An art teacher I once had asked her class the provocative question of which is sexier: the female nude, or a woman in lingerie? Mostly, the guys answered that the nude would be more arousing. Without a visual example, it was difficult to say for certain. However, she told us that someone had done a study and found that when a group drawing a female nude was compared to a group drawing a woman in lingerie, the latter group was significantly more distracted.
So the woman with parts covered is more distracting than the woman with parts exposed?
Yes. The reason is quite simply this: the nude presents no mystery. The lingerie keeps some things undiscovered—it stimulates the imagination. Mature reservation—the big tease—keeps us on the hook for learning more. What one does one step before the blowout, makes the difference between short-term satisfaction and long-term value. Children want the extreme, adults pace themselves.
Let me put it another way. Art is like a puzzle, the harder it is to solve, the more impact it has. Take the Rubik's Cube, for example. It has become a household name. It's notoriously difficult to solve, and there's a constant flow of newcomers trying to figure it out for themselves.
Yet YouTube is full of people doing amazing stuff with it (think you can do it in less than a minute? blindfolded?) Why not seek out expert advice? I have a program on my iPod that can solve a Cube in less than 20 moves when I input the colors. I've only used it once. Why?
Because there is value in composing a system by which you can solve the puzzle. Sure, you can learn from the experts, but where's the fun in that? What you learn from solving a Cube is not how to solve a Cube, but how to solve a mystery. It embeds a structure in your mind for juggling details and seeing the unseen.
The point of art is to instill something greater than an answer. By playing "hard to get," it teaches us how to search. The viewing of a nude breast or of the solution to a puzzle is of a very finite value. The struggle to get there and the growth that comes from the struggle is what creates lasting value.
The harder it is to accomplish, the more victorious you are when you do!