1 dahl advert 1When does art become offensive?

I’ve recently come back from a visual arts workshop in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).

One of the things teachers touched on was the impact of cultural context of what and how we teach art, and the need for sensitivity to that context, responding to it and on some cases working around it.

Teachers talked about the limits on what could be discussed openly with students, and explained that some things absolutely could not be part of the visual arts class – including nudity in the context of life-drawing and obviously some political issues.

As a visual art teacher and examiner, I obviously get to see a lot of student art, and every examination session I see student artwork from schools from all over the world.

Some teachers upload files for final assessment that – if they had been uploaded in a different part of the world – would lead to the teacher at best losing their job, at worst be facing a court prosecution and possible gaol time.

And of course students often create challenging and sometimes deliberately provocative art. It would be surprising if they didn’t.

But even without the deliberately provocative imagery, it still seems that just the unclothed human form – the nude – still has the power to shock and provoke anger. Is the nude – male or female – really that challenging in 2014?

2 Rihanna-Rogue 1Clearly, the answer is yes in some countries and cultures,

But even the west the female nude can cause problems. I’ve assembled some edited (covered) versions of adverts that caused a stir when they first went public.

My DP visual students will spend the day tomorrow drawing and painting a naked woman, posing in the art room.

The parents have all signed permission forms and of course it’s a great (and centuries old traditional) activity…

The visual arts guide (page 9) has a section about “Engaging with sensitive topics”

  • “Studying visual arts gives students the opportunity to engage with exciting, stimulating and personally relevant topics and issues.
  • However, it should be noted that often such topics and issues can also be sensitive and personally challenging for some students.
  • Teachers should be aware of this and provide guidance on how to approach and engage with such topics in a responsible manner.
  • Consideration should also be given to the personal, political and spiritual values of others, particularly in relation to race, gender or religious beliefs.
  • As part of the collective consideration of the school, visual arts students must be supported in maintaining an ethical perspective during their course.
  • Schools must be vigilant in ensuring that work undertaken by the student does not damage the environment, include excessive or gratuitous violence or reference to explicit sexual activity”.

3 american-apparel 1Images depicted here and their context:

“The most-complained-about advert in five years

A controversial billboard advert showing a naked female model in a suggestive pose has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority ruling.

The Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume advert featuring Sophie Dahl attracted 730 complaints, making it one of the most complained about in the ASA’s history.

On Monday evening the watchdog ordered all the posters to be withdrawn because they are “degrading” to women and offensive.

Christopher Graham, ASA director general, said the poster was sexually suggestive and likely to cause “serious or widespread offence” thereby breaking the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.

The ruling may also force Yves Saint Laurent, part of the Italian luxury goods maker Gucci Group NV, to have its posters pre-vetted for up to two years if the Committee of Advertising Practice requests it.

Earlier this month Plaid Cymru backbencher Brian Hancock complained that one of the Opium posters was on the Welsh Assembly doors.

There has been no comment from the Yves Saint Laurent company”


A few years ago Joan Smith wrote about nudity and pornography in the Independent

Sunday 17 February 2008

Joan Smith: Venus is the difference between nudity and porn

We live in a frankly sexual culture whose images of scantily dressed women are irritating not because they involve nudity – most of the time they don’t – but because they’re intended to satisfy basic male appetites, regardless of the fact that a lot of men don’t actually like them…Many of us don’t like the coarse attitudes to women and sex that have invaded contemporary culture. We don’t like the way Premiership footballers behave at parties, the huge commercial sex industry or the fact that about 11 per cent of the male population use women who work as prostitutes. But that’s an argument against sexual exploitation, not against celebrating the human body. Fig leaves and their modern equivalents are always products of fear, not respect for women. ”.


Images from the UK TELEGRAPH




See also The naked truth: when does art become pornography? An article by Rachel Capmpbell-Johnstone September 20 2014