Nudity in art: innocent admiration or lust?

I looked up William-Adolphe Bouguereau knowing he had painted a few paintings of the Virgin because I wanted to see if he had done other religious art. I didn’t know about all of the nudes he had painted, so it kind of caught me by surprise. These were very beautiful paintings, but looking at them kind of had me concerned. How do I know I’m sincerely and innocently admiring the human form and not lusting over the female figure? Is arousal any indication? I’m sixteen, and I have a very bad habit of watching certain things (I’m sure I don’t have to explain what), and I’m worried that this might pervert my enjoyment of art, making it into something it shouldn’t be. When I look at these paintings, I might get aroused, but I don’t feel tempted to do the things I do when I watching and looking at the other stuff. I also look at the entire body, because I know the painter wouldn’t have painted it if he hadn’t wanted anyone to see it. Is this wrong? And another question. How do I enjoy art of this nature, and art in general?

 Also, I know other threads have been made on the subject of nudity in art, but as my questions are more specific, I would appreciate it if no one simply pointed to those threads without contributing anything else. I don't know if anyone would do that, but I just want to make sure I get answers tailored to my questions.

I venture to offer some thoughts, although I’m sure you will get good suggestions soon.

M. Bouguereau did paint some lovely paintings of sacred subjects, also some excellent portraits. And some beautiful nudes.
Since you are 16, I would suggest you skip the nudes for now. Especially since you mention you have a bad habit of watching certain things ( I assume porn) and doing things when watching. Since you are young, this would be a good time to get a grip and give up porn. Keep in mind that all the angels and saints are watching you, even darkness can’t hide us from heaven; do you really want to be doing whatever in front of all those witnesses? That realization has helped me a lot.

His paintings are truly beautiful, but knowing that the painter wouldn’t have painted it if he hadn’t wanted anyone to see it, really is irrelevant. The question is, what effect do they have on your soul? Once you get married, you don’t want to be comparing your future wife to one of his bathers. No human woman could compete.
Of course, porn will destroy your ability to have a normal relationship with a woman, so I highly recommend giving it up. Say a Rosary every time you’re tempted.

You might consider taking an art history course, or getting some good books on the subject . The lives of the artists and the history of their works can be fascinating.
God bless.


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As a young 19 year old male I try to avoid such art as I am overly attracted to women. :o

A few years back I read an article on a famous French sculptor from the early 1900s, he was planning a new piece and wanted the most beautiful female to be his model, so he asked for the public help in finding this gal, from what I read hundreds of females vied for the role, but in the end, the one he eventually chose to be his model was a 14 yr old local girl.

The piece he did featured her topless and showed some of her rear end, but his sculpture was celebrated by everyone.

Point is, there was no one calling for him to be jailed or claiming the work was obscene in any way…however if a modern sculptor tried the exact same thing, I can guarantee majority of people would be calling for him to be arrested, and NO ONE would be celebrating a piece like that.

So it just goes to show you how successful the enemy has been in such a short amount of time in regards to what is obscene. I dread to think about what will be considered obscene in another 100 yrs!!!

Pornography causes serious sin, I pray that you use the Sacrament of Reconciliation and prayer.

I just now noticed that you are not Catholic.

Wouldn’t you desire to be free of sinful habits as a Protestant?

Jesus said in the Bible, “If your left hand causes you to sin, cut it off, it is better to leave this life a handicap than with the whole body be cast into hell.”

Thanks for all of the replies! I just want to clarify that I know watching “certain things” is wrong and I am trying to stop. That’s kind of why I asked question in the first place; I’m worried this “habit” (more accurately an addiction) might be perverting my enjoyment of art.

It almost certainly is. That’s what’s so insidious about pornography: it trains your mind to regard all women as sexual objects and nothing more. So where the artist of the painting just meant you to see the human body itself, your porn-trained brain immediately starts reacting to it as object of lust.

Not attacking you, by the way. Almost all men struggle with this at some point to varying degrees. You’re not alone by any means.

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That’s it in a nutshell.


So do you think it would be a problem for a woman to look at the naked picture of Adam by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

Women are not as visually oriented as men.
I can generally admire the Adam as a work of art. And his David seems too short to me, which I find lessens my appreciation of the sculpture.
If it did bother a woman, hopefully she would find something else to engage her attention.


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To me art is art. You can make of it as you wish.

I’ve received some helpful replies, but I think I should rephrase my questions without all of the unnecessary information for the sake of clarity. I don’t think I’m lusting over the nude artwork of Bouguereau. Nonetheless, because of their realistic nature, I sometimes find myself aroused by them. I don’t think this is lust, but I’ll avoid these paintings of his nonetheless. I am a 16 year old male after all, and it’s always best to stay safe with these kinds of things. But when I have reached the proper sexual maturity, how am I supposed to view paintings of this nature? What do art critics look at when judging the quality of art? Do I have to look at it a certain way to properly appreciate it? Is it normal for male art critics or viewers to feel arousal when looking at art of this kind?

Is there a biological reason for that?

First but you are sexually mature, so to speak. Physically you can start having sex right now but mentally not so much. They are paintings. Enjoy them. If you get aroused so what, I would dare say it is natural. You are making a mountain out of an anthill.

First off, making oneself aroused without a procreative purpose is sinful. We should also avoid the near occasion of sin.

Secondly, “sexual maturity” is no excuse. A person can go to hell for lust regardless of how “mature” they are.

Finally, these nude paintings are actually barbaric. They don’t elevate humanity and stay on a very primitive level.

Yes: men are different from women.:slight_smile:

I found a study supporting that, but the means used to test it involved occasions of sin, so I won’t link to it,
but it’s a well known biological fact. As for how or why, you’ll have to ask in heaven.


I don’t agree that nudes in art are barbaric. Do you think that of the Sistine Chapel? They are appreciations of the human form, which can be beautiful,.

The question is whether an individual can appreciate them without being aroused sinfully, I can look at Michelangelo’s painting without problems, but a 16 year old might have difficulty, so I advised avoiding them currently,

When he’s an adult, he can make his mind up then according to their effect on him. And of course, the first step is to avoid pornography, which will mess up anyone’s response to art,


The Sistine Chapel was quite controversial at the time with some religious calling it pornographic. and

"The Papal Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, deemed the fresco outrageous, and more suitable for public baths or taverns than a chapel. “….it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully.” … “The satirist Pietro Aretino, angered when Michelangelo ignored his advice, accused the artist of being “godless” and homosexual”.

The compromise was that the genitals were covered up by the artist Daniele da Volterra. I mean - that should have been obvious at the time! Here is a relevant quote from the Bible:Exodus 28:42-43 – “You shall make for them linen breeches to cover their bare flesh [nakedness]; they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs. They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and to his descendants after him."

So, I don’t think the Sistine Chapel is a king hit argument and I actually don’t like the building itself very much.

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