Several times on various listservs the issue of prohibition of
certain kinds of images has been discussed.
Catherine has posted a response to a student's religion inspired
art, forbidden by a school.
She mentions other subjects, such as drugs and weapons that can be
limited in art class.
Some schools or art teachers publish lists of subjects considered
transgressive, and I have heard teachers refer to these as "ATF"
(after alcohol, tobacco, and firearms). Some topics given have been
mushrooms, marijuana leaves, ninja and other weapons, gang symbols,
drawings or paintings of violence, sexually explicit images (such
as nudes), references to gender identity, derogatory images about
race and creed, cigarettes and smoking, alcohol and drinking, works
that are political and may be interpreted as disloyal to the
This brings up a deeper "philosphical" question for me:
What is it that moves one to make an image considered transgressive
or offensive by some? In young people is it just about testing
What moves people to be so offended that they prohibit images? What
makes them fearful or worried about the images?
What is the role of iconoclasm in the current culture?
Some art teachers have written that they encourage students to make
their work that might be questioned in private, at home or in
journals that only the teacher and student see. Others say they
allow strong or difficult images if they can be defended.
Clearly young people are moved to express the subject matter that
most salient to them. If they are struggling with impulses; if they
are trying to figure out some aspect of their identity, such as
spiritual or gender; if they are coping with interpersonal
violence; if they are dealing with a crisis at home or with their
friends, if the influence of their peers is driving them to
experiment with drugs or sex - all of these normal adolescent
issues might come out in their art work.
Then - in the background for most of us who teach art in schools -
we have examples from the "art world" when professional artists
exhibiting in museums and galleries take on social, emotional,
religious, sexual, gender based, political themes, expressing
difficulties and protesting about them through their art.
Sometimes, as in the "Sensation" exhibits of 9 years ago, the
general public learns of these works through the media and protests
them, or the ideas they express.
(Some of you may remember that New York's mayor wanted to defund
Brooklyn Museum because he was personally offended by works that
appeared to him to mock the Catholic faith).
Those teachers who encourage students to include images from
culture and who are interested in using visual culture ideas across
the curriculum might also be considering what they should limit.
Some of us have reported having to turn student work in to
administrators. If a student seems to be disturbed. School violence
is a concern.
Ours is a sensitive and delicate job, helping young people sort
themselves out in their beliefs and their needs in the art room. It
is a real challenge to be up to it.
Along with sharing great lesson plans, it's always helpful to hear
responses about subjects such as the above from the list.