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Patricia Petersen

Related: Cultural Studies - striptease


Patricia Petersen is an associate lecturer in the School of Management at the Queensland University of Technology.

Aesthetics and Striptease

Patricia Petersen

National Sociology Conference - December 1998


The point of this paper is to discuss whether the unruly sexual nature of female striptease can warrant artistic applaud, or instead, must always demand aesthetic condemnation. I shall argue that the if the female nude, as she is displayed in striptease, is positioned and understood within an aesthetic-historical context, then there may be grounds for viewing her as legitimate. Not only this, but if she is recognised as having the potential to push and expand sexual boundaries, then there may be grounds for considering her a heroine of feminist sexual interest.

In the first section, I highlight the manner in which high art insists on distance between viewer and art object. Here, I highlight the way that this convention posits pornography as illicit. Then, I investigate Bourdieu's theory of cultural distinctions. In doing so, I hope to expose aesthetic contemplation as recognition and confirmation of cultural power. In the final section, I offer a defence of performance art, which involves sensory pleasure. I suggest that striptease, a form of performance art, may be considered good art, if a Marxist account of art is allowed.


The female nude as she is represented in high art is deemed legitimate and acceptable. After all, she isn't overpowering; she doesn't come between the viewer of the art object and the art object itself. In Kantian terms, she guarantees disinterest when met with both male and female gaze (Kant 1911: 91). She is not raunchy, excessively sexy or flirtatious; rather she is framed. The female nude in high art allows for what Schopenhauer refers to as "aesthetic contemplation". What Schopenhauer means by this expression is the ability of the intellect to behave in such a manner as to detach the object of perception from its relations, thereby allowing for disinterested contemplation of an object. Importantly, for Schopenhauer, if the will is successful in breaching the isolating action of the intellect, then aesthetic consciousness is ruined. Schopenhauer's account of aesthetic consciousness holds that there is antagonism between aesthetic consciousness and interest (1883: 270-271). The female nude as she is represented in high art leaves open the possibility of disinterest and contemplation.

Schopenhauer appears to have helped shape and influence a number of "aesthetic-attitude" theories. Edward Bullough advances one such theory (Levich 1963: 233-254). His "psychical-distance" theory introduces the concept of psychical distance by displaying the experience of enjoying a natural phenomenon. He invites us to consider how enjoyable certain aspects of a fog at sea can be despite its potential danger. He writes: Distance is produced in the first instance by putting the phenomenon, so to speak, out of gear with our practical, actual self; by allowing it to stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends - in short, by looking at it "objectively," as has often been called by permitting only such reaction on our part as emphasise the "objective" features of the experience (Levich 1963:235). --http://www.libertus.net/censor/odocs/ppaesthetics.html

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