When I first approached the subject I used Matisse cut out dancers. I
thought the abstract would be less of a shock. I also planned the introduction
when I had a student teacher as a witness. Eventually someone asked if the
figures were naked. I asked why sometimes artists made figures fully clothed
and sometimes the body only. The children readily understood that if the body
were the objective then the clothing would be in the way and if the texture,
pattern and drape, or period were important then clothing would be the focus.
So far so good. I asked each class why some people were uncomfortable with a
naked figure. The best observation came from a 3rd grader who said, "I think
some people mix up the art thing and the sex thing."
Being forgetful and distracted I left a book of Rodin's works out on my desk.
Three little 2nd grade boys discovered it and were leafing through. I held my
breath. They opened to a full page of Balzac in all his glory! One said,
"Geez he's ugly!" No problem.
Calder's wire sculpture of Geraldine Baker has 2 large unmistakable coils for
breasts. A first grader asked "What are those?" and I said, "Just what you
think they are."
I am careful that I don't show artwork with smoking, drinking, or violence
unless we are discussing that subject. I think the teacher's attitude makes
nudes perfectly acceptable to the children but I know that there is the
possibility of some far right adult getting on my case.
Many years ago, in Texas, I had taken a group of 5th graders to an exhibit
which included 3 full female nudes. The father chaperoning was very upset
that I would bring students to see nudes. He later told me that his son
explained the challenge to the artist and said, "Look at the kids faces, Dad.
Are they looking at a painting of a human body or are they looking at a girlie