A breast too far

How well hidden must tasteful art involving nudity be in order to keep knowledge of adult nudity out of the view of children, and thereby to pass on unhealthy attitudes to yet another generation?

At least as far as a wall behind a row of book stacks would appear to be the attitude of a librarian in the body-phobic state of Virginia.

VA Library Moves Nude Painting Behind Stacks

After a mother and tutor complained in July, Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia has moved a painting of a female nude from a place near the building’s main entrance to a wall behind a row of stacks, the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot reported July 29. Roughly 12,000 people walked past the piece, based on library estimates that a thousand people a day visit the building.

Morning Dreamer” by local painter Karen Kinser was on display for two weeks before the mother and tutor complained that the painting was on view in a place where children could see it. The painting depicts a woman, one of whose breasts is visible, reclining in bed. Kinser has been showing her work for eight years at the library but it has never been objected to before.

We mentioned this story a few days ago. But it seems worthwhile to revisit it for more emphasis.

Kinser called the relocation censorship. A library official said she made a practical decision for a public facility funded by taxpayers’ dollars.

Margaret Stillman, the library’s director, loves Kinser’s work. But she made the call to move the 16-by-18-inch painting on July 13.

We can sympathize with Ms. Stillman’s dilemma, given the known antipathy towards nudity in a place like Virginia. But we humbly submit that librarians share with parents and other educators the function of transmitting the best of our culture to future generations, not finding ways to keep it out of their sight.

Parents who learned to fear nudity in their own upbringing should have the right to pass this fear on to their kids, if they must. But they shouldn’t be able to deceive their kids into thinking there are no other points of view. It’s true that nudity is controversial, but as the “intelligent design” enthusiasts and their political supporters claim, we need to “teach the controversy”. Libraries do this by making available the writings of “intelligent design” proponents to anyone who’s interested. They should do no less with respect to tasteful artistic presentations of nudity — even for kids.

Karen Kinser’s paintings certainly qualify. By all means, visit her home page and see for yourself. (More here.) The work is striking and beautiful, especially in her handling of color and pose. Kinser illuminates her artistic philosophy with a quote from Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Or, as I like to say, “Art helps explain us to ourselves.”

Originally posted August 28, 2005