Here’s a bit of interesting news out of Texas:

An award-winning Texas art teacher who was reprimanded after one of her fifth-grade students saw a nude sculpture during a trip to a museum has lost her job.

The school board in Frisco has voted not to renew Sydney McGee’s contract after 28 years. She has been on administrative leave.

The teacher took her students on an approved field trip to a Dallas museum, and now some parents are upset.

The Fisher Elementary School art teacher came under fire last April when she took 89 fifth-graders on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Parents raised concerns over the field trip after their children reported seeing a nude sculpture at the art museum.

It’s interesting that in the first paragraph it says that “one” student saw the sculpture, while the fourth refers to “children.” Sounds like sloppy reporting to me. But that aside, is it really a firing offense to expose fifth-graders to nude sculpture? Notice that there is no discussion of what the precise offending sculpture is, or whether it depicts a male or female form. Are we talking about Michelangelo’s David, or the Venus De Milo? Or did the kid(s) see something that is less “art” and more “porn?” The lack of information identifying the objectionable piece is curious in its absence. I can’t see a teacher with 28 years of experience being fired just because one parent complained. There has to be more to the story that we are not being told.

Setting aside the fired teacher to focus on the subject of children being exposed to nudity, what can we do? Are we to accept the fact that kids may occasionally see nudity in art, or do we have to cover up our sculptures to make art “Kid Safe?”

“Kid Safe” Art
Michelangelo’s David Venus de Milo
Kid Safe David Kid Safe Venus

I’m conflicted here. On the one hand, I cannot support in any way the idea of minors viewing pornography (or participating in it for that matter), but on the other hand, I’m pretty blasé about the existence of nudity in classical art pieces. I guess I’ve seen enough Renaissance and classic Greek and Roman sculpture that I understand why artists used nudes in so many of their works. Wikipedia has a good article about the use of nudity in art. (NSFW)

For generations, the use of nudity in art has inspired the question: is it art, or is it pornography? A simple definition of pornography is any material created with the intent to titillate or arouse. But what about materials created without the intent to titillate or arouse? Artists claim they should not be held responsible if members of their audience find sexual stimulation in their art where none was intended. As Tom Lehrer once sang, “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.” And I can’t help but believe that people have been viewing things in a lewd way for as long as people have been people.

Don’t believe me? You probably think the 20,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf represents some Earth Mother goddess, but I’m guessing that its almost five-inch-tall size made it a perfect object to be held in the left hand of some paleolithic pervert. Take a look, and tell me I’m not right.

Venus of Willendorf

More often than not, the difference between nudity and nakedness in art is in the mind — or sometimes in the hand — of the beholder.

Leave a Reply