As I mentioned in the previous article, several people have asked variations of, “Will the magazine include artistic nudity?” It’s a good question. After all, nudity is not uncommon in fine art and it is generally presented as-is. Will Zoion also include artistic nudity as it sometimes appears in furry art?
To fully answer that, it’s important to contrast artistic nudity in historical fine art, and artistic nudity in anthropmorphic art. There’s a long tradition of depicting the human body as an artistic object. From the Greeks, to the Romans’ emulation of them and on up through the Renaissance, and of course to present day. There were many reasons for this and I won’t go through them all here, but consider the religious aspect. In Christian theology, we were created by God, in his image. In that sense, the human form is the ultimate in artistic expression: beautiful, ideal, perfectly formed, as it is a reflection of God’s own perfection. To depict the human form in art was often in reverence to its holy origins.
This tradition is evident even as the figure was often stylized. The sculpture of David by Michelangelo has numerous odd proportions or details and yet it is still one of the most profound masterpieces of sculpture ever created. Indeed, it is because of these stylizations that the figure is so effective. Of note is that Michelangelo depicted David with a foreskin, even though as a Jew, the biblical David would have been circumcised. As a scholar, Michelangelo would likely have been aware of this fact, but it was uncommon in Renaissance art for male figures to be shown circumcised (and indeed, it was uncommon in the general population of the time, outside of Jews).
We don’t have any commentary from Michelangelo himself as to why he chose to include the foreskin, but we can surmise two possibilities. The statue was as much of a political statement at the time as a religious one, and so in order to help the citizens of Florence connect with David’s tense determination, he was shown as they would’ve been. Depicting him circumcised would have immediately marked him as an outsider. Secondly it’s also possible that Michelangelo was simply depicting the human form in its most natural, idealized state, as created by God, even if that meant a certain amount of stylization of the subject’s historical context.
Anthropomorphic art is stylized, as well. However, it has a fundamental difference from the artistic nude: anthropomorphic animals do not exist. By choosing to draw one, an artist is creating it—playing God, in a sense, rather than reinterpreting God. An anthropomorphic figure has no “idealized” form to capture. There is no nature to draw on. It’s not possible to draw an anthropomorphic figure in a way that showcases its natural artistic beauty the way you can with a human form. At best, it’s a remix of already existing parts, and it’s up to the artist to balance those parts in the way they see fit.
An anthropomorphic form doesn’t have to be any particular way, which means that every choice the artist makes is a considered one. It’s not possible to include a foreskin on a nude anthropomorphic figure without it drawing attention to itself, since it is not inherently a thing that exists. It even raises additional questions: why does this anthro figure have a foreskin, and is not circumcised? Why not use animal rather than human genitalia? Why not leave it off completely, or hide it in fur? Every one of these options is valid—which is to say, there are no right or wrong answers when drawing an anthro form.
Not only are these choices all equally valid, I think there’s an untapped potential for their use as symbolism in anthropomorphic art. And this gets to the heart of the issue. Not only is the use of artistic nudity in anthro art not a reflection of reality, it almost never draws on the traditions of historical fine art, either. It doesn’t serve as allegory, symbolism, or commentary. It doesn’t seek to make a statement on the human condition, the environment, naturalism, or indeed any statement at all—other than that it is a pretty picture.
To be clear, I’m not saying that all anthropomorphic art is this way, or that there is no potential at all for deeper meaning or complex interpretations that would justify the use of the artistic nude. In fact, I think it would be fantastic if more anthro art did draw on history, religion or culture. I fully expect that as the fandom continues to mature, this will happen. Those are the sorts of things we’re looking for, too. Not just pretty pictures, although they are fine in their own way, but complex pictures, images with multiple layers of meaning or possible interpretations.
Although anthro art has the potential to be much more than it is, crucially the public’s perception is that furry art is pornographic, or at best, benign. And with that we come back to the concept of the artistic nude. I believe it is possible for the artistic nude to be maturely handled in anthropomorphic art. And I absolutely believe that it will become a possibility for exhibition sometime in the future. But I don’t feel like we’re there yet. I don’t think the artistic output of the fandom has matured to that point yet. And I don’t think the larger public lack of understanding towards the furry fandom would allow that to be interpreted in any way other than pornographic.
And so, I don’t currently feel like artistic nudity in anthropomorphic art has a place in Zoion. I would love for that to change. Perhaps, in the course of doing this project, it may help the artistic expression of the fandom develop to where that is an acceptable possibility. But I also believe we have a long way to go in overcoming current prejudices and we need to acknowledge that. I think the right course of action is to err too far on the side of safe at the beginning—to swing the pendulum in the other direction for a time, away from pornography. As anthropomorphic art continues to develop, we’ll find an appropriate middle ground where the anthropomorphic artistic nude is not immediately dismissed as pornographic, but that it can be understood and accepted for the message it’s trying to convey.