Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Male Body: Contrast Between High Art and Advertising

A male body depiction by Monique Lassooij

Calvin Klein Ad
Susan Bordo and Linda Nochlin explore artist's and advertiser's use of the human body in art.  Bordo investigates the advertiser's motive behind using male models to increase sales and its effect on consumers, while Nochlin analyzes high art 's methods and purpose behind depicting nude bodies.  In Nochlin's essay, "Renoir's Great Bathers," she says that the relationship between these images in high art and in other areas is either complementary or absolutely contradictory.  In the two pictures above, Bordo and Nochlin might agree, that the messages behind each image disagree. 
In the image created by Monique Lassooij, the first thing to notice is the torso of the man, depicted by harsh geometric lines creating muscle tone.  The background of the image is grey, fading into the background and even the face of the man is blurred indicating that its contribution to the image is insignificant.  The male body is without context, allowing it to simply exist and be appreciated for its natural beauty, rather than be sexually fantasized.  An image like this would not typically be seen in a female adult magazine, because its purpose is not to sexually arouse the viewer, but to celebrate beauty that can be found not at a waterfall, or a mountaintop, but within the human body.
Obviously the purpose behind the Calvin Klein advertisement is to sell this specific brand of underwear and to promote the Calvin Klein industry in general.  However, it can also be assumed that the makers behind this advertisement wanted to close the gap between men and their sexuality.  Far more women are displayed provocatively in the media than men due to this male tension.  Because of this exposure, most women are more comfortable looking at female bodies than men are looking at male bodies.  If this tension is reduced, and men can embrace and celebrate their sexuality, men are more likely to spend extra time on their appearance, including shopping for underwear.  This attempt is evident by the man lying down with emphasis on his facial expression and open legs.  This advertisement screams sexuality.
Even though the purpose behind each image is different, both messages can be appreciated.  The human body should be admired and celebrated just as we celebrate the beauty of birds, deer, and other animals found in nature, and it is also important for men to embrace their own body for the purpose of self acceptance.  However, the relationship between high art and advertising is a complex one, and this is only one example and interpretation.

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