If you were wearing nothing- or a little bit of fabric- would you consider yourself nude? In most cases, you would say you are nude or declare that you were bordering on the edge of nudity. Now, if a professional artist painted on your body, would you still consider yourself nude? This is where the grey area exists. Body paint gives the illusion that the model is not nude and the focal point is the art, not the body. But, if the artwork is messed with in any way, suddenly the model is standing there with the risk of an indecent exposure charge on their hands.
Back in 2011, the artist Andy Golub was arrested in New York City for conducting a body art piece. In the state of New York nudity in a performative or artistic way is legal and yet one of his models was arrested for being nude. Even though her genitals were exposed for seconds before being covered with paint, the cops arrested her shortly after she fully undressed. Now, were the cops right to do this? Was she exposed a little too much for the waking hours of the day? Under law it says very little about what is considered clothing and what is walking a little too close to nude. The paint gives a very thorough covering of the body and the eyes are drawn to focus on what the painting is instead of the paint’s canvas. The cops watched the majority of the process of painting the model, that is, they were fine with the woman completely topless for an extended amount of time and for about 15 minutes without underwear. The cops knew that they were doing an artistic piece and thus would be covered from a nudity charge. Even with these circumstances, the model was arrested and later received a settlement for 15 thousand dollars for the harassment. That is a pricey mistake.
Another debate is if this body art should be considered art in the first place. Theoretically, if this style was ruled to not be considered art anymore, the safety net that the models and artists fell under for nudity would be gone. I believe that this style has been accepted into the art community and is respected. The basis of the style is painting after all. There is even a celebration of body artists in July in New York City. During this time, there is a mass painting of models and a connection and love for all body types.
This style of art is a beautiful intersection of many theories and practices. It takes elements of performance art and mixes it with the sweeping brush techniques of painting. It adds difficulty because the canvas is a living moving body. It acknowledges the importance of body positivity and self love as well as actively destigmatizing the human body. These are large and powerful messages that are being portrayed within this process of body painting. The fact that this style makes some people uncomfortable shows that the purpose of the style is being acted upon. It challenges the normal of what we would consider performance art and fine art at the same time. While it has aspects of both, it veers from the path western society deems appropriate and the police just don’t know what to do with it. With all these important aspects to the style, it seems ridiculous that the fear of arrest hangs over these talented artists and their innocent models.