2 minute read

Is Naked Art a Form of Pornography?

Last Updated: July 22, 2021

Matt Fradd
Matt Fradd

Matt Fradd is the author of Delivered: True Stories of Men and Woman Who Turned from Porn to Purity. After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matt has worked through full-time lay ministry in Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Texas. He has served as an apologist for Catholic Answers and has traveled all over the world, speaking to tens of thousands of teens and young adults. He and his wife Cameron have four children and live in North Georgia.

I’m often asked, “What’s the difference between pornography and naked art?” Usually the person who asks this assumes there is no difference, and his question is intended to help me see that. This video offers the beginning of an answer to why there is a difference.

Defining our terms is a good place to start. One of the best definitions of porn is “sexually explicit content intended to sexually arouse.” If you agree with this, I think you’ll see why the nudes depicted in the Sistine Chapel are not pornographic. They aren’t sexually explicit, or even if you thought they were, they were not intended to sexually arouse and don’t have that effect.

Next, we should take a look at the intention of the pornographer and the artist, and the intention of the viewer. The intention of the pornographer and the intention of the artist are very different. Here’s an example.

A porn producer would be mystified and offended if someone said his film was beautiful, but failed to turn the viewer on. His clear goal was to sexually arouse his viewers. Similarly, if Michelangelo was told his paintings in the Sistine Chapel did little to arouse delight and instead aroused a strong sexual desire, he would either be bothered that his paintings had this effect or worried about the mental health of the informer.

In short, art is created to be appreciated. Porn is created to be consumed.

Pornography makes no critical appeal to viewers to consider the mode or means of depiction. The point of porn is masturbation. Naked art stops short of this because other features pull the audience’s attention. It calls attention to the medium, not just the content.

Related: Consumerism and the Culture of Porn

What about the intention of the viewer? Many people are turned on by content not intended to sexually arouse. But in those situations, while the content is not objectively pornographic, it may subjectively become pornographic to the viewer.

The goal is to get the intention of the artist and the viewer in sync, along with the goodness and dignity of the human person.

Dr. Michael Waldstein, a scholar of St. Paul John II, said, “Some images of the naked body push us to concupiscence; others do not. Going into the Sistine Chapel and looking at the naked women on the ceiling is a very different experience than watching a pornographic movie. It is not presumption, but the experience of many men, that one can look with purity at Michelangelo’s nudes and take delight in their beauty. Michelangelo himself must have looked at the nudes in a pure way in order to paint them in a pure way.”

Of course if one does feel a slide to concupiscence when looking at Michelangelo’s work, it is a good idea to look away. That need to look away should also be a trumpet blast that one is in serious need of transformation.

  • Comments on: Is Naked Art a Form of Pornography?
    1. “The point of porn is masturbation.”

      Actually, masturbation in only one potential consequence of pornography, and arguably, there are multiple ‘points’ (or motivations) for porn; but most involve money and/or control of some form or another (creator and viewer alike).

      Honestly, trying to make a clear distinction between porn and naked art and make it stick for everyone is impossible (esp. considering how nakedness in Scripture is treated in rather convoluted ways). People are simply too different, and unlike God, we can’t see the heart(s)–all we can do is guess.

      As Dr. James McKeever noted in his book “It’s in the Bible” (Nudity and Lust chapter): “If we conclude that it is a sin to be nude in front of a member of the opposite sex, we run into difficulty in trying to devise our own law.” The same principle applies to naked art. In the end, only God can see and discern the hearts of all involved.

    2. No offense, but I’ll have to disagree. Art did not become nude until culture began questioning its religious roots. The bible is VERY clear that nudity is not meant for public viewing in any way/shape/form. In fact, one of the prophets describes the baring of the upper thigh as nudity and a shame on the woman that does so, though it is in context of a prophecy. Nudity is all too often a shaming aspect, even when accidental, like in the case of Noah – drunk, naked, his son sees him and tells the others – and is shamed for life! Families are not allowed to view members of the opposite sex in their family naked, according to the law. Unless in a frame of marriage, nudity is simply not allowed, partial or otherwise. And there is no difference between a Playboy and an artist’s rendition in paint of the same model. Sorry, just don’t buy this one.

    3. Denise

      The problem with this is this writer takes on the role of defining what God says in an incorrect way. God does not condone nakedness in any arena expect in between a husband and a wife. Even if a person’s motive is to be pure but they end up doing something God would not approve of it doesn’t make it right. Motive is not a determination of whether something is sinful or not. Uzzah had good motives to save the ark but still sinned none the less because the law was “not to touch the arc.” A woman can display herself naked or partially naked because she wants to show people how beautiful God made her, while some would say that was a
      Pure motive, it is still sin none the less. God’s word made it clear that nakedness was not approved of once man knew they were naked. God clothed them appropriately. God told thempriests he did not want to see there nakedness it was profane. Nakedness is an alluremeny sexually period. Some can turn from it better than others, that would make them stronger. To say that there is something wrong with the person that turns their head to nakedness has a heart problem is so false. It goes along with biblical teaching to shun the forms of evil. God told man to enjoy the nakedness if his wife but never the nakedness of any other. God created all things and everything God created is good and to be enjoyed by man, but in the parimitera of which God set forth. This line of thinking you have presented is the modern day liberal attitude. Sex is good according to God but only in the marriage bed. The liberal world tries to make you think it is ok in any arena because it us pleasureable. You are playing with fire by trying to make what God set forth a gray area.

    4. Ruth

      This is an issue I have struggled with for some time. As a Christian, homeschooling Mum I deliberately exposed my sons and daughters to well-known scuplture and paintings by famous artists which included nudity. I simply thought I was giving my children a classical well-rounded education by including this in their curriculum. I have since learned from 2 of my sons that this early exposure led them to a 2 year secret internet pornography addiction and other inappropriate sexual behaviour. The time when this came to light was devastating for our family. I cannot help feeling immense guilt as a parent. And have also thought very hard about the whole art vs. pornography debate. I love appreciating good art but cannot help noticing that God never sanctions nudity in any sphere but between a man and his wife. Is any depiction of nudity, then, not pleasing to God if it’s not private within a marriage? Does the intention of an artist/photographer/filmmaker really make the nudity ok? I’m still not sure where I stand on this issue personally but thought the article raised some important questions even though it didn’t definitively answer mine. And my sons are walking strongly with God now, determined to remain pure for Him.

    5. Does your God condemn all nudity?

      Isaiah 20:1-4 (KJV) “1In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it; 2At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. 3And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; 4So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”

      1 Samuel 19:24 (KJV) “24And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?”

      Micah 1:8 (KJV) “8Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.”

      • Xavier

        Well, unless you’re an Old Testament prophet, public nudity is still a no-no, don’tcher know…

        But, and I’m really sorry to say this, nowhere does the presenter’s (hey, is that Matt, the writer of the article?) unchristian premise come through so clearly as in his total disregard for supporting his thesis with even ONE Bible quote (reflective of the site’s business-driven – Christian ministry – ha! – agenda?), but rather informing his opinion with non-Biblical opinions and academic jargon.

      • Greg, these prophecies are PROOF that God condemns nudity, as He is declaring curses on Israel by commanding kings and prophets to walk naked in their midst. Nudity is a shameful act, and when God commands it to occur, He is pronouncing shame and impurity upon a nation. God does not condone porn, nor does He condone the dressing of porn (or any other sin for that matter) in a different setting. You can’t put lipstick on a pig and expect it to attend a tea party.

    6. Heat

      This was excellent. I have been an art teacher for 25 years and this was spot on!

      • Sorry, Heat, but you are completely disregarding scripture if you agree that exposing children to nudity is OK, regardless of the context. God doesn’t condone harcore sex in public in the name of art form, either.

    7. Heat

      A lot of our anatomical knowledge useful for the practice of medicine came from Renaissance artists who investigated the naked body through art. They didn’t have X rays or MRIs back then. There Is a certain tension between the Scriptures: “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” and ” do not look lustfully at a woman”. God knows where everyone must draw the line in this regard. It is up to us to inquire of Him, and not just draw our own conclusions as to what we think we can (or our kids can) handle.

      • If scientific diagrams are kept private, then I imagine that’s OK. It’s when nudity is made public to oggle at that God’s will is broken and bondage begins.

    8. Abdel

      “these prophecies are PROOF that God condemns nudity, as He is declaring curses on Israel by commanding kings and prophets to walk naked”
      Are you saying that God commanded them so sin? …or that their acts were “shameful” but not “sinful”? I do not wish to argue and debate. You are free to interpret the Word as you believe consistent. I would ask that you would allow others to stand in line with their sincere convictions (along with the convictions of many church leaders through history, both liberal AND CONSERVATIVE). Responding on the blog of other believers serving Christ is not the place to voice a dogmatic disagreement. Thank you for your link & I hope that all interested persons will check it out. Blessings.

    9. Abdel

      Matt Fradd (and the rest of the Covenant Eyes team), Thank you for such a wonderful blog post. I pray that God will use it greatly (and also the many other posts, products and services you provide)! If any readers are troubled by some of the comments following the blog; just ask yourself… “Does it seem right to start a ministry/blog, then enter someone else’s ministry/blog argue with their followers? Would it seem right if it were an actual church building… Should your pastor enter the church down the street (of fellow believers) and start arguing with those in the audience, strongly going against the sermon given?” If this would not seem upright, please keep that in mind when reading both the content and the tone of the replies.

    10. Abdel

      Oops… I didn’t mean to post twice. The internet froze, and I didn’t think the first post went through. Sorry.

      (As an add-on, to make sure there are not assumptions… before writing any responses, I did go through all passages referenced in both this blog post, and in to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something. The more I studied (both directly and in conversation with leading conservative reference materials), the more my convictions became clear. The did not, however, change to disagree with the original posts. I’m always happy to be pushed back into Scripture!)

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