It Skips A Generation
My children are art critics.
When my eldest daughter was four, I took her to the Milwaukee Art Museum. I figured she love it as she was a huge fan of coloring, painting, and creative dressing. That spring day she wore black knit pants, a tie-dyed tee-shirt that she'd made herself, and a pair of wildly colorful cowboyboots -- mainly red but with turquoise, yellow and black accents.
I decided that I would not influence her reactions by leading the way or directing her to pieces I thought she would like or that I adored. Instead, I would follow her lead, and let her instincts, reactions and energy lead her. I would let her experience art herself, and be there for questions, conversation and company, but I would not be a guide or any sort of expert leading her. If she was to discover art, then let her discover it.
She clomped her way in those brilliant boots from room to room, with me following along. She lingered here and there, mainly at paintings that featured animals. But she had a few surprises for me too.
While I had expected her to adore Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, she didn't seem to be particularly enamored with either, just clomping on by after brief pauses. She did seem to enjoy the ancient artifacts, the highly stylized Greek and Egyptian pieces were worthy of longer study as she lingered near their cases. She delighted in Picasso (and Dali's works presented in the gift shop near the coffee shop where we grabbed something to snack on), but her most telling reaction was yet to come...
Wandering through the collection of works by Old Masters, I was apparently several works behind her admiring some of my favorites (Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec etc). Suddenly I heard her sigh and stomp out of the room with the veritable speed of a teacher headed to the principal's office. I half-ran to catch up with her, and whispered "Why so fast?" An angry child turned to me and spewed forth two words: "Naked people!"
"What's wrong with naked people?" I asked.
"I just don't see why they had to draw them with their fur -- why not paint them in their clothes!" was her quick retort.
Upon discovering the meaning of 'fur' to be public hair, I suddenly realized that my daughter was deeply offended. From that moment forward, I was to lead the rest of the way. I was to enter each gallery and ascertain that indeed no such lewd pieces were hanging about -- if all was clear, I'd give the OK and she would enter. Needless to say, it limited our tour. I did try to fool her a few times, but upon spotting an offensive nude, she would stomp out and when I caught up with her I received a glare for my educational trouble.
Interestingly, when we found Rodin's sculpture The Kiss, she was also less than happy -- proving that form would not mask the filth of nude bodies.
I had to accept facts: I had a prude for a daughter.
A few years ago, I gained a step-daughter. By this time, I had admitted my obsession with girlie art, and the real life boudoir was filled with it. Pinups, classic nude sketches, tasteful art photographs -- nothing more 'naughty' or revealing than Monroe's nude calendar pose -- fill the walls, bookshelves and dresser tops. Daughter number one had always silently condemned me with an upturned nose and a silence that screamed "I will not acknowledge such filth." But daughter two, would not keep to the silent route. One day, at about age 8, after living together for at least a year, prude number two asked a question which was more like the throwing of a gauntlet: "Why do you like nudie people?"
"Why not?" was my response, calculated to sound glib.
She was not to be put off so easily, so she replied with a more stern "Why?" which clearly stated the gloves were off, and I would need to respond.
"The human body is beautiful," I replied. "Artists have drawn, painted, photographed and depicted humans nude since the beginning of time. The female form is especially considered beautiful."
Her silence was like that of a teacher -- unconvinced, she expected me to continue to explain myself.
"What's wrong with naked bodies? Sure, we wear clothes, but my so-called 'nudie people' are here in my bedroom; no one needs to see them if they don't want to."
More silence. So I try again with a question to get her to talk. "You're naked in the bath, in the shower, is there anything wrong with that?"
"Yes, but I don't look at myself" she stated firmly.
I wrinkled my nose and giggled back at her "Well, heavens, why not? ...this sounds more like a personal problem." But aware that I am the parent, I then asked her "Don't you like your body?"
"It's OK I guess... There's nothing wrong with it..."
Now it was my turn to silently await a better answer.
"I just don't know why you like to see other naked bodies so much."
To that, I have no real answer -- at least not for a child. Artistic response can be a little too complicated for children. So I thought for a moment I thought about how to paraphrase or translate my thoughts so that she could understand better. The best I could come up with was "There is no shame in being naked, no matter what some people may think. True, there is a time and a place for nudity. And for my art, my 'nudie people' the place is my bedroom. You don't need to like it. But you shouldn't be afraid of it or feel uncomfortable because of it. Under our clothes, we are all naked, all beautiful. All the time."
Since then, we've had a few other similar conversations about my 'nudie people.' Sometimes the eldest daughter chimes in with a denouncement or two as well. But my replies are pretty much the same. I don't think I've gained any ground. But I refuse to let their prudish tastes change my collecting or display of the items -- so they haven't gained any ground either.