Since starting my website in 2014, there’s one question I get the most, and that is “what do I do about showing nude artworks to my students?” Every time I try to write a post about this, I get major writer’s block, so I thought the best way to address it is to cover the nudity question in a Facebook Live.
Not all of the Facebook live sessions will make their way onto the website (although all will be stored in the Resource Library), but this one is too important to leave out.
Here is the video from the live session on April 26, 2017 followed by an outline of my notes and resources from the session.
The video goes into much more depth about the topic, but the basic points are covered below!
Why show nude artworks?
Our Western culture is filled with taboo about bodies. We are taught to view bodies as dirty, shameful, and imperfect. Nudity in art is almost always about the power and beauty of the human body. If we make a big deal of out showing nude works to our students, we feed that troublesome beast. We teach our kids that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and something to laugh at.
Bodies are not gross. They are not only for sexual purposes. Bodies are powerful and amazing. If you think about what a body is really capable of, it will really blow your mind. We should celebrate that.
The mantra of the session is “it’s only weird if you make it weird!”
Which grades should view nude artworks?
As an elementary teacher, I would rarely show artworks with nudity to my students (although as a former homeschool mom, I did show nude artworks to my young children with no issues). It’s simply not necessary for their curriculum and not worth the trouble if you can get around it. I think you can show nudity at that age using the strategies below, and I do believe they would benefit from these sorts of discussions early in their lives.
For middle and high, I do not shy away from nude artworks, especially when it comes to the curriculum. For example, if you are teaching about Ancient Greece and Rome, you must include nude artworks to cover the topic effectively. It’s an important part of art history. As long as your artwork selection is meaningful and chosen for academic purposes in the context of your curriculum, I think you are fine.
Strategies to Deal with Student Responses
- Shut it down. My best and most-frequent response is to just flat out shut down any comments by students. With the first giggle or statement, I say “No. We’re not going to do that today.” That’s it. Usually, that is enough to stop my students from going further. If they know they won’t get a rise out of me and they know they can’t perform for their classmates, it’s not worth it to keep it up.
- Educate them. Teach students why nudity is used in art. I bring in examples from Ancient Greece and Michelangelo’s morgue visits. I also tell them about my college drawing classes. I teach them that throughout history, bodies are not shameful things as they are in our culture today.
- Use the right terms. Talk to the students about the terms naked vs nude. If you use the term nude figure instead of naked body, you are using more academic language, and students (and parents) will take that more seriously.
- Talk about censorship. Share articles from current events about censorship and lead a discussion with your students. We discussed this news story as an example.
Creating a Safe Classroom
Ultimately if you create a safe space in your classroom where students trust you and you trust them and if you have a positive rapport with your students, you will have less issues. In the Facebook live, I share one example of a student who was having some issues with the Hindu sculpture we were looking at in class. She could have gotten offended and gone to her parents or admin or something, but she felt safe and comfortable enough to pull me aside and discuss her reservations with me.
Next Week: Cultural Appropriation and Teaching Non-Western Cultures
This Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at 8pm CST, we’ll cover how to sensitively teach art from other cultures. Join me next week and every week on Facebook to talk about teaching and learning from works of art. Have a topic idea? Send it my way, and join my e-mail list for updates. See you on Tuesday on The Art Curator for Kids Facebook Page (be sure to click like so the video pops up in your feed!)!
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