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All Nude Atheists All the Time

[ 187 ] April 23, 2014 |

Let me say right up front I’ve normally got zero problems with nudity in art. Art featuring nudity can be innocuous, it be beautiful, it can be tasteful,  it can be sexy, it can be erotic, it can be challenging. There is a place for nudity in art, absolutely. I even enjoy some cheesecake/pinup/erotic art if it’s clever. But when it comes to nudity that’s pretty obviously there to titillate I think there’s a time and a place, and that place is probably not the American Atheists National Convention art show.

As much as I enjoy the idea of Neil DeGrasse Tyson winking impishly at onlookers as they take in all the sexy booby goodness next to the ultra-serious portraits of clothed atheist men, I think this juxtaposition is jarring, to put it mildly. Where is the pantsless portrait of Christopher Hitchens no one is surely screaming for? Why isn’t Carl Sagan shirtless and breaking a misty sweat while he sucks on an ice cube? “WHY?!” screams fives of people. I mean, this picture says a lot, and most of what it says isn’t good.

Here is a link to the painting (POSSIBLY NSFW!!) that is mostly cropped out of the bottom left corner. Are you aroused? Confused? Aroufsed? Yeah, uh…I’m not quite sure what to make of it either. But whatever you make of it, I hope you agree that maybe this wasn’t the best place to showcase the piece.

Listen, there’s a reason why there is very little sexy/nudieness in my art: it’s because I don’t want that to be the focus of my pieces. In this one I painted the yoke over the stock model’s breasts.



Why did I do this? Was it because it found her two-sided sideboob objectional? No, not at all. I thought the original stock was gorgeous as is. But the truth is that I feel like sometimes even a little bit boob will make a piece boob-centric, and I didn’t want this piece to be–even a little bit–about boobs. (Also I have a fetish for ruffles/ruffs/yokes.)

It’s clear that some of the convention art focuses on women in a way that is objectifying. And it wasn’t the time or the place for that.


Comments (187)

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  1. The prophet Nostradumbass says:

    Your second link is not working.

  2. sharculese says:

    Oh you want Christopher Hitchens to show us his ass? There are any number of public appearances I can recommend in that regard.

  3. Joshua says:

    I have recently learned there is a fair amount of crossover between the online atheist crowd and the mansplainer/niceguy crowd. Who knew, right? There’s probably a lot of fedora tipping going on there, m’lady.

    • Aimai says:

      Yup, they’re going to arrive here in a few minutes like a gaggle of sweaty hobbits and start a drum circle to protest being lectured to about objectifying women while pursuing the noble art of being skeptics and atheists.

    • Jordan says:


      Note: Don’t actually click that link.

    • mds says:

      There’s probably a lot of fedora tipping going on there, m’lady.

      Sweet flaming armpits of Ba’al. I like fedoras. I wore one to work this morning with my trenchcoat. Is there some way to signify that one isn’t a mansplainin’ dudebro just because one was wearing fedoras before smug sexist assholes decided they were cool? Based on limited observation, I’m thinking that the fact that I don’t leave it on inside private homes, my workplace, or restaurants might count, but what about out on the street? Do I need to add … a cockade?

      • fidelio says:

        Most of the hipsterdouches wearing fedoras aren’t really wearing fedoras but trilbys instead; you can tell by the narrow brim. Indiana Jones wore a proper fedora, with a brim wide enough to give some protection from the sun and rain.

        If that’s not enough to save the situation, maybe you could switch to a homburg.

      • Tristan says:

        Nope, you’re already outside polite society, sorry.

      • njorl says:

        Don’t let galoots deter you from indulging in the fashions you prefer, unless you prefer Hitler mustaches. Some old is dead.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        Three ways of looking at this:

        1) If you take it off when you come inside, in the circumstances that you’ve already mentioned, then yeah, you’re cool.

        2) Wearing a fedora doesn’t make you a d-bag, any more than wearing a ballcap or popping your collar does. It’s a warning sign that can be disregarded in the absence of egregious behavior. Note this example from MetaFilter, in which the fedora really takes a back seat to some alarming m’ladyism.

        3. See fidelio’s comment about trilbys.

    • JoyfulA says:

      I figured that out a long time ago.

  4. Karen says:

    Today is the 450th anniversary Shakespeare’s birthday.

    This has me trying to think of a convention where nude pictures would be appropriate, and I’m stuck after “visual artists” and “plastic surgeons.” I can’t really think of any. Insurance actuaries? Pilots? Agricultural machinery salesmen?

    I have no objection to nudity in art, and I hope to spend a couple of months after I’m retired staring at the nudes in the Uffizi Gallery, but there is something about the connection between a meeting for the purposes of learning new accounting procedures or what the new product line and nude pictures strikes me as being wrong.

  5. Shakezula says:

    And what is going on in the topless redhead you can see in the main image?

    Also, is anyone getting the major creeps from that paining of NDT?

  6. Nobdy says:

    Surely beefcake atheism is possible, even if you just want to slap Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s face on a (insert whatever you find attractive here) nude male body.

    I think the main issue here is that atheist conferences are already hostile for women (there are innumerable examples of this phenomenon) so adding in sexualized nude female bodies feeds into that intimidation in a way that an equal number of sexualized nude male bodies wouldn’t really take away from.

    On the other hand you could imagine non-sexualized nude art that could be very appropriate, such as a commentary on all those Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden paintings with an atheistic spin, or something related to evolution.

    This is about the sexism of the atheist community, not about art that involves female nudity. After all, in a fine or modern art museum you’re going to see lots of naked people, some clearly at least partially intended to titilate, and most of those are not particularly hostile places for women.

    • Karen says:

      Neil de Grasse Tyson was my Astronomy TA at the University of Texas in 1982. He was an amazing teacher, too. I made the 2nd highest grade in the class, and that was even taking the final after drinking Sangria all afternoon before the test. Actually, the sangria probably helped.

    • Karen says:

      More to your actual point, that is the problem with the cheesecake picture. It isn’t that it’s a female nude; it is that it is a female nude marooned in a sea of art about male scientists wearing suits. Heck, a picture of Madame Curie or Rosalind Franklin or Sally Ride or Amelia Earhart on the wall would have blunted the effect of that picture.

      • Warren Terra says:

        I probably shouldn’t pipe up and say this, but I think it speaks to some problems we have with science education, gender roles, and valorizing truly great woman scientists that even Karen, an obviously brilliant person who is well educated, widely aware, and cares about this topic, would lump in with luminaries like Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin overhyped stunt-artists like Amelia Earheart and Sally Ride. We really need to communicate better the incredible stories of, say, Barbara McClintock or Rita Levi-Montalcini, people whose accomplishments demand our attention, rather than wasting our time recounting the undoubtedly brave but scientifically meaningless careers of Earhart or Ride (though Ride’s later work as a symbol and educator is perhaps genuinely important in a way that her earlier work as extraterrestrial supercargo wasn’t).

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          I think it’s okay to have some popularizers (sic, so what) along with the hard-science people

        • Jordan says:

          I dunno, were all the doodz who had their pictures up there Real Scientists(tm)?

          • Warren Terra says:

            Quite possibly not – but in shot you’ve got Einstein and Darwin, plus DeGrasse Tyson (about whose science I know nothing, but he’s a great educator and popularizer).

            • Jordan says:

              Yeah, I dunno either. But I don’t see why Tyson counts but Ride doesn’t. Earhart: sure. But then you are just nitpicking about one random person thrown into the discussion.

          • FridayNext says:

            No (There is an image of either Christopher Hitchens or H.L. Mencken below Einsein’s gaze, and neither of them was a scientist.) because this is not a scientist’s convention. It is an atheist’s convention. It seems to me, given the topic, we might ask for Ayn Rand, Madelyn Murray O’Hair, Janeane Garofalo or Paula Poundstone. Do we even know the scientists people are mentioning are/were atheists?

            While the point about knowing the names of women scientists vis a viz men scientists is absolutely correct and interesting, I think it is dangerous to automatically equate scientist with atheist.

            • Jordan says:

              Well, there you go.

              Well, except for the Ayn Rand thing.

              • FridayNext says:

                I only know a lot of atheists, but few who identify with the public face of atheism and would be likely to go to such a convention. Among the latter, Ayn Rand is very popular.

            • Aimai says:

              Well, its the atheists who prefer to align themselves with prominent scientists, not the scientists who feel the need to align themselves with atheists. So although you are perfectly right to point out that we shouldn’t make the leap between sceintist and atheist the fact of the matter is that the largely male atheist community wants to borrow the reflected glory of scientists and free thinkers–given the freedom accorded to important men, and the importance accorded to men in general, when the atheist’s convention goes for recognizable famous people to lay claim to they are going to land on male scientists (for the most part) and not bother with Paula Poundstone.

        • Karen says:

          Good point. I debated including Irene Curie — Marie’s daughter, and one of the very few children of a Nobel Laureate who also won one — but Irene isn’t anywhere as famous as her mother. And you’re correct that I really can’t think of the names of many women scientists: the Curies, mere et fille, Franklin, Jane Goodall, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, and that pretty much ends the list.

          • Sphysicist says:

            Funny you mention, the other day I was disturbed at how few famous female scientists I can think of offhand. Your list includes a few I’d forget, and I’d add Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper. How much is it because women were cut out of the fields when the foundational work was being done, and how much is it because most every month is (white) male history month?

          • Aimai says:

            I don’t object to Amelia Earhart or Sally Ride–Ride was a real astronaut, for one thing, she wasn’t some teacher picked out of a popularity contest:

            Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) was an American physicist and astronaut. Born in Los Angeles, Ride joined NASA in 1978 and, at the age of 32, became the first American woman in space.[1] After flying twice on the space shuttle Challenger, she left NASA in 1987. She worked for two years at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, then the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics, primarily researching non-linear optics and Thomson scattering. She served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, the only person to participate on both.[2][3] Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to travel to space.[4]

            Its just as problematic to assert that only the most unique and famous of women can be presented as scientists–Ride was a scientist and a fucking professor of physics. As it turns out many other women have made significant contributions to the sciences, often against incredible odds, but we may not easily know their names unless we are specialists in their field–to be known outside your field and for centuries afterwards there has to be some popular dedication to your name and identity, something which is often denied to women.

            Other names that come to mind though, and here I agree with Warren Terra, Rita Levi-Montalcini (who my daughter impersonated for a biography project), and Barbara McClintock, here’s a

            link to ten more

            rather surprising ones.

            • herr doktor bimler says:

              Sofia Kovalevskaya.
              Also Beatrix Potter, for her work on lichen symbiosis.

            • Warren Terra says:

              I wasn’t aware Ride was an actual physicist, as while I’ve frequently heard her invoked or interviewed it was always as an astronaut. I’m impressed with anyone who’d qualify as a professor of physics at a research university, but I’m far less impressed with someone’s being an astronaut (I understand it’s highly selective, but it’s also highly useless). It was after all to disparage the program as a whole rather than Ride in particular that I referred to her time spent as extraterrestrial supercargo.

              • GiT says:

                Aren’t most astronauts engineers and scientists? Not sure what’s motivating your hostility towards astronauts.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  A lot of astronauts are jet pilots (see for example Chris Hadfield). But more to the point, and regardless of the qualifications and qualities the astronauts bring to the endeavor, the manned space program absorbs tremendous sums theoretically provided for Science, and produces essentially no discoveries, all the while spewing out a line of truly brazen bullsh!t to camouflage these facts (nonsense about protein crystals grown in space, just as one example). Meanwhile, the truly revolutionary unmanned spaceflight program is constantly scrounging for loose change, and the rest of the physical sciences are just plain impoverished.

            • Karen says:

              I had heard of Caroline Herschel, but all I could remember was “astronomer related to a male astronomer” and thought she was an American.

              All of which demonstrates that I need to study this a lot more.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeeeaahh. If you want male popularizers who’ve never actually produced significant work, you’ve already got them. They’re Hitchens and Dawkins.

          • Jordan says:

            Yeeeeahh, its pretty stupid to say Dawkins hasn’t produced any significant work. He’s been derping it up for a while now, but as far as I know his derp doesn’t travel into the past.

            • Anonymous says:

              He hasn’t, and he’s not a scientist. He’s written some nice, if not elegant then approachable, summaries of other people’s research, with a fair amount of self publicity thrown in. What innovations he may be responsible for (gene as site for selection) have been quite thoroughly debunked by better and more reputable minds. He’s loathe to admit faults or weaknesses in his own work, and that rightfully hurts his credibility. Apart from that, he found a word for what we call meme. Congratulations, how wonderful.

              • Jordan says:

                he’s not a scientist

                You are a moron.

                He’s written some nice, if not elegant then approachable, summaries of other people’s research, with a fair amount of self publicity thrown in

                Mostly fair.

                What innovations he may be responsible for (gene as site for selection) have been quite thoroughly debunked by better and more reputable minds.

                He’s a partisan for a faction, and it isn’t one I belong to (at all). But he’s influential, and for a reason.

                He’s loathe to admit faults or weaknesses in his own work, and that rightfully hurts his credibility.

                Absolutely agree.

                Apart from that, he found a word for what we call meme. Congratulations, how wonderful.

                This is also very stupid. But not as stupid as your original statement that he “isn’t a scientist.” So I’ll just say that again: you are a fucking moron if you don’t think he is a “scientist.”

                Look, there are good ways and bad ways of attacking those we don’t like. One bad way is to make obviously incorrect statements.

                • Anonymous says:

                  He’s, at best, a philosopher. Hasn’t done science since he finished his degree.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Thanks for the advice about how to make comments on the internet, sweets, but you’re projecting. I haven’t revealed whether I like or dislike Dawkins, merely that his celebrity is overblown and that he functions, at best, as an advocate for his version of atheism (and for his version of evpsych and evbio).

                • Jordan says:

                  You are welcome. His celebrity is indeed overblown, and he does indeed function mostly as an advocate.

                  None of that has anything to do with whether he is a scientist. Which he is. And an influential one.

              • JL says:

                Dawkins is an ass and I’m no fan of pop-evopsych proponents, but his biomorphs are still taught in ALife classes.

                People can be proponents of hypotheses that turn out to be wrong, and it doesn’t make them not-scientists.

        • bluefoot says:

          Barbara McClintock was a freaking badass. Her many contributions to genetics were nothing short of briliant. Just her work discovering and demonstrating the existence and nature of transposons would be enough to put her in the greats of science. I don’t get why we weren’t taught about her in high school along with Mendel, Watson and Crick, etc.

          • Tristan says:

            Funny you should mention Crick and Watson in this context, given the achievement that made them famous can be accurately described as ‘stealing from Rosalind Franklin’.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      You have opened a giant can of worms there. How much “non-sexualized nude art” is there, really? Not zero, but not a whole lot either.

      A formative experience for me was seeing Titian’s Venus of Urbino (in a traveling show in Brussels). Without resolving the entire riddle of the picture, it was clear to me on the spot that it was at least in part about the sexual/matrimonial possession of the subject — and that Titian had also painted her as a human being. But the great virtues of the picture did not somehow elevate it from the category of the naked to the supposed category of the nude.

      • Nobdy says:

        It’s a tough question to answer and relies upon artist’s intent, effect on viewer, and all kinds of other stuff, but there’s definitely a difference between gratuitious nudity, which might be a better term, and nudity that serves some other function even though it might also titilate.

        For some reason I always come back to Julianne Moore’s nude scene in Short Cuts. She’s a very attractive woman, but the nudity also conveys all kinds of other stuff about the relationship, the situation, her character etc… Similarly if you were to draw a “The Evolution of Man” diagram where the final stage was a woman, she might be naked and it might even titilate, but there could be all kinds of other intent and impact impossible to achieve through another means.

        The problem with gratuitious nudity is that it reduces women to nothing more than sexualized bodies, and women get enough of that in every day life.

      • Aimai says:

        I don’t have any problem with seeing nude pictures of women–I see them every day, really, if you count in just ordinary stock photos of bikini clad young women. Of course you pretty much never see naked women who are old, fat, or classified as ugly or even just normal/unmade up and unretouched. There’s no inherent connection between nude images of women and pornography–it takes a viewer to make that happen. A viewer and a setting.

        The problem with this image of a woman is its setting–its just there casually, like a choice the artist and the judges have made that the only place women belong in this exhibit is as garnish, like an inedible piece of plastic grass on a sushi plate. Or maybe I mean like a bit of sugar sprinkled over something so inherently tasteless and uninteresting that some portion of the audience requires it in order to pay any attention at all. And you know that’s not the women in the audience, if any, so the assumption is that the audience that counts is a male audience that needs to have its prurient interests satisfied before it can pause and look around at the theoretical topic of the show.

    • Anonymous says:

      NdGT is pretty hot just the way he is. That’s kinda (this strain of) sexism in a nutshell: dudes are attractive as they are, and it’s the women who need fixing / repairing / to be shoved tits first in a early grave trying to fulfill multiple and contradictory beauty standards (and then get slutshamed for doing so and plainshamed for being unable to do so).

  7. Steve LaBonne says:

    Fuck American Atheists. My support goes to Americans United, which defends my rights as an atheist and everyone else’s rights of conscience as well, and doesn’t cater to misogynist dudebros.

    • Nobdy says:

      Does dudebro just mean “guys we don’t like” now?

      Because I thought it had a specific meaning, and I would put faux-sophisticated pompous atheist types outside of that meaning.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        It goes way beyond that. There’s a large contingent of MRA libertoony atheist shitheads (you can frequently encounter them trolling PZ Myers’s blog), and the leadership of AA goes out of its way to play footsie with them in order not to “divide” the atheist “community”.

        • Nobdy says:

          I think of dudebro as meathead fratboy types (who are likely to call each other, or you if you’re male, dude or bro, thus the name.)

          • Steve LaBonne says:

            Yes, and fratboy culture is typically misogynist to the point of being rapey. Which is what’s going on with those “artworks”.

            • Nobdy says:

              But the people at the atheist conventions are unlikely to say dude or bro. That may just be my literalism but I think of them as a different sort of rapey sexist than the dudebro.

              • Jordan says:

                I think it is more that dudebros aren’t generally atheist misogynists, while atheist misogynists all wish they were actually dudebros.

              • Matt T. in New Orleans says:

                What on earth makes you think this? Have you ever met a representative of either group?

                • Nobdy says:

                  I believe I have met representatives of both, though the dudebro did not announce himself as a dudebro.

                • Matt T. in New Orleans says:

                  Shit, maybe it’s just my experience, then, or I’ve historically found myself amongst a smarter class fratboy or a duller class of atheist-type willing-to-go-to-a-convention. The line seemed pretty friggin’ thin to where if I would be insulting one party by comparing him to another, I wouldn’t know who to apologize to.

                  And dudebros a never announce themselves as such. Perhaps that’s how they get into conventions.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        Are you going to defend the honor of dudebros like you defended the honor of [male] geeks the other day? Because I need to go make popcorn in that case.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Fuck American Atheists. My support goes to Americans United

      Does Americans United do non-political, cultural, social stuff?

      My understanding is that American Atheists and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have different missions.

  8. Steve Gravelle says:

    Isn’t not having to go to f*****g conventions the point of being an atheist?

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      I woulda thought so. groucho spoke for me

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Holy fuck, THIS.

    • Steve LaBonne says:

      Especially conventions where the attendees have nothing in common beyond “dictionary atheism”- what the hell is the point?

    • Jordan says:

      meh, comic dorks go to comic conventions. Star Trek dorks go to star trek conventions. Why wouldn’t atheist dorks want to go to an atheist convention?

    • Matt T. in New Orleans says:

      No shit. I have a casual acquaintance that’s continually trying to get me to join some group of dingleberries stroking each others’ dicks on how clever we are and how stupid everyone else is. I was raised Southern Baptist, and that shit is way too familiar.

      • N__B says:

        When I was a student, I joined a friend’s homegrown group “DENSA.” Our charter said we had to drink and make fun of MENSA members while drunk.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer says:

        It depends on the Con and the speakers/subjects. More and more cons are featuring panels that focus on issues outside of the typical dick stroking superiority topics. I think a con featuring Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, Ed Brayton, etc., is going to have a decidedly different crowd than one that features Dawkins, Harris, Krauss etc.

        I have never gone to one myself but I imagine if I lived in Red State America the idea of just getting together with some non-religious people would be much more appealing to me just as a rare escape from the dominant Christian community of the Heartland (TM). Heck just visiting TX for a few days makes me itchy to get back to the liberal/relatively Secular enclave of Los Angeles.

    • wjts says:

      It is for me, sure, but here’s the thing: I was raised in an areligious household. I passively absorbed the idea that there was a thing called “God” who was best described as a very nice man who lived in the sky. Christmas was Santa, presents, and visits from the grandparents and Easter was egg hunts and chocolate. The only vaguely formal religious instruction I ever received was my kindergarten teacher relating the Nativity story and the only thing I took away from it was the idea that a census that required people to go back to where they were born would mean that my parents and I would have to go to Ohio to participate. I remember being in favor of this idea, because it would mean I’d probably get to see some of my favorite relatives. I’m fairly certain I can count the number of times I went to church as a child on the fingers of one hand, and that includes weddings and funerals. By the time I was 10, I could have told you all about the birth of Hermes, the dismemberment and resurrection of Osiris, and Baldur’s death but if you asked me who St. Paul was I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. “Formally” declaring my atheism was a non-event for me.

      But other people have very different experiences. Coming to atheism as an adult or a teenager after believing something very different for your entire life can be very difficult, even traumatic, and being able to connect with other people who have gone through something similar can be extremely valuable. So if you want to hold an atheist convention, I’ll be the last one to try to stop you.

      • Aimai says:

        There are actually blogs and sites for people to go who are stumbling into atheism, or agnosticism, from serious childhood indoctrination. I don’t get the sense that these atheists are those atheists–for one thing a lot of the neo-atheists I “know” are women who are leaving abusive marriages and patriarchal families with literally nothing. They have little in common with upper class male atheists who have always been atheists, or always free to live as they chose whatever their nominal religious affiliation.

        • Jordan says:

          This is good and true insofar as it goes.

          But not everyone reads blogs as much as we do. I know I could have used a public “hey its ok!” type of event personally.

          These types of gatherings (which I have never been to, honestly) seem like they can provide a safe space to some people. Will they work for everyone? No. Will they work for some? Almost assuredly – well, assuming they aren’t sexist assholeries. But my point (and I do have one) is that these types of things can be very helpful, if they are done right.

      • Rob in CT says:

        This basically sounds right to me (also raised in a non-religious household – even morseo than you), but I’m not sure it translates to the convention-going crowd. I remember patting myself on the back pretty vigorously at times back in high school about how smart I was and deluded sheep others were. I grew up, and I’m far less likely to think I’m superior for having one less delusion than someone else. ;) Man, thinking about it, having some convention to go to might’ve made me insufferable.

        Anyway, while it’s plausible that the more unholier than thou types are bringing the fervor of the convert to things, it’s also plausible that the convention is full of folks like you and I, but who had more inclination to gather with others to pump each other up or something.

        Another possibility: cultural background. I grew up non-religious in an affluent, nearly all-white Connecticut town. As a result, I caught very, very little sh*t for not believing. Basically none, really. Annoying questions (wait, so how do you have any morals?) were about it. If I’d grown up in a more religious environment, maybe I’d have felt a stronger need to gather with others…

    • bspencer says:

      I dunno. I’d happily attend a atheist convention if I had the time/opportunity.

  9. Jordan says:

    also, and this doesn’t really matter, but for a dumbass like me I kinda thought the person in your piece was missing an arm :?

  10. Manju says:

    I interpreted the work in question as pro-feminist, though somewhat anti-sex worker.

    The artist is mocking those who claim there is no glass ceiling (“What glass ceiling?”) via a Colbert-like parody of their argument. The evidence for their claim is all the money available for sex-work. Ergo, a stripper and a bar code.

  11. herr doktor bimler says:

    Vis-a-vis the Star Collector artwork… No, I am not tired of linking to Remedios Varo paintings.

  12. Jordan says:

    Oh also: the three most recent posts have nearly 200 comments total. And not one troll. And they deal with sexism, racism and labor! This has to be a recent record.

  13. Uncle Ebeneezer says:

    Stephanie Zvan did a good post about this (warning: images shown in post) and talking about the difficulty of using nudity:

    Well, someone at the convention who had also heard a couple of complaints talked to American Atheists staff, including the person who approved those paintings for the art show and was able to give me some insight. As it turns out, the person who approved those paintings liked them specifically for the feminist interpretations they took from the paintings. They were unaware of the context (nameless, naked women hanging among famous, clothed men) when they approved the paintings, they knew the paintings had previously been hung in a feminist show, and they were in synch with the artist on feminist interpretations. Everything seemed great.

    Then it turned out that other people interpreted the paintings very differently.

    This is where I come back to Scalzi’s observations about being clever. Just as factors outside your control influence whether you succeed when trying to be clever, there are factors that influence whether you succeed when trying to convey a message by using nudity, particularly when issues of gender and race get tied up in the package. No adult comes to view nudity without carrying along a host of cultural and personal meanings, many of them conflicting. If you’re trying to reach a large audience with a message that uses nudity, you’re almost certain to fail with some of them–with more of them the less practiced you are at crafting your message, the less you consider the context in which your message will be presented.

    And when you fail, the end result will be that your work is interpreted as objectifying the naked person instead.

    • Dudebro Lorax says:

      Thats a great essay. However I still remain puzzled by the idea that the show was composed, seemingly at random, of all kinds of images but somehow the only nude images are of women. I mean–I totally see how that happens but its an argument for people running shows like this to consider how constrained art really is. It clearly doesn’t occur to any of the artists to strip famous male scientists of their clothing because, well, why would you? This is not a point that needs to be made by anyone, apparently. But its so very common to use women’s nude bodies to make all kinds of points, and no point at all, that you are quite likely to get such images almost at random, by sheer chance.

      I’m also reminded of the recent Breitbartian attempt to create bizzaro world viral “memes” like sticking Nancy Pelosi’s head on (some stupid gyrating semi nude girl singer whose name I can’t remember). If you were to go to the Breitbart site I think you’d find them strange and off-putting. There is one image of Pelosi’s head on Miley Cyrus’s body and mouth, one of Jerry Brown’s head on a body builder’s body, and one of some guy’s head on a woman’s nude torso. These very much conform to a cultural standard where showing one person without clothing is demeaning to that person (this has been much discussed on Mad Men where women are often shown partially unclothed while the men around them are fully dressed). The Jerry Brown image is, to the contrary, oddly powerful since the image gives back to him a young man’s physique and visually telegraphs his power. The other guy is debased by being given big tits and pasties and rendered as a kind of hermaphrodite.

    • Jordan says:

      This is, in fact, the post that was (supposed to be) linked in the OP.

    • mark says:

      Yes, it’s the failed link in the OP and I think it’s great.

      That she looks for charitable interpretations–and finds a few sincere ones–is something I wouldn’t have bothered with or thought much about. And after reading her I checked out the other pictures she mentioned, and personally found one picture she links to (an old man hand grabbing at a picture of nude woman) so creepy that I would have thought the creepiness of a ‘living’ hand pawing at a passive nude was clearly “the point.” In context it’s hard to reconcile my interpretation with the other two pictures, let alone the clothed men–so I do think the ones who hate it are “right” as far as you can be.

      The “Light my fire” picture is I think horrible–it’s like a beer ad for atheism with a model pretending to be turned on by schlubby men, if only they embrace whatever product they are selling.

  14. stick says:

    Why isn’t Carl Sagan shirtless and breaking a misty sweat while he sucks on an ice cube?

    Holy Cthulhu!

    Please make this happen…

  15. herr doktor bimler says:

    Where is the pantsless portrait of Christopher Hitchens no one is surely screaming for?
    A tasteful rendition of his exercise in crack- and sack-waxing, perhaps.

  16. NewishLawyer says:

    My only comment is that this is just as unnecessary and bad as conservative art.

    There doesn’t need to be an Atheist Art convention just like there doesn’t need to be some random dude hauling around a muscular Reagan painting/mural.

    This is bad art by any account.

    Signed NYC/SF art snob.

  17. Dorfl says:

    Atheism Is Also A Religious Position.

  18. David W. says:

    The “atheist art” as shown in said photo is a nothing-burger to me. I’d vastly prefer an XKCD exhibition.

  19. Kiwanda says:

    A response from a friend of the painter.

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