Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Teaching Art - the sensitive concept of nudity

This photo has nothing to do with this post (though the caterpillar is certainly naked) but I shot it today and wanted to share.  It is sometimes called a 'parsley worm' but will turn into a black swallowtail butterfly.  It would be great, I think, for teaching pattern and repetition, or for an Eric Carle lesson on the Very Hungry Caterpillar
Because of Pinterest, people often view posts I wrote a long time ago.  Today I received a comment on a post from December 2010 titled Surrealism again - 4th grade collages.  In this post I mention the video Get Surreal with Salvador Dali, as I have on several other posts on this blog.  I have shown it many times over the past few years.  The commenter said "I am appalled that you would show that video to fourth graders. It has SEVERAL instances of nudity. I am a teacher, by the way, and I would never expose such young souls to any form of nudity. That is precisely why this country is going down the toilet."  I responded by thanking the writer for his/her comment, and saying that I would address the topic here in a new post.  So here I am.  Though I must take a moment here and say I am flattered.  I  have never been accused of anything quite so profound as the demise of our country.  Wow.  I wonder how my showing a museum-made movie about a famous artist and art movement to 4th graders compares to the performance of Miley Cyrus at last night's VMA awards?  Which one of us is more morally bankrupt?  Do you think Miley learned those moves from watching a movie about a famous artist?  Am I being too snarky here?

So, about that video, referred to in the comment:  Get Surreal with Salvador Dali is an award-winning half-hour video available for free to educators from the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida.  It is an educational video made for kids.  It is narrated by two kids.  By the end of the video the kids will be singing along with the Dali song.  They love this video!  A shorter version of it is also available on YouTube, though I personally use the full-length version.  Yes, I admit it has some brief glimpses of nudity, which I referred to in my original post as 'giggle-worthy', and will describe here.  First of all, at one point there is discussion of a double image in a painting, and there happens to be a part of a woman with her naked breast showing off to the side of the painting, though this part of the image is never discussed.  But the most prevalent nudity in the video is the use of quick clips which show this statue (below) chatting with another piece of artwork as part of the narration of the video.  The drawers open and close as she talks and it is very silly. 

 Before I showed the video to my 4th and 5th graders, I discussed with my students what they would be seeing, in regard to the nudity.  (I also discussed it with my principal, who absolutely gave me the go-ahead to show the video.  Believe me, I did give it the appropriate consideration before showing the movie.)  Anyhow, prior to the movie, I reminded the kids that lots of artwork throughout history has been done based on the human nude, because it is a beautiful source of artistic inspiration, and that if they went to an art museum they would likely see paintings and sculptures based on the human form.  I told them that sometimes when they saw a nude in the Dali video it would be funny and it was OK to giggle, but to control themselves so they didn't miss any of the movie since it moves very quickly and is quite informative, and I expected them to remember and be able to discuss what they had seen.  In truth, the kids laughed more at the flying mustache than at the talking 'chest of drawers'!  But the biggest giggle from the kids, the only place where I actually have had to stop the video briefly, was when the word 'crutch' is spoken with a trill of the letter R.  (crutches are mentioned in the video as a commonly used item for symbolism in Dali's paintings.)  The kids thought the word spoken had been 'crotch', not crutch!  Here's a Dali painting with a crutch.  This painting is one that is discussed in the video. 

When showing work of  famous artists to my students, I have always eliminated anything that I thought potentially inappropriate.  I clipped together pages of books that included nudes so that the kids could not see them.  But sometimes the human body found its way into art projects in ways that were unavoidable. For example, when my 6th graders built these sculptures of  'people in motion' (this was not a surrealism project), it was important to be as accurate as possible to create a realistic look.  So 'boobies' were added as needed with little wads of newspaper and tape, hips were shaped, and so on.  And aren't the results super? 

basic armature structure
adding plaster bandage
  
 And of course, adding paint and embellishment


Anyhow...  I did consider introducing the artist Niki de Saint Phalle to my students, and using her work as inspiration for some projects, and while I adore her work, I decided against it because I was concerned someone might be offended by the overabundance of large colorful breasts.  Here's a sample of her amazing, colorful, joyous work.
And I even edited some nudes out of the children's art books of Mike Venezia.   But lets face it, the truth is, when we get out of the shower, we are all nude, are we not?  So I'm back to the comment written by my reader, about my 'exposing such young souls to any sort of nudity'.  I don't think what I showed them was really that damaging or provocative, or even previously unseen.  What do YOU think is or is not appropriate for art class, and at what age?  Would you show this particular video?  I'd love your opinions, whether or not you agree with mine.  By the way, here are a couple of collages done by my 4th graders based on a  project they saw presented in the Get Surreal video. 
And now I'll end this post, with another nude from nature, shot during a recent kayaking sojourn.
I call this 'Turtle Ballet'

25 comments:

  1. What a thoughtful post. I agree with you completely
    1) you used materials produced for children
    2) you ran it by your principal.
    The nudity was brief and humorous - not explicit or disturbing.

    P.s. love the turtle ballet!

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    1. Thanks Rina! The crazy thing is I didn't even realize the turtle's crazy pose until I downloaded the pics from my camera! I have 2 photos with that pose, so he wasn't moving, just balancing. So maybe it is actually turtle tai chi!

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  2. I agree...a thoughtful post. You addressed an issue I have come about a few times as well, yet I'm never quite sure how to approach it myself. (I am a 4th year teacher, so I was nervous to bring up such issues in my early years!) I recently received a beautiful new book from our librarian. It was a book on famous art, donated to our school's library, but she didn't feel comfortable putting it on her shelves because of the nudity in it. Although I cringe a bit to think of conversations I may have to have at a later time, many of by classroom books (on particular artists) have such content...so I just added it to my class library! Her loss was my gain!

    I appreciate your snark remarks (I even chuckled!), your sharing this great resource, and your suggestions on how to use it appropriately! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Kris. Ultimately, I would still run that book by your administrator if you have any concerns. Sometimes it's even a good idea to send home a letter to parents, explaining that you will be showing images with nudity and why, and in what capacity, and asking permission. I think it is important to know your student body, school district, and community, and to gauge what is best for you in your situation.

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  3. While I'm here typing comments - one more question: have any of you ever taught lessons on Niki de Saint Phalle? The only blogger I ever remember posting one was a couple of years ago, a blogger in Germany I think. I have a book on women artists directed ant kids, and she is included, but I just got skittish about the possibility of a negative response to her work.

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  4. Well put... I think that it is out duty to teach our students the difference between beauty and crudity (made up word for Miley). Thank you for the well put post.

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    1. Crudity - maybe it IS a real word. My iPad didn't autocorrect it to something else!

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  5. I wouldn't mind my child seeing that video. I do however try to not bring any form of nudity into the elementary art classroom. I prepare the students for the museum trip where they will pass nude sculptures, etc. just so they can prepare themselves and know the expected behavior. Reason being, behavior. There is so little time and I frankly don't want to use it discussing the topic which will become a non-topic in the coming years. They don't seem to have a problem when they go to the museum, thankfully. It's a topic I'm leaving to parents, there are bigger fish to fry most days!

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    1. Erica, I actually showed videos very rarely. I didn't like taking away even a minute of precious hands-on time. In particular, I disagreed with a student teacher of mine who showed a movie about Mary Cassatt. It was a lovely movie, took two full class periods, and while it was based on reality, the story in the movie was fictional. I thought that spending two 40 minute class periods watching a piece of fiction was irresponsible. But I previewed this video and found it particularly engaging and intriguing, quite unique, and it so beautifully explains the basic concepts of surrealism. Definitely not fluff! Anyhow, visiting museums is a challenge for my school. While there is a lovely museum 45 minutes away, the collection is mostly renaissance period, and pretty limiting for what I preferred to teach.

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  6. PS And what about that juicy comment??!!!!

    The country going down the toilet because kids are seeing a nude person in surrealist art? I don't think any "souls" were tarnished lol. Unfortunately our practice objectifying and sexualizing the human body are perfectly in place in our messed up American society. I think the reason our country is going down the toilet is because of extremist, ignorant and closed minded views that are fixed in their own ego, religious upbringing, and social values. Had to go there.

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    1. I don't mind you going there. I am extremely narrow-minded, but I'm not sure the ignorant part fits. Simply put, I love my students like they are my own, and I always err on the side of caution when I am in doubt. Your point about Miley is well-taken, Phyl. She once seemed so innocent!

      "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Matthew 7:13

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    2. Thanks, JDS, for chiming back into the conversation. I appreciate your returning to my blog to follow up on the topic. I think one important thing to remember is, as I said above somewhere, our school community - and that can mean a lot of things - what part of the country? Public school or private? Urban or rural? Conservative or liberal population majority? Religious beliefs? Education level of community? And so on. I hope you will continue to stop back and chime in from time to time. I'm generally a pretty open-minded but opinionated gal, and I'm generally not afraid of touching on topics that might spark a range of opinions here on the blog. Your opinions are welcome, as well as Art Project Girl's or anyone else with something worthwhile to say. And sometimes we can all find some common ground! (We all seem to be in agreement about poor Miley, who seems to be desperate in her attempt to get attention.). Thanks for giving me a reason for this post!

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  7. Such an interesting conversation! I actually have never taught Dali to elementary kids (for no particular reason), but I watched part one of the video you mentioned on YouTube. I think if I were using it in the classroom I would probably focus on one or two of the Dali characteristics portrayed in the film (juxtaposition, metamorphosis, etc.) and perhaps the classroom applications. I thought the small sections with the nude statue were almost unnoticeable -- not much to get excited about. I do think it is funny how your students heard "crutch". That one would have been hard to anticipate, although easy to prepare for by discussing Dali's use of crutches in some of his paintings.

    In my time in the classroom I have had a couple of classes where isolated parents objected to various portions of the curriculum, usually for religious, social or cultural reasons. I think I tried to be sensitive to those feelings when they arose and often found ways around the issue or forewarned parents of upcoming lessons that I thought they might find objectionable. Their children were given the opportunity to "opt out" in these instances. It sort of goes back to the old saying, "You can't please all of the people all of the time."

    Bottom line in your example, Phyl, is that you were following curriculum standards and were thoughtful in your approach to the issues. If you had had parents in your class that you thought might object, you probably would have talked to them before showing the video to their child. I thought the video had a lot of moments ripe for pausing the action and discussing the points and would have no problem showing it. In my current teaching situation, however, I see the kids for so few sessions that I find it hard to get a few images on the Smartboard to discuss for 5 min., let alone show a whole video!!!!!

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    1. I was lucky, I saw my kids for 40 minutes, twice in a 6-day rotation. And actually, as I said in a reply to Art Project Girl above, I primarily used that time for hands-on experiences, but I felt this video was worth the time it took to show (one class period). And I absolutely LOVE teaching surrealism, often using it with my older kids in combo with teaching perspective. We also love the book Dnner at Magritte's, by Michael Garland. If you've never seen it, check it out!

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  8. Phyl: I really enjoy your blog! I am the education coordinator at a museum and often find myself on the other side of this conversation, explaining to students who are not "my own" (most often 5th graders who I have often just met) why there is nudity in a particular exhibit. Thanks for your thoughts!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by - your profile indicates you are in Boston (my 24 year old son lives there too! great city!). So I'm curious which museum you work at.

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  9. great discussion of a topic that i wrestle with in my own art classroom. i don't have much time to reflect on this posting today but i want to say you did a great job prepping your students and following protocol so that your admin is supporting you. you have inspired me to teach surrealism, i haven't done that with my students in years, never seems to be enough time to do all that i plan! i see grades 1-5 1 time per week, like you I have great kids and supportive and educated community.
    have done a bunch of nikki projects, saw an extensive sculpture garden exhibit of hers in chicago a few years ago. she has many, many more scuplptures than the Nanna's, those are just the ones she is best known for. Check out her Tarot Garden, she built it in northern italy, very inspiring. there are photos of her working on The Sphinx, huge sculptures the size of buildings! anyway gtg, please sign me up for your newsletter,
    best, debbie

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    1. Deborah, thanks for chiming in! I just checked out the Tarot Garden, and oh my gosh, if I ever get to Tuscany, that is definitely a 'must-see'!!

      I'm not sure what you mean by 'sign me up for your newsletter' - if you mean this blog, I don't have to do anything. You just have to either follow me on Blogger or on Bloglovin' and you will get updates when I write a new post (which I am about to do!). Please do stop and visit some more! And don't be afraid to teach surrealism - the kids will love you for it.

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  10. Thanks for this wonderful post! It is a sensitive topic when dealing with kids - and you do need to know the climate of your school and community - well put! I left an Art21 video with a sub last year and she reported that she had to turn it off because of the phallic images - I was freaking out since I had previewed the material - how could I miss that?! Turns out they were hand sculptures by Louise Bourgeois - I would've never gotten the same impression, but we all bring different experiences to the table!

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    1. Carissa, hahahaha! I just took a look at the hand sculptures, and they look like.... well... they look like HANDS!!! Makes me wonder about that sub!

      Anyhow, thanks for visiting and commenting. It is very much appreciated.

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  11. I think when nudity is presented/discussed in the appropriate way, students of all ages respond appropriately. At the high school level, this is a touchy topic. In my painting/drawing classes, my kids don't even bat an eyelash at the nudity in renaissance works. In photography it's a little different, because it seems a little more raw- I do a lesson where I explain the difference between being naked and being nude, and I've found that even the goofiest of high school boys are able to accept the difference and recognize which ones are art, and which ones are not.

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    1. Good points! Think about what kids are seeing today on Miley's video! I think the bigger concern is often the parents. It' always interesting to me how a parent will ban a controversial book for their kids but let them play the most violent of video games or see the crudest stuff on TV or the movies. You never know how parents might respond, so it's best to ask permission of the administration at least to cover your butt!

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  12. What a fantastic topic to discuss. To my mind you did absolutely everything you could to cover yourself and it's fantastic that your school supports you in what you are doing.
    I have a huge box of postcard size art prints that the early finishers look through frequently and several times a year I end up having a discussion about a photograph of a particular sculpture which is at the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne. I can't recall the artist's name off the top of my head but the sculpture is rather unforgettable, as it is of an overweight, heavily paunched, hairy chested, life sized, middle aged man in his daggy old white y front undies!!!
    He usually causes great hilarity but inevitably one child or another will ask why he is there with nearly nothing on, and isn't he rather inappropriate. So we then discuss how well made he is and how realistic, and how when I have seen him on display at the gallery he is just usually standing in a corner somewhere and people jump, laugh and react as they think he is real when they first see him!
    So after the discussion i would like to think that they see him as a piece of art first and secondly, an old man that looks like their Grandpa in his undies.
    There have always been at least a dozen nudes in the box - and this old guy always causes more discussion than them! However. if nudity ever comes up as a discussion point I always drag him out, and we then discuss how some artists are creating artworks because they are looking for realism and not always looking for the most beautiful body to show their ability off. And what about artists not looking for realism? Plenty of Picasso's ladies have at least one boob hanging out, at least one of them in the picture box too.
    I think because I don't over react, "Well we've all got a body haven't we, and we're all nude when we get in the bath aren't we?" and then we just get on with our work that no nude in my art room, or my art box of pictures, has ever caused any great controversy.
    And yes, the children are seeing Miley Cyrus - ish images on music videos ALL THE TIME, and they are much more damaging than any old nude piece of art work!
    Keep up the good work on your blog, it is very entertaining, and I would love it if you had a look at my blog.
    http://thebackartroom.global2.vic.edu.au/
    Thanks,
    Shelley

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  13. Just shocking...shocking I tell you...that anyone had a problem with the video...I loved the video...I watched the video right after I read your post today and found it outstanding. The use of art vocabulary, clear definitions, thought provoking ideas, loved how the children are the narrators...this was a good educational video! Thanks for sharing and am glad the person was shocked or I wouldn't have seen your post! Gotta love them!

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    1. Thank you, Bug, for posting this comment and expressing your thoughts about this fabulous video. You couldn't have said it any better!

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