Last year, a friend of ours and her two children (ages 7 and 8, if I recall correctly) visited. They wanted to look in the studio and my wife let them in (after cautioning them not to touch anything). I had a couple of nudes hanging against the wall, which my wife immediately turned around to keep them from being seen.
I’ve been thinking about that lately. Why was that necessary? These paintings were not pornographic or even explicit. They were of a man and a woman posing in the nude.
I’m not criticizing my wife, of course. She responded appropriately, especially since their mother hadn’t been warned about the possibility of them seeing paintings of naked people. I think it kind of disturbs me that this was necessary, however. We didn’t discuss the issue with our friend—we just assumed that she would never allow her children to see that kind of art.
This is especially interesting when we compare modern attitudes to those of the Victorians. We think of Victorians as absurdly prudish, even to the point of considering it proper to do things like put books by male and female authors on different shelves and cover up the “limbs” of roast poultry with paper covers. We can laugh at that, yet I’ve read that Victorian children were routinely exposed to nude art. It was considered educational and uplifting. Obviously, not all people in the Victorian era had the same values, and I’m sure some found the idea of children looking at nudes to be inappropriate. Yet I’ve seen images of museums from the period, with throngs of both adults and school-age children looking at nude paintings and sculpture.
Are we more prudish about art than the Victorians, for all that advertising and other media are filled with sex? Is it inappropriate for children to see nude art?
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this topic, but I do know that if there were a nude in my living room, some uncomfortable situations would occur from time to time.