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Re: nudity -- long post


Date: Tue Feb 08 2005 - 17:09:29 PST

Dear Jane,

My first art history teaching job was a night course in the
adult ed program at Brooklyn College and my memories of that
group of students tell me you handled the topic with due
circumspection. But I'd take issue with the phrasing 'self-
censorship' because of its implied negative judgement on
those of us who exercise appropriate discretion in the
material we show our classes.

I teach middle school, where there are many interconnected
issues involving puberty and self image that enter into any
lesson about the human body and even self-portraiture. Of
course I want my students to be artistic risk-takers, but
for them to be that they must first feel safe in my
classroom. My unit of the human figure is dubbed 'no more
stick figures' and includes a number of lessons on
alternatives--we've used Olympic pictograms and posters for
the school athletic department as themes.

Perhaps because I know my subject very well (PhD art history
N.Y.Univ Inst of Fine Art) I know lots of things to teach
that don't assault my students' insecurities while still
meeting state standards for balanced content. The dean who
hired me to teach a bunch of middle-aged adults back at that
Brooklyn College job gave me some starting advice that I use
to this day: the object is not to teach them everything,
but to leave them wanting to learn more.

Sorry--it wasn't my intention to soapbox...

Linda P

---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue,  8 Feb 2005 19:33:50 -0500
>Subject: nudity -- long post
>To: "ArtsEdNet Talk" <>
>As many of the list know, this thread is of special
interest to me
>as I have been looking at censorship and self-censorship in
>teaching at all levels of education for the last eight-plus
>I was musing the other day that when I began my research we
had not
>experienced Columbine, not 9-11, not Homeland Security, not
>contested elections of our President, not the war in Iraq,
not a
>heated up Culture War between Blue and Red thinkers.
>All of these events have had an impact or trickle down
effect on
>what and how we are able to teach any number of subjects.
>And I thought about Woody's post, of how we baby boomers
grew up in
>the 40s 50s. How simple that postwar time was for kids in
>country. And I was one of the kids who was free to wander
>the neighborhood until the street light went on. But that
>before the defining war in Vietnam, the killing of kids at
>State, the assasination of two Kennedy brothers and Martin
>King, Watergate and an impeachment, widely disseminated
>about pedophile clergy and scout masters, pediatricians and
so on.
>That was before Etan Patz (whose killer was just identified
>sure this week) and Jon Benet Ramsay; before kids pix on
>cartons. Before OJ Simpson, Before "I did not have sex with
>woman." It was before Bert and Ernie, Sponge Bob, Buster
and the
>issue of same sex marriages.
>It is an increasingly complex world. Whose morality? Whose
>standards? Whose closely held beliefs? Who decides all that?
>And the Knight Foundation has just issued its report on
>attitudes toward the First Amendment. Most didn't know what
>said. Many thought the press had too much freedom. That the
>government should have the right to censor.
>Our job teaching the topic of nudity in art history has
never been
>easy, as my research shows - heck, Thomas Eakins was fired
from his
>teaching post in Philadelphia because of it - but as this
>constantly demonstrates, there are thoughtful teachers out
>who manage to teach potentially difficult topics. Some even
>teach art programs that include nude images from art
>But now to the point (you'd never know I was a journalist
as I bury
>my ledes).
>On Sunday I taught my adult art history class. I was
showing the
>students how artists throughout time treated the Last
Supper. And
>then I got to Renee Cox, whose nude female Christ in a
>photograph of the Last Supper was another Brooklyn Museum
>--even after the Sensation exhibit.
>I didn't show them the image. I said to these adults,
between the
>ages of 30 - 50 that they could look at the images on their
>That there was nudity. This gave them a choice. I also was
>concerned about there being a mixed group, male and female.
I also
>thought of policies on sexual harassment. Could a student,
>uncomfortable with the image, claim that I had violated some
>I did show them Piss Christ, however. It is also described
in their
>textbooks. I told them what Sister Wendy had commented -
along the
>lines of the way we treat Our Lord in contemporary times.
And while
>the subject is difficult, it can be handled. We also talked
in that
>class about censorship and iconoclasm. I have people of all
>in the class, including Muslims. The discussion showed that
>students understood these concepts.
>These days, anything a museum shows that might be
controversial or
>disturbing to some people will come with a sign or other
way of
>treating controversial content. This was true at an exhibit
at the
>International Center of Photography here in NYC this summer
>showed the original snapshots of prisoner torture in Iraq.
>could choose to look at those or not. They were in a special
>gallery set aside from the main galleries devoted to LIFE
>I don't have a definitive answer on this subject of how we
>nudity in teaching art, or "difficult" images in general,
but I
>know it is a concern to many of you. I hope some of you
>this will respond to what I did in my class. Let me know
off line,
>if you will.
>And, if you can when you are at the NAEA, stop by my
Roundtable on
>Teachers Who with such matters! It's on Saturday
>three different sessions, about 45 minutes each, 7:00-9:50.
I hope
>we can continue the discussion there and find creative and
>sensitive ways to deal with our old friend, nudity in art.
>Jane in Brooklyn