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Opinion [Conversation]

Nudity in the Art Classroom

Started on Oct 21, 2011 by The_smARTteacher
Last post on Sep 09, 2012

To show or not to show: Nudity in art. How do you tackle this issue in your classroom?

12 Keeps, 8 Likes, 12 Comments

  • akbodine 10/22/2011 at 08:47pm
    Well, I am a High School teacher, and I teach Art History, so we simply have to look at nudity. I'm sure there are more PC ways to tackle this subject, but since I am younger and my students are not that much younger than me, I kind of introduce it in one of two ways.

    1) I make it seem like we are awesome and lucky to be in Art class, because it is the only place in school were we are allowed to look at things like nudity. And if I seem comfortable and open about Nudity from day 1, the students may laugh or comment but it makes them feel immature and they stop pretty immediately.


    2) I introduce the topic before I show an artwork that has nudity. For example, in Art history, before we ever looked at a picture with nudity, we talked about different subject matter, and when we came to "figure" I explained how in a lot of cultures, the human body is seen as perfect and beautiful so guess what they made art about?, that is right, Naked bodies" and I would quiz them and they would have to use the word "figure" and etc. THEN, after we had talked about it and the students knew vocab to use when talking about nudity, I would introduce it again on the day when we were going to look at it (Ancient Greek Sculpture). Basically I say, "Today, we are going to look at my favorite type of Greek Art, Sculpture! And remember, the Greeks were human-centric, and sometimes we call this era "Body Beautiful" because the Greeks loved the human body. So I'll give you 30 seconds to mentally prepare yourself to look at some beautiful body sculptures today. If you have funny comments, please write them down and share them later ;) I'm sure they will still be funny then. "

    There will always be about 1 or 2 giggles or a little comment here or there, but if I don't really respond to it/ignore it and just ask a question about the style of the sculpture or the facial features, etc, the students realize that they won't get a reaction from me and they start calming down.

  • jonstewARTrocks 10/23/2011 at 03:23pm
    I totally agree that nudity will (and should) be shown in an art classroom--for older children, at the very least. Do the smARTteachers here feel differently about nudity in classical works (or, painting in general) vs. nudity in photography?

  • MilwaukeeArtMuseum 10/26/2011 at 04:17pm
    akbodine, I LOVE your idea of writing down any funny comments to share them at a different time. That is a really nice way of honoring students' opinions, but also being clear that there is a time and place for goofing off...and that moment comes later! I'm working on a resource on our current Impressionism exhibit and there are many nudes featured, so I may adapt this idea in a section in my resource on "Nudity in Art and the Classroom"... thanks for sharing!

  • bellafiore3 11/01/2011 at 06:02pm
    I have had my share of experience with this topic. I teach AP Art and my students participate in figure drawing classes at a local art school in the evening and through pre-college programs. They have nudes as part of their portfolio, both male and female. I have displayed them in the school gallery area and almost never have gotten flack when they've been female nudes. When, however, male nudes were displayed there was a stink from several male teachers and one male administrator, who ultimately let me decide whether or not to censor the show. Mind you the image in question was not very graphic, a tame charcoal drawing of a male nude ( a few lines and a smudge!). I expressed to the student the dilemma and she said she was receiving flak from other teachers about her work so she chose to take it down. The principal understood that AP is a college level class and drawing nudes is part of that college level curriculum.

    We show nudes in Art History too, and I tell students I am not going to censor work and that the study of the nude is a part of art history from way back. I take a serious matter of fact approach and so do students.

    When it comes to photography things get a little more challenging. I think there is a fine line between what is appropriate nudity at the high school level. There are concerns about students photographing nudes, especially themselves or each other? Is this pornographic? I have students in AP who want to photograph themselves nude, but I have to be really careful about what is allowed and what isn't. I have told them to work on creative compositions and effects. No frontal nudity in photography, just not willing to go there. I have had some students submit work, but I've told them I can't display it in the gallery. I will however, allow them to show it in class and in their portfolio. The knowledge-based discuss that the class has is different than the random people who might walk by in the gallery with no knowledge of art and history.

  • kathleenzeigler 11/06/2011 at 11:53pm
    As an elementary art teacher I present artwork with nudity from kinder on up. The works that the younger students see tend to be more abstract and we are more focused on lines,shapes, forms..... In 3rd grade we do an artist research project so we discuss it briefly. It's usually in the context of an artist's body of work and just one of the subjects he/she chose to paint. We talk about how "you could never learn how to draw a horse if it was wearing a dress". Our 4th graders go to the Dallas Museum of Art and included with the permission slip is a letter from our fine arts director explaining that nudity is a natural part of art and that the students will see it at the museum (they started sending the letter several years ago because an art teacher from a nearby district was claiming she was being fired because her students were exposed to nudes at the DMA). I have never had a problem with nudity but I have had a couple of parents concerned with violent images. I do have giggles from the 5th grade boys but I can count on the 5th grade girls to put them in their place!

  • ronnidart 03/04/2012 at 07:31pm
    I teach elementary and middle school in a rural/small town area. I do not use nude artwork because I don't want the hassle. There is a lot of great artwork out there that has no nudity. I find that I can teach what I want and need to without using nudes.
    A teacher that did not have tenure was denied tenure partly because she had brought in an art book to show some artwork to the students. Even though the works she was showing did not have any nudity, the students got a hold of it and found the nudes.
    Some parents in my county look for any reason to complain, and though my principals might back me , I know the Bd. of Ed. would not. There are so many other things for which to fight, that I need to pick my battles. I really hate to have to sensor the artwork that my students see but like I said we all make choices.

  • ahigdonlobaugh 03/26/2012 at 09:20am
    I will be teaching an art history class next school year and requested that the class be for upper classmen to start things off (principal agreed). I will be putting a nudity clause into the class syllabus for parents and discussing it the first day of class. I think it is important to teach the difference between nudity, nakedness and erotica/sexual themed work. So much of our society is sexual in nature (imagery, song lyrics, movies, games) we need to focus on the beauty of the human form and not the perversions of society.
    I understand that in my small-town rural school district not all parents or students will be comfortable with this, but they don't need to take the art history class, there are other options available to them.
    Nudity seldom comes up in my creative art classes just because I get the range from 9-12 graders and don't want to deal with the immature giggles from the younger ones. If it does come up I approach it in a scientific matter of fact way just like you would in an anatomy class. I always preface with a warning and how the images should be looked at.

  • Astabeth 04/01/2012 at 06:02pm
    I only show it to juniors and seniors, but I don't hide the books from my advanced sophomores. We discuss the fact that some of the artwork makes us uncomfortable (Bronzino's Allegory) and discuss how it was displayed/appreciated. We don't view nude photography. I tell them day one that we will see it, and it's in the approved text. So I think I'm covered!

  • mrsvwheeler 04/03/2012 at 05:39pm
    It is really nice to hear other points of view.I am with RonnieDart. I choose not to go there. I know that it is acceptable, I would get the backing from administration...but don't want to deal with it from parents. I had assigned an artist research poster from a contemparary artist - Jack Vettriano and the 6th grader went on google and it came up with a few of his nudes. Out of all the beautiful pieces the "boy" had to find the nude ones and caught flack from the parents. NOW, I preface that any artist out there can have nudes in their portfolio of work. Just isn't worth it. If they find it on their own, they can discuss the dynamics with their parents. If they truly are interested in art, they will get it at a more advanced age, sometime.

  • StephieArtTeacher 04/16/2012 at 04:49pm
    I teach elementary and high school, and I have only shown some art history statues in my high school classes because I do more with the high school. Although I am not opposed to showing it at any age. When I was 6 my parents took me to museums around Europe and my father instilled in me a great love of art history and an understanding of appreciating the human body in all it's beauty and form. I think it is important for students to know the difference of a nude piece of artwork, and something that is considered indecent or pornographic. There is a huge difference! Nudes in art history are looked at as beautiful, accepting of who you are especially since many of them were not completely skinny like "beautiful" woman are today. I think if you instill an understanding and acceptance of your own body in the students, they can handle learning about nudes in art history.

  • Curiosarty 05/14/2012 at 09:18am
    I am also an elementary school art teacher and I start at Kindergarten showing the movie with Sesame Street characters at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. There is a scene where Oscar is singing to the Greek statues in all their glory. I also have a set of posters up in my room at all times for the elements and principles of art that include 2 cubist nudes. I do feel that photographic art is too much for elementary school, however. I make sure they know that just about any museum they go to will have nudes.

  • Taurine75 09/09/2012 at 12:01pm
    I sprinkle art history pics within my high school art classes as points of reference to what they are creating. I remind my students that they're only looking at the illusion of a 3D subject (ie. Venus of Willendorf) on a 2D surface (projection screen). I still get the giggles but I embrace them in ways similar to akbodine. And like Astabeth, I don't show nude photography. When I link to other artists sites (ie. Steve Huston) within my own art site I always include a parental warning label expressing my inability to secure the content on sites from other artists. My teacher site: