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Re:[teacherartexchange] nudity in art teaching US vs Europe

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From: Sharon Henneborn (henneborn_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Jul 14 2007 - 21:59:09 PDT


Mikel,

You are right that some communities are more prohibitive than others.

I grew up in your neck of the woods. Went to OBU in Shawnee. My
family always had art in our home because many family members painted
and exchanged paintings. There were big coffee table art books. My
dad was Southern Baptist minister. We learned that what was
comfortable inside the extended family's homes might not be
comfortable to many in the community.

I got a taste of this about 4th grade for me and 2nd for Sister.
Mom made us shorts to wear one very hot summer. We got a barrage of
criticism for going out so EXPOSED. So she sewed us some light
weight slacks. This time the criticism came from a different group
of citizens. "What are you thinking sending those poor children out
to play in this heat in those long pants. They will die!" At my
young age I wondered why they thought it was anything that should be
of interest to anyone but us what we wore! There was a family with 3
young boys. Their father consistently got drunk and beat them and
their mother black and blue and set fire to their clothes, toys, and
bedding. I didn't hear anyone even seem to care about that but they
spent a lot of energy on what my sister & I exposed at a young age!

Dad had a big meeting of the men in the congregation and educated
them on how to treat their wives & children and WHY it would be
changing. If not they could count on a visit from him with the
sheriff. As a last bit he informed them that my mom would determine
how to dress her daughters and it was no longer up for discussion.

My first teaching assignment was in Wichita Falls, Texas. A small
museum was opened there a few years after I started teaching. I was
eager to take my students. The first exhibit had several nudes. I
knew i needed to prepare the 5th and 6th graders before we went.
(Didn't think about preparing the parent chaperones.)

I showed some of Matisse's figures with the delightful fabrics he
used. Then I showed a pretty safe nude, don't remember what it was
but mostly the back with the woman looking back over her shoulder and
some draping. We discussed why one artist drew with fabric and other
drew without. Kids decided that one wanted to present the fabric
with folds and textile design and the other artist was interesting in
getting the body right so the cloths would be distracting and not
serve the purpose. They all agreed it was two different challenges.
Not a single giggle or appearance of discomfort so we were ready.

Parents weren't!

A father came over to me and said he was very angry with me when he
first saw the nudes. "But my son set me straight. I said to him,
'How dare she bring you boys in here with nudes on display!' His
response to me was if I was uncomfortable then it was my problem but
they had things they needed to be studying. 'We need to see how the
artists found ways to express the human body. Don't you understand
what a challenge it is to capture the human body?"

He commended me for the way I had worked with 12 year old boys so he
spread the word to the rest of the parents.

Like you my first exposure to real museum art was at the Dallas ~ Ft.
Worth Museum at the old Fair Grounds. Took my breath away to see
that much exciting stuff all in one place. Not the usual restaurant
landscapes. It was very crowded when I first arrived so it was hard
to see. Then the rodeo started & the museum emptied. I had it all
to myself ;<)

I have always been puzzled why some parents lay such heavy guilt and
fear on children about bodies. In my experience it happens anywhere
in the US.

I have lived in lots of places including Europe where I went to
school. I found the majority of people there to be very comfortable
with nudity but puzzling things I did shocked them. I wore red socks
to class one day & the students giggled & pointed at me all day.
Never did understand that one. Then later I tore a nail I said, "Oh
no! I got my shirt all bloody" They gasped & went into shock. Some
of the girls refused to look at me or talk to me the rest of the
year. If I had said I got blood on my shirt it would have boon OK!
Maybe it is just human nature to have taboos & restrictions.
Different by community. Men there pulled out their penis and peed
in the street but my red socks were shocking.

Sharon ~ NJ

On Jul 11, 2007, at 1:04 PM, Mikel Lee wrote:
I think it is our puritan background and our tight
bible belt. We think nudity= fornication. I also
think the majority of our country is not as exposed to
art as Europeans. Growing up in OK, the only museums
we had nearby were American Indian, great plains,
pioneer, and military types- and everyone had their
clothes on! The only paintings we saw were landscapes,
and still lifes on the walls of restaraunts and
hotels. (not to mention the Last Supper painting we
had in the dining room:)

When I got in college we traveled to Dallas and Ft.
Worth to go to the museums and that was the first time
most of us art majors had ever seen real "famous" art
work other than in a book or poster.

We are the same with alcohol and other
vices...prohibit, outlaw, shield the public... There
are still dry counties around here!

Just my 2 cents,
Mikel in OK

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