Wednesday, April 02, 2008


So, there we are this morning, eating breakfast, and the fine young gents start squabbling over whose turn it is to change the page-a-day calendar. For Christmas, my mom gave me a beautiful daily art calendar. A great school resource, by the way, as we have almost daily discussions about the different works of art pictured.

Today's work was this painting, Nude with Hexagonal Quilt, George Bellows. No big deal. There was another nude in the calendar a few weeks before, and no one even noticed, and today's painting is quite lovely, especially the quilt. Then....

Seven-year-old gent, giggling and pointing: "Look, boobies."

His middle brother immediately covered his mouth and started giggling. "Boobies. Hehehehe."

Sigh. Really?

I have to decide how to handle nudity in art before I've had my coffee?

In this split second, because that's about how much time I've got to handle this smoothly, I've got to decide:

Are paintings of nudes inappropriate subject matter for young children?

If so, how do I go about removing the picture gracefully, without making it seem naughty or forbidden?

If not, how to address the giggling and pointing? And do I need to launch into a lecture about proper names of body parts? At breakfast?

Sigh. Did I mention I had not yet had a single drop, not even a whiff, of coffee?

"It's just a body," I said in a matter-of-fact tone. Loving husband agreed. "Lots of painters find the human body beautiful so that's what they paint. That's what this painter wanted to paint. It's just a painting."

And believe it or not, that was that. All it took was "It's just a painting." And toast. I think they were distracted by the toast and jam and eggs.

And then lovely lady, 12, chimes in. Late as usual, she's finally tuned in to what we've been talking about. "Ew! GROSS!" she shrieks. Never a dull moment around here. Keep in mind that this is the way she reacts to hangnails, bad hair, worms and pretty much anything to do with little brothers. We're used to it. But the fine young gents, of course, note her reaction with great interest.

Really? We're dealing with this still?

Where the hell is my coffee????

"Does it make you uncomfortable?" I asked her.

"YES," she huffed indignantly.

"Lots of people feel uncomfortable with nudity in art. It's okay."

"Fine. But I won't look at it," she said.

Hey, okay. That's a great solution. I was going to offer to move it, but she came up with a solution that works for her.

I've thought about children and nudity in art as an abstract issue, but hadn't really formed a firm philosophy that translates into action and discussion in the real world with my very real children. My conclusion in the abstract was that the human form is a work of art blah blah blah. But it's a little different when faced with the issue at the breakfast table, complete with giggling and no coffee.

I don't know if I made the right decision. I certainly believe that it's just as appropriate to say "We've decided that these kinds of paintings are not for young children" as it is to say "The human form in art is a thing of beauty." Maybe I should have quietly taken the calendar off the table. Or not let the discussion get derailed by toast, and kept talking about appropriate names for body parts and about nudity in art. Should I be checking ahead each day and removing paintings of nudes? Or leaving them and discussing them openly as they appear? I want to come to a mindful conclusion so that I know what I want to say if...when...this comes up again.

One issue I'm rock solid on, though. No one changes the calendar until I've got my coffee.


Irie said...

I think you handled the situation beautifully! Art can present many challenges - either through political content, depictions of pain or cruelty, religious messages, and "boobies" ... it seems like an important lesson is to learn how to deal with the challenges, like stop looking at it, or understand why it is bothersome, rather than censoring the art itself. Some adults maybe need to learn this lesson too. :)

Elizabeth said...

He He Boobies! Just kidding. You handled it the way I would have. If it was a work of art that wasn't porn I would just the kids it's a body. They aren't at the age yet where they can be embarrassed. I'm forever telling them to put clothes on because they like to be naked, lol. I'm waiting for the age they get modest so I don't have to listen to their dad fuss about them sitting and watching cartoons in their undies. I hope you got your coffee too!

Bruno D said...

I noticed your link to the painting on my website (Artinthepicture). Actually I receive about 2 emails every month from (art) teachers asking me whether I could make a children-approved-version of my website (without the nudity). Although I can understand these teachers (who wants to deal with angry parents ?), I will never ever put the two words censorship and art in one sentence (except just now). But that has a lot to do with me being against most forms of censorship so I can understand that other people disagree with that. But then, they'll have to build their own art website, because I'm certainly not doing it.

living in PA said...

I think you handled it very well. Of course, I'm the person who took my daughter to a somewhat graphic (WACK!) exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ;-)

Your post is also very timely...the kids and I went to see one of the Guerilla Girls ( on campus yesterday. It was very interesting...and eye opening.