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[teacherartexchange] nudity in art voyerism


Date: Sun Dec 16 2007 - 06:45:40 PST


I think the response about teachers teaching as voyers is a
misunderstanding. Some nudes, especially in the 19th Century
celebrated eroticism and sexuality. Courbet (see The Source of the
World) was one artist who produced works for private clients in
this vein and some of the nudes in the Metropolitan collection from
this era are frankly sexual. But that doesn't mean that teachers who
talk about voyerism as a feature nudity in art are advocating it.
Ever since John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" became so popular at the
college level, at least, the subject of the male gaze directed to
the nude female in art is widely discussed.

Reactions of humans to nudity certainly can be attributed to
individuals' experiences of the body. The photographer and
performance artist, Cindy Sherman, was upset that some people were
"turned on" by her images of disembodied figures made out of
mannekins and prostheses.

A teacher who responded to a post about nudes in art, a couple years
ago, pointed out that some people, especially children, whose bodies
have not been respected - perhaps abused - might not be able to see
the nude in art as art.

I mentioned to Patty that my female college students were
uncomfortable with Courbet's "The Source" when they came upon it in
the Musee d'Orsay. To disembody all but the nude lower body, is a
startling image for many people to see, even today. The painting
is in the galleries along with other 19th century works, placed
without preamble or disclaimer.

Some museums put disclaimers on their web sites that there are nudes
in the museum. I have been in museums over the past decade that have
put disclaimers in front of galleries that display nudes or
disturbing images of the body. Cindy Sherman's exhibit, when it was
in Chicago some years ago carried a disclaimer. The Met had a strong
disclaimer outside a gallery last year showing works of German
artists from the Weimar Republic.

I have come upon the addition of a disclaimer statement in The
Birmingham Museum site. It states that there are nudes in the
collection and suggests teachers should preview the museum before
bringing students.

If there are disclaimers, and if they seem to be proliferating, I
mentioned in an earlier post that I wondered if disclaimers might
be a result of the case widely publicized two years ago of Texas
teacher Sydney McGee who was dismissed from her school for a
student seeing a nude sculpture on a school-sanctioned field trip
and telling a parent. (subsequent reports point out that there were
some personnel issues, however the main problem seems still to have
been the student sighting of a nude in art).

The time, place, age of students, community and school standards -
there are many things that affect what we can and can't do in art
studio and art history lessons.

There is such a good opening here to clarify what your personal
situation is by talking to your administrators. Some teachers find
that informing everyone is the best way to keep open communication,
especially involving parents and colleagues in the school. I
remember some teachers I have interviewed advocating that "we teach

Hoping to hear more responses to teaching about the nude in art!

Jane in Brooklyn

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