The most expensive painting* ever sold is one of a naked woman asleep on a couch. The painting was made in 1995 by Lucian Freud and is of not the best-looking 51 year old woman. The painting sold for £17 million.
Painting naked women isn’t new. The Old Masters of the Renaissance (which may not really be a thing) made art out of women sans clothing. When I was looking for paintings by the Old Masters, one painting that came advertised as being erotic is that of Danae by Titian:
The story goes that Danae, a princess, was imprisoned by her father the king because her son would kill her father. Danae lets Zeus, the god, seduce her, fully aware of the consequences. Zeus appears as gold dust in this painting.
Okay, I confess that I am no art critic; I only have as much of a clue about whether a picture of a naked woman is art or pornography as anybody else. But it seems to me that the test for whether a painting/picture is art or pornography is who the “subject” is. Danae, in the painting above, isn’t naked for your benefit or mine; she doesn’t know we’re watching. More importantly, she doesn’t care.
Pornography exists to titillate its audience. This, as much as the perfect bodies, the contortionist body positions and the incredible sex, is a defining characteristic of pornography. In a pornographic version of waiting for Zeus, Danae would be trying to make the viewer imagine himself in Zeus’ place.
I point out all this in preface to a shocking documentary about the portrayal of women in Hindi movies called “No Country for Women”. Apparently, while I wasn’t looking, a de facto ban on actors so much as kissing on screen has gone away and been replaced by what I can only call free licence to show pornography.
So why is this access to pornography bad? We should measure a society’s progress by its acceptance of pornography, right?
Young men in this society apparently get their ideas about social interaction with the other sex not from, you know, social interaction but from the movies. This is amply demonstrated in the documentary (‘arey, woh Rakhi Sawant jaise skirt pehen ke ayegi to hum usey chedenge nahin to aur kya karenge?). Teaching men that women who dress well, or have certain body types, or go out at night are asking for attention is a recipe for disaster. And yet we see this in scene after scene.
I am all for promiscuity. I want women to break free of the shackles of societally imposed “modesty”. I am also for easier access to pornography. But let’s please label it as such, hmm?
*Correction: This is not the most expensive painting ever sold. This is the most expensive painting of a living artist ever sold. HT: Jayavel, who tells me even this may no longer be true.