Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Beware, Graphic Content

Georgia's Suggestive Flowers

My latest project for the little munchkins (aged 11-13) caused me a little anxiety. I let them draw names of artists out of a hat and their assignment was to research their artist and create an informational pamphlet. I had fun picking them out. I had to come up with 45 names! Naturally, I chose my favorites first, and then as many of the canon that I could recall off the top of my head. I tried to think of artists who would be mostly appropriate for my students, ones with enough information on them, and ones who were interesting. The art world, like any world, is messy and not always rated G. I was pretty confident that with a little digging, most of the artists produced something that was appropriate for school. I even gave my students a lecture about what to do if they found something disturbing. Oh how I love Junior High.

Diane Arbus's Freaky Twins

A few artists I knew were going to be borderline inappropriate, like Diane Arbus. I was relieved when most of the students got started with very few problems. One boy flagged me down almost immediately. I started to imagine meetings with principals and parents. I was quite relieved to see that he only had a page of Georgia O'Keeffe thumbnails. I asked him what the problem was. He told me he simply couldn't continue and he refused to elaborate. I pressed him, and finally, he whispered to me that he didn't want to look at people's privates. I told him it was just flowers, but he remained unconvinced. I let him do a different artist.

El Greco, rending the very fabric of the spacetime continuum

Another male student found El Greco to be too disturbing. He wasn't able to tell me what the issue was, but he looked genuinely upset, so I told him he could research Charles Schulz instead.

Teaching Moment

Of course, I remembered too late, that there are special safe search engines that are especially maintained for web-searches such as this. I am reminded, in spite of how the research has shown that studying the arts improves reading and math skills, it is constantly on the budgetary chopping block. It simply isn't safe. I am seriously doubting the wisdom of trying to teach the arts in a state-sponsored environment. Maybe I am overreacting. Now that I think of it, teaching isn't safe. Gah! What have I gotten myself into?


Anonymous said...


I had to help my daughter in 3rd grade, with a nice sample of a painting by Freda Kahlo. It took us awhile to find paintings without nudity, or overly graphic internal organs. I ended up painting a copy of her self-portrait to Trotsky. Freda-clothed and intact.


John B. said...

"Teaching isn't safe."

Yeah--which is why I dig it so much. There's indeed risk, but I'd like to think that the classroom is a safe space to learn how to interrogate that which is in whatever way disturbing. Ideas can't mug you in a classroom. Well, okay: they can, potentially, but at least they sort of introduce themselves first.

By the way, I mean that for Junior High kids, too, making allowances for their age. But at that age (or before, if the truth be told), they're barraged with all sorts of stuff that they need some help in making sense of. Talking about art can be a way to do so in a more detached way than would be possible out in the Real World. But, yeah: it's hard, and there's risk for you as well. But it's important work.

H said...

One of the 1st graders last week made all of his acrobats in his Keith Haring-esque tower exposing their shlongs. Technically I did tell them to draw in the style of Haring... had I not already known this child and his "interesting" contributions to art class I'd think he had seen more of Haring's artwork than the G-rated I brought to class. I told his teacher and his therapist about it.

chiefbiscuit said...

Aint life complicated?! You're doing a great job by the sounds - exposure to art, in any form, is a good thing.
Long may it remain on the curriculum and long may you teach, engender, render and foster the wonder.

rosa said...

I forgot all about that El Greco. Isn't that a self-portrait in there? One of the guys with the pointed beard and ruffled dog collar? I remember my art history teacher in high school being really into this one-him, the Italian lapsed Roman Catholic...he was sweaty,wore black socks with sandals, and yelled a lot. Mr. Ghigliazza. Our final was a take-home essay, and then we went to his house and played bocci ball and ate pizza in his olive grove. Molto benne!

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo

I blog about life and soup, but mostly soup.