Sex sells. Or at least in today’s society, the marketing world strategically incorporates erotic imagery in advertisements to gain consumers’ attention. If the moniker “sex sells” is true for advertisements, could it also be true in art? In nude paintings, does the artist aim to “sell” something by enticing us with the image of a naked and supple body?
When looking through Felix Vallotton’s artistic catalog, the amount of nudity is great. Vallotton used naked women in any context, from nude women bathing to nude women playing with kittens.
Vallotton, like most artists, appreciated beauty, including the beauty of the naked human body. But while the artist might have seen the beauty of the female form, what exactly does the observer experience when confronted with subtle eroticism?
Ads never use full-on nudity, and that is fine since partial nudity is enough to awaken our inhibited carnal desires. A seductive glare, suggestive body language, and enough bare skin can capture our attention and have our imaginations running wild.
When looking at Vallotton’s nudes, we can claim to be admiring his palette choice or his masterful technique, but the truth is many are staring at the nakedness of the subject, admiring the realistic contours of her body and thinking about more.
Vallotton did art not ads, so he obviously never snuck a consumer product into the corner of his paintings, but the sensuality in art and ads is similar. If Vallotton does not want to sell us a kitten or a red carpet, what purpose does nudity in art serve?
Maybe Vallotton is selling us a lie. When looking at nude art, we can say we are appreciating fine arts, not salivating over pornography. Maybe Vallotton is selling us a free ticket to openly admire and discuss something that is taboo.
To learn more about Vallotton and other Nabis artists, check out the Paris Intense: The Nabis- From Bonnard to Vallotton at the NeuePinakothek running until the 30th of September. Or you can also grab a copy of Felix Vallotton by Natalia Brodskaia.