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Nudity in Museums

I’m sure our Puritanical forefathers would have applauded those who complained recently about their 5th graders looking at “nudity” on a school field trip to an art museum. If I close my eyes, I just might think we were back in time 400 years ago in colonial Massachusetts.

While the school is citing “other performance issues” in the firing of this teacher, no one has disputed the fact that a parent did complain to the school principal that his/her child saw a “nude sculpture” on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.

I think it is safe to say that you would be hard pressed to find an art museum anywhere in the world where there was not at least one (and probably several) image of the human body, which has been a favorite subject of artists for centuries.

Today, artists still prize the remarkable form of the human body. In fact, when I was in college, the highest paying campus job was modeling nude for the art department. I never got up the nerve to do it myself, but I did attend a show in the school’s art gallery displaying the students’ work. I found it to be incredibly artistic, beautiful, and a worthwhile pursuit for my fellow students’ remarkable talents.

Granted, I have no idea what the sculpture in question might have been. That information has not been released. Maybe it was something similar to Michelangelo’s David. Or perhaps it was a contemporary interpretation. Regardless, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and when presented within the context of a museum setting, it is truly “art.” It should be revered and celebrated.

Children are exposed to all kinds of sexually charged material (direct or implied) on a daily basis in our society, ranging from daytime soap operas and commercials to movies and the primetime lineup. Seeing a sculpture of a nude body in a museum should be an artistic experience, and should never be confused with something salacious or perverse.

In my opinion, children should not be deprived of a visit to any museum based on the content of their exhibitions. Those of us who work in museums are professionals, many with advanced degrees in the field, who take great pride in our work. We are the stewards of cultural, artistic, and historical expression, and we take our role very seriously to educate the public about all kinds of subjects. It is unfortunate that a sculpture in a museum has provoked a sense of shame in some viewers instead of an appreciation for the artistic process itself.

In relation to this issue, a spokesperson for the Dallas Museum of Art has released the following statement:

“The Dallas Museum of Art has no comment on the public policy of Frisco Independent School District or the details of the dismissal of Sydney McGee; schools have their own policies on field trips and tours their students attend. In addition, we do not know what specific piece or pieces of art are in question, because no one has released that information.

“However, we think teachers and parents who bring children to the Dallas Museum of Art should be applauded for the educational experience they are providing. There is nothing in this Museum that is cause for alarm and nothing that isn’t seen in the great museums, churches and cathedrals of the world – as depicted by Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael.

“It is the mandate of the Dallas Museum of Art to present world cultures; it’s a central part of our mission as an educational institution to bring teachers and students to the Museum. The Museum’s collections provide access to human creative expression spanning over 5,000 years, and throughout time, the human form has been the subject of human creative expression. Examples of those are represented in the Museum’s collections. As the only encyclopedic museum in the D/FW [Dallas/Fort Worth] area, the Museum’s collection of more than 26,000 works of art spans all of history, representing all media of art from ancient to modern times.

“The DMA has hosted half a million school children in the last decade and has never received a complaint of this nature from a school or school district. In the meantime, future tours of the Dallas Museum of Art which have been booked by the Frisco Independent School District have not been cancelled.”

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