Troy Schooneman creates works that take us back to the classic visions of the male body. Have a look at these artistic male nudes.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “male nude”? Perhaps we think about the statues in ancient Greece or the myriads of Saint Sebastian’s that art history has to offer. But, when we place that phrase in the context of contemporary art forms and mediums, all you get is shock factor and porn references. We have no problem with hanging a painting or photograph of a female nude in our living room for everyone to see. But if we did the same with a stark naked figure of a man, we’d probably be asked to take it down or at least to cover it up a bit. Why is that? Why is one body more acceptable to be seen nude compared to the other?
Troy Schooneman is an artist who creates photographic portraits that take us back to the classical artistic styles where the male nude was just as validly beautiful as the female. Through the poses and attitudes of the men captured in his images, we are reminded of another time when masculinity could be shown as vulnerable. We recently had the chance to interview the artist and ask him about his vision and style, as well as some insight into the public perception of the male nude.
“I value opulence, romanticism, rich saturated colors, and the emotions of sadness, despair, emptiness, and ambivalence. I seek to create portraits that are as beautiful as they are timeless. One of my hopes is to make a small contribution to the restoration the sensual male nude to its rightful place in the world of fine art without having to resort to shock tactics or to sexualize my portrait subjects.”
“The sexualization of the human body, particularly the female body, is pervasive in our society –both online and in the real world. Hard-core pornography is just a mouse click away. School kids trade pictures of their genitals as part of a new generation of truth or dare.”
“Add to this the religious hysterics who pedal shame about the human body and the sinfulness of nudity and the fact that women and, by extension, their bodies, are still very much seen by heterosexual men as objects of visual pleasure for the “male gaze” (a phrase coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975) – and it is no wonder that contemporary society is a mass of contradictions when it comes to what was once considered the pinnacle of artistic endeavor – celebrating the beauty of the human body.”
Nowhere is the male gaze more prevalent and obvious as in the cinema and television. If we take into account how certain ratings and censors are considered to differentiate between a slightly suggestive, sensual, and a fully sexual love scene or nude, we’ll notice that women’s nipples are seen as explicit enough to guarantee an R rating. But a full frontal shot of genitalia, unless it’s a fleeting glimpse, is a sure way for the film to be rated as NC-17. Perhaps this is why our society has a mystical relationship to the male form. Unlike the female body, which is constantly presented to us as a gratuitous marketing ploy of some kind, a man’s body is reserved for very specific audiences and situations.
“The male gaze has conditioned men to view the female breast as a sexual accessory – one that is likely to ignite inappropriate male desire if exposed in public. As a consequence, female breasts are to be hidden until their exposure is deemed “appropriate” – either to breast-feed children or in private if sex is imminent. This double standard may over time fade with respect to online social media, but I think that it will take a very long time before we see bare chested women sitting in parks on sunny days with their bare chested male friends without being harassed or attacked.”
One question that arose while observing Schooneman’s work was the concept of male sensuality, and whether or not it was a modern taboo. This because men are constantly presented in these very square stereotypical roles of blatant sexuality that is aggressive and in-your-face. It’s become a social standard that men’s relationship with both their bodies, as well as with their environment, is always that of a conqueror. However, this is extremely limited view that refuses to see how men can also be presented in a vulnerable and sensual way. One that is not necessarily sexual but can be considered erotic.
“I do not think male sensuality per se is a modern taboo in art – but I do think that it is often dismissed by the largely heterosexual male art establishment as being artistically unimportant or perhaps as an amusing 'niche' not to be taken seriously. What does seem to be a taboo or at least very controversial, however, is the display of a man’s penis.”
“The male nude has suffered a long and relatively steep decline since the glory days of Ancient Greece when male athletes competed nude in the Olympics and the artistic representation of the male nude was seen as the noblest of artistic endeavors. Indeed, the athletic male body was a symbol of Greek civilization, power, and superiority. Also, from the Renaissance through to the nineteenth century the male nude was at the foundation of academic art training and an important subject for many of the world’s most famous artisans. Has anyone seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel lately? Male nudes all over the place!”
“In 2013, Vienna’s Leopold Museum opened its Nackte Männer: Von 1800 bis heute (Nude Men: From 1800 to today) exhibition, which included over 300 works focused on the shifting depictions of male nudity in the visual arts from 1800 to the present time. One of the posters advertising the exhibition –a portrait by French duo Pierre et Gilles entitled Vive la France which depicted three young football players wearing socks in red, white and blue and nothing else– caused great controversy when displayed throughout Vienna, so much so that red tape was used by city officials to cover the footballer’s genitals. Although there were numerous reasons given for these negative reactions to the poster, each one was focused on the inappropriateness of showing exposed male genitals. Apparently, the penis was a great threat to civilized society. Needless to say, however, the exhibition was one of the most successful in the museum’s history!”
So what is the story that Troy Schooneman is trying to tell through his work? Is there a particular narrative or discourse he is interested in portraying or showing in his portraits? According to the artist, he’s not expecting the audience to form one particular opinion, rather than evoke an emotion or sensation, and perhaps slowly we’ll stop viewing the male body as something that is shocking and start observing it as beautiful form of nature.
“Sometimes, when looking at art, asking too many questions only proves to be a distraction. So, I do not try to explain my work to anyone. I simply ask people to view it and see how it makes them feel.”