Monday, July 07, 2008

Naughty bits, and the "damage" done by art

Addendum to last week's Eye Candy Friday post:
I dig Jerry Saltz caught by James Kalm's LB vid at the Gugg flashing a sign of Satan almost a la Ronnie James Dio.
Viewing and Ruminating on the content of the Art Boobs blog, I began thinking of the role of nudity in art, whether inherently salacious or having that salaciousness thrust upon it, and our society's sensitivity to the undraped human. I recall the spate of cases of odd art nudity controversies that flared up in 2006, like the Texas art teacher fired after students were exposed to depictions of nudity at an art museum, or locally, the Middletown, NY high school art teacher, suspended for offering nude figure drawing classes to some students. Then there was the the 2006 story on religion in the Raleigh, NC newspaper, The News & Observer which featured an image of Michelangelo's creation of Adam from his fresco ceiling in the Cistine Chapel, and accompanied by this front page warning: "Advisory to Readers: Today’s Life, etc. section includes a photo of a famous fresco by Michelangelo that includes nudity."
Sometime later, AC Snow reflected on the subject in an editorial in the News & Observer, and related the result of an impromptu poll he had taken:
The day the photo ran, I polled five friends, all women and younger than I, to see if they found the art offensive. All five did, in varying degrees. So, even in our sexually oriented culture, a lot of people still have a problem separating art from pornography.
image courtesy of

This leads me to a behind the scenes episode of Rick Steves Travel I saw recently where Rick alludes to the sensitivity with which he and his producers must craft certain segments of the show that include European art treasures from centuries past as they might offend the eyes of 21C Americans & the FCC. Rick expostulates on the subject in this essay on his website. Beth Wilson included a couple of the above instances in here take on the subject from a Nov, 2006 column in Chronogram.
All of these issues were made timely for me this weekend by two synchronis happenings. One being the death of Jesse Helms who railed against public funding of objectionable art, and the other was watching " What Remains", a 2006 Steven Cantor documentary on Sally Mann. The documentary traces Mann's career from her Immediate Family series that raised a stink in certain circles for the inclusion of her own, often nude, children in the photos, through here more recent work depicting death and the wearing effects of life and time. She's to be admired for her unflinching and really gorgeous examination of her life and surroundings. Included in the extra materials on the dvd is a thirty minute documentary from the early 90's, also made by Cantor, called "Blood Ties" which chronicles the development of her In the family series and the vilification of her by some as an abusive mother and kiddie porn peddlar. Blood Ties includes interviews with Mann, her husband and children, supporters and detractors of the work weighing in in praise or in derision of her work. Charges of the damage done to her children by the production and dissemination of the artwork is countered effectively by the children's own words, and it opens the broader question of what can be considered damaging to children. In this case, the charges themselves posed more of a threat as they imposed the burden of the moral of shame that we as a culture drag over our shoulder.

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