I have never understood the fascination with nakedness in art. I have never been able to understand why people are not embarrassed. I am even more perplexed about how otherwise sensible and decent people turn a blind eye toward it and even try to excuse it.
Ancient Greeks and Romans wore clothes in public. Even their permissive cultures would not condone nudity in everyday life. But they were notorious for displaying statues depicting nakedness. They viewed obscenity in sculptures in a different light because it was art.
In 1985 U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese appointed a commission to study the dangers of pornography. Fourteen months later the report was presented to him at a press conference. The 500-page study documented the social and psychological harm of pornographic material. Ironically, on the stage behind him were two large statues, a male and a female, each clothed with nothing but a small loin cloth. Is it me or was there something wrong with that picture?
The double standard is even more frustrating in religion. When I walked through Westminster Abbey in London, I was shocked at some of the statues. I remember thinking, “What is the purpose of this? Why do all these people not seem to be bothered?” As I walked away I recalled what John Calvin observed 500 years earlier about obscene art in church buildings:
“For what are the pictures or statues to which they append the names of saints, but exhibitions of the most shameless luxury or obscenity? Were any one to dress himself after their model, he would deserve the pillory. Indeed, brothels exhibit their inmates more chastely and modestly dressed than churches do images intended to represent virgins. The dress of the martyrs is in no respect more becoming. Let Papists then have some little regard to decency in decking their idols…” (Institutes, 1.11.7)
I guess Calvin failed to appreciate art also.
Now David Shannon, President of Freed-Hardeman University, is defending the use of nude images in the art department. In a chapel announcement at FHU on February 2, 2018 he acknowledged “the study of nude and semi-nude human forms in sculptures, paintings, pictures within the art program” and added that the “faculty, staff, and administration have again concluded that these studies of the human form are necessary and appropriate…” He denied that such images are pornographic and seemed appalled that anyone would think so.
Try telling a young wife whose heart is breaking that the nude and semi-nude pictures her husband has been viewing on his phone are not pornography.
Try explaining to grade-school Johnny why he is punished for doodling a lewd image of a girl during math class but assure him that when he goes to a Christian college he will be rewarded in art class for drawing the same form.
Try asking FHU faculty, staff, and administration if they would feel comfortable if the nude and semi-nude pictures displayed in art classes were of their sons and daughters.
We are told that using these images in art classes is no different than studying the human body in medical courses. Then why did brother Shannon draw the line in the chapel announcement and say that no live nude models ever had been or ever will be used in FHU classes? Doctors and nurses work with live patients. If there is no difference between exposing the body for medical reasons and uncovering the body for artistic display, then it would not matter if the exposure is in picture or in person. If you can do anything in art class that you can do in medical classes, then there is nothing wrong with using live models. The very fact that brother Shannon drew this line shows that the parallel is false.
How on earth can a gospel preacher say such things? How can the “faculty, staff, and administration” of a Christian college put up with this? How can supporters of the school and participants at its events keep their mouths shut for fear of rocking the boat? Where is the outrage? There are gospel preachers who will hide behind a facade of prudence and false humility and never say a word about it. Oh, they will disagree privately when they are asked about it, but they will not press the issue in any way that endangers their speaking appointments. Shame on them!
What about nudity in films? If looking at pictures of naked people in art classes is a good thing, then what is wrong with watching movies that portray nudity? After all, there are no live nude models.
To see how much attitudes in this country have changed, consider these excerpts from the Motion Picture Code, sometimes called the Hays Code, which was adopted in 1930 by filmmakers and generally followed until it was discarded in the rebellion of the 1960s:
“Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.”
“Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.”
“Art can be morally evil in its effects. This is the case clearly enough with unclean art, indecent books, suggestive drama. The effect on the lives of men and women is obvious.”
“The effect of nudity or semi-nudity upon the normal man or woman, and much more upon the young and upon immature persons, has been honestly recognized by all lawmakers and moralists.”
“Hence the fact that the nude or semi-nude body may be beautiful does not make its use in the films moral. For, in addition to its beauty, the effect of the nude or semi-nude body on the normal individual must be taken into consideration.”
“Nudity or semi-nudity used simply to put a ‘punch’ into a picture comes under the head of immoral actions. It is immoral in its effect on the average audience.”
“Nudity can never be permitted as being necessary for the plot. Semi-nudity must not result in undue or indecent exposures.”
“Transparent or translucent materials and silhouette are frequently more suggestive than actual exposure.”
Art or no art, we must stay with the Bible. Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter how much people try to paint it gray. Since God clothed Adam and Eve He has never changed His mind about the issue (Gen. 3:10-11, 21). What we put into our minds does affect us (Prov. 23:7). Lust and adultery in the heart are at an epidemic level (Matt. 5:27-28). The last thing young people need is a magic wand called “art” that turns evil into something good.
-Kerry Duke, Vice-President of Academics & Academic Affairs
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