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Lesson Plans

Fwd: nudity

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Mon, 6 Sep 1999 21:51:17 EDT

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Some additional responses on the nudity thread from the museum list..

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From: "Amanda Thompson" <athompso>
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Subject: Re: nudity
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X-Comment: A Forum For Museum Educators

I don't think we should underestimate how vehement and dangerous some parents can be if they feel their control over their children is being challenged by a school. Parents often feel guilty about their lack of time with their kids, and they sometimes compensate by reacting strongly if they think that their children are being exposed to something they object to. It's one of the things that made the witch hunts over sexual abuse in day-cares of a few years ago so scary. There were people who went to jail over that one -- on the basis of testimony from browbeaten preschoolers. It's also why suggestions that a teacher is gay bring out the worst in parents.

A teacher might not be outright fired over an issue like this, but they can be intimidated by parents, pilloried by the news media, and be pressured by school administrators (who are anxious about their jobs) into resigning rather than receiving a bad performance review. There was a case in New York City during the past year where a teacher was intimidated into resigning because she read a book about nappy hair to her African American students. Even if a teacher's worries are exaggerated, as museum educators we lose if we make light of the fears of people who should be our closest allies.

The suggestions about bringing school officials, local politicians, newspapers, etc. into the process are good, but some of the comments being made in this discussion about First Amendment rights and freedom of expression sort of miss the point. No one is questioning the museum's right to collect art containing nudity -- some parents just react badly to their kids seeing it. I think museums should be sympathetic with parents and teachers about this issue, should work with teachers and parents to alleviate their concerns, but be gently firm about where we draw the line.

I don't think that the argument about the Sistine Chapel would carry much weight with these parents, by the way. Some of these folks still think of the Catholic church as decadent and immoral. It would be no surprise to them that the Vatican contained "immoral" art. It's one of the issues that sparked the Protestant Reformation, after all. These people wouldn't even go to Rome in the first place. Too many foreigners.

Tim Motz
The Toledo Museum of Art

>>> Anthony Shostak <ashostak> - 9/3/99 3:36 PM >>>
Dear Ginger:

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.


Anthony Shostak
Education Coordinator
Bates College Museum of Art

VBSpivey wrote:
> 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