I am a "reckless" teacher.
Or so I could be called if a new bill passes in the Kansas Senate.
As a visual arts teacher, I have many art and art history books in my "Inspiration Station". The books range in time period from the Renaissance to the 20th century. They range in media covered from painting to sculpture, fibers to architecture. They range in artists from Leonardo da Vinci and Winslow Homer to Pablo Picasso and Hundertwasser. I have tried to make available a wide range of books to draw upon, aiding in the students' understanding of the rich history of art.
This week, I've been talking to my 4th and 5th grade students about how artists can get ideas and inspiration for new work by looking at work from art history. During this discussion of how to use the books to inspire (without just copying), I mentioned that there may be artwork in some of the books that may include- gasp!- nudity. This is how my little speech went:
"Sometimes in art, there is nudity. It's just a part of art history. It's not dirty, it's not a big deal unless you make it a big deal. You don't need to come running to me yelling that you found something inappropriate. You just turn the page and move on. If something bad pops up on your screen in the computer lab, you don't get in trouble unless you show your friends. You won't get in trouble in here unless you make a big deal out of trying to sneak around and show your friends. I'm not going to censor my art history books. If you think it's inappropriate, you just turn the page and move on."
And that was that.
Nobody made a big deal or was corrupted by coming across a painting with naked people. I even walked past a couple of students looking at a painting of Adam and Eve. The fact that they were nude wasn't even mentioned. The students were discussing how the artist told the story with different elements in the painting.
I don't choose artwork with nudity in it for discussion with my students since I teach K-6th grade and there are plenty of other "safer" artworks for discussion. But I'm not about to check every page of every book and deface the art in them by adding fig leaves or black bars. I think that at the secondary level, it could be very appropriate to use artwork that happens to depict nude figures. Now, I'm not talkin' Robert Mapplethorpe, here. (Though surely some of his photos would be fine, there are lots I would never dream of showing children.) I'm talking REALLY IMPORTANT WORK from art history like Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (this started Cubism, people!)
Most "reasonable" people wouldn't have a problem with including those works in a study of art history in schools. However, there is a proposed bill, Kansas Senate Bill 401, that would remove from schools the ability to argue artistic merit of showing work that some might find offensive. Worse, it changes the language from "knowingly" (like leading a full class discussion), to "recklessly". So lets say a student is looking through one of my art history books, or even a book in our school's library, sees something with nudity, tells mom and dad, parents get upset, school gets in trouble and doesn't have a defense.
Will this end field trips to art museums? I hear those places sometimes have nudity. Every year my 6th grade students take a field trip to the wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If a student sees a nude sculpture or painting on the way to their program, the teachers and the museum have "recklessly" exposed a minor to nudity.From KNEA's Under the Dome,
"If you think this only has to do with "obscenity," you are wrong. While the bill does address obscene materials, its provisions also apply if 'a reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors.' This language is so broad as to include almost anything."
When we take away from educators the ability to assess the merit or "educational, artistic, or political value...", how long before we can only use approved artwork in class or have only approved books in the library? Will we be back to the days of book burning? It reminds me of the Nazis taking modern art out of all the museums in Germany back in the 1930's and shoving them into a poorly hung show of "Degenerate Art", which mocked the art and the artists that they found unacceptable. (Also see this link for more info about the Degenerate Art show http://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-features/collections-highlights/julien-bryan/nazi-germany-1937/1937-munich-exhibition-of-degenerate-art)
If you live in Kansas, PLEASE call or email your Senator TODAY and ask that they reject this ridiculous bill, SB401.