Does the female nude exploit women for male gratification? Or does it depend on the context?
I think it does largely depend on the context in which it is used – if it used to convey a narrative in a painting it is ok but when it is just used gratuitously it isn’t. Nowadays we see the female dressed in very little in adverts on tv or in magazines trying to sell anything from perfume to cars.
Why paint the nude?
It’s an essential part of learning anatomy (for artistic purposes, not medical.) If an artist is going to paint a human realistically, then they have to understand all of the shapes that make up a body.
UPDATE 29th September This artist has withdrawn her paintings of nudes after they where censored by Birmingham Botanical Gardens, I don’t blame her for being annoyed I’ve seen worse on TV.
A textile artist whose blog I follow has had the same experience with some of the quilts she has been making in a series as you can read here and here. She was approached by quilting magazines for articles but they wouldn’t include any of her quilts that included nudes in them.