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This issue has come up in the past. These are some replies to a problem posed
by a museum educator trying to plan a tour. The query and responses were
posted on a museum ed list which my daughter subscribes to. Thought you might
be interested, especially as they are discussing the role of the schools in
preparing students to deal with nudity in museums...
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Date: Fri, 03 Sep 1999 14:48:26 -0500
From: "Amanda Thompson" <athompso>
Subject: Fwd: nudity
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Date: Fri, 3 Sep 1999 14:36:20 -0500
From: Anthony Shostak <ashostak>
To: Multiple recipients of list <museum-ed>
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X-Comment: A Forum For Museum Educators
The onus lies with the educational system because they created the
problem. Parents are paranoid because they have little or no education
about/experience with the visual arts. They transmit this ignorance to
their kids by pressuring the school system avoid all nudity or other
"controversial" art. When these chilren become parents, it perpetuates.
However, knowing this does little to help museums. A museum educator
can make a difference by acting as a catalyst for change by inviting the
superintendant, pricipal, and several school board members and parents
to your exhibition. Consider even inviting the local paper's chief
editor and some elected officials. You might give them a slide
presentation first, showing images of the Sistine Chapel frescoes (heck
its in a church, how offensive could it be?)and other typically
nonoffensive nudity. Then, ask them if
their school were going on a field trip to Rome if they would skip the
Michelangelos because of the nudity. Of course, the answer will be
"No." (Given an adequate slide library, you could show how a visit to
ANY major museum would include nudity.) From here it just a small leap
to accepting the nudity in your gallery. Ask them if they will support
teachers who bring students to your musuem. With these supporters,
should any parents be critical, the supers, principals, and teachers
will be able to fend off attacks more easily.
No teacher should have their job threatened if they expand their
students' cultural horizons. I wonder if the teacher in question really
meant what was said or if it was an exaggeration for effect?
The issue of nudity is a real problem, and our schools ought to be
ashamed of themselves for allowing it to remain one. Nudity in art a
time honored tradition. Many of the most beloved works of art are
nudes. To gloss over all of this in our schools is unforgivable and it
makes our work as educators needlessly difficult.
Good luck with your problem. Let us know how it works out.
Bates College Museum of Art
> I'm looking for suggestions on the perennial problem of teachers who want to
> prevent students from seeing nude images on their tours. ( This includes
> walking past an object that is not to be discussed during the tour) If there
> is a work that is potentially problematic, I usually include a notice to
> teachers in the materials that I send out and invite them to preview the
> exhibition prior to their tour. However, I am beginning to wonder if this
> actually exacerbates the issue--teachers start thinking about the worst case
> scenarios and become frightened at the possibility of angry parents. Most of
> the problem seems to occur before the class visits. When children arrive and
> see the art, our educators/docents can usually handle the situation
> appropriately to diffuse any tension or problems.
> I am dealing with this now in the context of a 3rd grade class who will visit
> our galleries to study scale by looking at Oldenburg's work--but they have
> asked us to cover a Wesselmann "Great American Nude" while the children are
> in the galleries. Unfortunately, the teacher agrees that a covered painting
> will be more difficult to explain than the nude figure, but, in her words, "I
> could lose my job over this."
> Thanks for any suggestions you might have.
> Ginger Spivey
> Director of Education
> Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art