Naked Man with his Friend

7:00 AM

Lucian Freud, Naked Man with his Friend, 1980

Just as one forgets their coat until the cold rolls in, clothing has a redemptive effect on the human form which we often take for granted. Lucian Freud, who preferred the term "naked" over "nude," manipulated ideas of human dignity and intimacy in a manner reminiscent of his grandfather, the infamous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Both men, it seems, were plagued by a constant awareness of the body's frailties and shortcomings. Lucian's work reveals a self-contradictory love of, and distaste for, the human form. His subjects are uncannily vivid, glowing with the sickening brightness of rot. Their facial expressions straddle the line between peacefulness and death. Their flaws -- the veiny hands, the wrinkles, even those blackened toenails -- are as endearing as they are disgusting, and the man's nudity is unbearably striking when juxtaposed with his friend's pajamas. At first glance one turns from this painting. But if, as I did, you look for long enough, you cannot stop looking. The nudity gradually becomes less shocking until the clothed man seems like the odd one out. There is a strange and ferocious pride here, an unabashed affection. Ugly love is the purest.

It is difficult to exist in a human vessel. For many years I believed my body did not function or look the way it was supposed to. I respect Lucian Freud because he painted people as he saw them, not as they wanted to be seen. The result is deeply comforting. Though few of his subjects look pretty or even healthy, there is warmth in the way they relate to each other on the canvas. I do not wish to suggest that their flaws make them beautiful. This is simply false. But their interactions are a little bit beautiful. I read several articles about Freud's artistic process, all of which elicited entirely negative reactions in the comments. They were not intelligent reactions. Someone complained about his 2005 painting of Kate Moss, claiming she had a distasteful amount of pubic hair. Someone else responded with the YOU-CALL-THIS-ART!!!!! snobbishness usually accorded to abstract works. I have a suggestion for these people. I think they should go find a mirror. Freud's work is certainly grotesque, but it is important. If it  horrifies us to see the reality of the human body on a canvas, we probably do not look around enough in real life. Let's all take a break from our Instagram accounts and our overproduced pornography to check out some Freud.

You're really screwed up, aren't you? Your body is a transient wreck.

It's ok. I love you anyway.

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