reader. Our book offers the readers a starting point from which to add additional images and continue investigations in any directions they choose. We hope to reach a broad audience and to allow these topics to be further expanded upon.
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