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Should children be protected from nude art?

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.


Posted in personal, the art world.

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8 Responses

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  1. Bernard Victor says

    I have had my grand­chil­dren in my stu­dio at var­i­ous times and they have seen my life draw­ings and paintings.

    There only com­ment was ‘Why do you always paint bottoms ?’

  2. David Clemons says

    The list of things that strike me as pecu­liar about the soci­ety I live in is exten­sive, and this is one of them. I imag­ine other parts of the world can be even more strict. Nonethe­less, it seems rea­son­able to respect the rights of oth­ers, espe­cially par­ents, and pre­pare them for any­thing that they might find objec­tion­able for their kids. Chances are that chil­dren wouldn’t do more than gig­gle. If the work was more erotic in nature then I think the sit­u­a­tion deserves more atten­tion. Bear in mind I’m not a par­ent and chil­dren rarely visit my stu­dio space. I once worked in a shared space where we had open stu­dio vis­its, and we vol­un­tar­ily placed a warn­ing notice at the door about “adult con­tent.” It never was an issue, but we thought it nec­es­sary just in case.

  3. Mark says

    Back in ’96 when I first grad­u­ated from high school, I worked at a video store. One of the man­agers there was telling me about watch­ing a movie with his (then) 3 year old son. When he men­tioned the title I was shocked. “There are nude scenes in that,” I said. He replied, “But no explicit sex. I’m only con­cerned about my boy see­ing vio­lence in movies, really.”
    It took me a few min­utes to process that I had grown up the oppo­site. The only parts of “Conan the Bar­bar­ian” my fam­ily cen­sored were the scenes with exposed breasts.

    In a cul­ture with so much vio­lence in pop­u­lar media, is it a strange thing to real­ize that we demo­nize nudity but have no prob­lem with vio­lent images?

  4. titan says

    I blame the reli­gious right.

    • David says


      I agree that there is cer­tainly an influ­ence from the reli­gious right. I would point out, how­ever, that the peo­ple I dis­cussed are (1) not asso­ci­ated with any­thing like an evan­gel­i­cal church; and (2) com­mit­ted left­ists. I don’t think the reli­gious right has enough influ­ence to make these peo­ple behave as they did.

  5. Anthony says

    //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.// well you answered your own ques­tions, why be dis­turbed? There is some sense of “weird­ness” or emo­tional trig­ger in naked­ness, and not solely beca­sue young peo­ple are kept hostage by a con­ser­v­a­tive or prude cul­ture, it just is that way. So you acted the cor­rect way and there is a proper devel­o­ment of humans that we should be shel­tered for a cer­tain amount of time and grad­u­ally become in touch and aware of sex­u­al­ity and its results and its con­se­quences. Why the dig­ging to justify?

    • David Rourke says


      Of course my wife’s reac­tion was cul­tur­ally appropriate.

      It’s easy, how­ever, to con­fuse the cus­toms of one’s tribe with nat­ural law. The point I was try­ing to make in the blog post was that there have been many cul­tures, includ­ing Vic­to­rian Eng­land, in which it would be con­sid­ered well within the proper devel­op­ment of humans to allow chil­dren to view nude art. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think that our tribe has it entirely right.

  6. soon says

    I say pic­tures of nude sculp­tures in Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­nica when I was twelve-years old. I still have the entire 30+ years old set. Being born into an Ori­en­tal fam­ily didn’t help mat­ters AT ALL. When the Inter­net came along, I was like,”Yahoo!”. Now, I am restricted, AGAIN. Life is a heartbreaker.

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