How to understand the "Origin of the World"

Why can censors and minders, guardians of public taste and morality policemen be so bothered by a work of art that shows a detail of a naked female body

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Gustav Kurbe, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Gustav Kurbe, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Should artwork depicting the naked female body be banned from social media? This kind of question arises because of increasingly strict criteria in judging what can and cannot be published on electronic platforms.

There was a well-known case of a French teacher who was banned from publishing the painting "Origin of the World" by the French realist painter Gustav Courbe. The user sued Facebook and won the case after several years of legal battle. Courbet's painting represents a kind of paradigm of this problem and as a special example can at least to some extent clarify the ambiguities regarding the treatment of the female body in fine art and its reception in the public.

The aforementioned ban, although not the only one, speaks primarily of hypocritical moralizing. Are we not witnessing the frequent use of a more or less naked female body, which with its enticing eroticized appearance serves to advertise a certain product in the modern society of mass consumption? On the other hand, in the era of aggressive expansion of pornographic materials that essentially have nothing to do with eroticism, but are, to put it this way, mere manneristic gymnastics of partners faking the ecstatic pleasure of the union of bodies in a sexual act, to ban the reproduction of the famous painting by the French artist is, at the very least, incomprehensible. Because, as a rule, the ban causes a counterreaction and basically will not achieve the desired goal.

The question arises why censors and minders, guardians of public taste and moral police can be so bothered by a work of art that shows a detail of a naked female body in a daring pose of intimate nudity? Although Courbet said that he could not paint angels because he had never seen them, he therefore painted in an exceptional way what he observed, which he carefully observed, turning vulgar reality into the painterly poetics of the real world of art. Thus, with an exquisite sense of depicting the real, this "eleve da la nature", "student of nature" refined the naturalism of the motif, giving it the necessary, to use Benjamin's with the term "aura" inherent in every true work of art.

"Origin of the World", G. Kurbe
"Origin of the World", G. Kurbephoto: Musée d'Orsay/Gustave Courbet/Wikimedia Commons

With a specific sensibility for the real, Kurbe painted what is one of the greatest gifts of God or nature - the female body. After all, isn't nudity the most innocent and natural state, the kind in which, according to Judeo-Christian culture and tradition, the biblical progenitor couple lived in Paradise, as a perfect creation of God's creative inspiration. Could it be that the reason for banning the publication of the reproduction of Courbet's painting and the disgust at the beauty of her nature and sensual expressiveness is actually some Christian medieval relapse when women were treated as "the devil's creature" and their physicality was despised?

After all the emancipatory processes that took place especially since the revolutionary year of 1968, after the so-called sexual revolution, also new movements that are still manifested in various ways today, such backward understandings of the female body are undesirable on social networks (I note that I am talking about the female body here expressed in an artistic way in a painted picture), represents the dark side of an advanced modern society that strives to free itself from prejudices, devoting itself to the fundamental value of humanism, ensuring human freedom.

In such delicate issues, one should be clear towards the defenders of women's rights. Perhaps to some feminists, reproducing Courbet's image can also be seen as Facebook censors, an unacceptable act on the grounds that a woman is abused as a man's "object of desire" or "object of lust". This is a work of art, and one should keep in mind the consent of the woman - model to be photographed in such a provocative pose. After all, the painting has long been publicly available either directly in the museum or indirectly through books, photographs or posters. As for the use of the female body for advertising purposes, it is also about the woman's consent to voluntarily dedicate herself to the tasks required by the modeling profession.

The meaning of this French word should be recalled Model (mannequin for a shop window), and state as it says in the dictionary of terms: "Occupation whose main task is the direct or indirect display of the body for the purpose of advertising, promotion, sale or display of body aesthetics." Here I come to a border that could be opened according to the sociological and psychological problems of this topic. That's why I stay in the sphere of artistic expression. The need to shape and show the naked female body in art has existed since man felt the urge to express himself creatively. From prehistoric times, from the Venus of Willendorf to today's modern women corpus feminine it does not cease to be the object or theme of the artist's occupation.

Courbet's composition is framed in such a way that all the observer's attention is focused on the central and dominant detail, on the woman's genitals. The symbolism of the realism of this naturalistic painting precisely by revealing the female body uncompromisingly shows what was forbidden, what was fenced off, or as one would say Berdjaev "that man was ashamed of his slavery to sex, that mark of his sinfulness".

The naturalistic detail of the female anatomy with the dominant mount of Venus is directly related to the title of the work in terms of its metaphorical meaning and deprives this Courbet painting of repulsive vulgarity. It is a work of art with which the painter demonstrates a sovereign and free way of expressing himself. The radical realist offers the viewer the beauty of the secret of female curves. "Origin of the World" opens up thoughts about man as a world unto himself, about a human being that develops in a woman's womb, in the uterus, that "secondary sexual organ of the female reproductive system".

The name of Courbet's painting necessarily leads us into the domain of theology, about the question of the origin of life on earth after the "original sin". Isn't it yet Saint Augustine believed that human life begins in a woman's womb. The "origin of the world" is constantly extended from the realism of an artistic painting to the reality of everyday life.

This painting by Courbet is exhibited in the permanent exhibition of the Paris Museum D'Orsay in a room with other works by the master. On the opposite wall from the one on which the "Origin of the World" is located, Courbet's monumental composition called "The Funeral in Ornan" is exhibited.

"Funeral in Ornan"
"Funeral in Ornan"photo: Musée d'Orsay/Gustave Courbet/Wikimedia Commons

The canvas of dark and heavy earth tones exudes a gloomy atmosphere. In the foreground, next to the very edge of the painting, a grave has been excavated in which the coffin with the body of the deceased will be placed. The distance between these two works of art, from the bright image of a detail of a naked female body and the dark scene of the burial of the deceased, between eros and death, in that short distance of the museum room symbolically unfolds the earthly, mundane, short-lived phenomenon that is given to us at birth - Life.

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