Censoring art, or censoring women?

Alexa Jurado, Editor

With senior art show, the Odyssey Art Walk, behind us, I look back on my long, and sometimes grueling, year in AP Studio Art. While I try to distract myself from the fact that in a week I’ll be walking into that class for the last time, I also reflect on my growth as an artist.

What my mind keeps bringing me back to is my paintings depicting full-frontal nudity. When I first started, I felt a little uncomfortable, because I had never attempted it before. Was it ok? Would people think it was weird? I had my doubts.

Fortunately, I had very positive reactions towards this piece at first. At the Anomaly art show I even had someone come up to me saying “it was the most moving piece” in the show. I was absolutely thrilled at how much people supported it! I was even able to sell it, and a friend commissioned another nude piece for her mom.

All was well until several weeks ago, when the principal called my down to his office and asked me to either “cover the breasts” or to remove the piece, which was featured in one of the weekly senior artist showcases.

Mr. Lesinski was extremely respectful, and he explained that in public school such as ours, it was deemed “inappropriate.” Was I surprised? A little at first, but not really. To put it simply, I was disappointed.

In a public school, I agree that the school must be cautious as to what they display in their halls, but I hoped that the students and staff of Cary-Grove would be mature enough to handle nudity that was done in a mature and meaningful way.

While the administration may have asked me to censor my painting, not all of Cary-Grove agreed with the action. Many students and staff members I encountered in the halls commented how it was “too bad” I had to tape over my painting, with some saying we should “free the nipple.”

It made me happy that many stood with me and my artwork, and made me think further what was it that determined nudity as unfit for the school environment. I investigated the District 155 Student Handbook and found nothing relating to the issue. I wondered what unwritten rules existed that barred me from presenting my art in its unaltered form.

Another AP artist, Ash Williams, encountered this same situation. During the year prior, she and several other artists had issues regarding nudity in their art pieces. Because of this, before she set up her showcase, she very responsibly invited Mr. L down to the art room to ask his opinions on the nudity depicted. His verdict? It was to be censored. She had feelings that were similar to mine.

“At first, last year, when the censorship of my art first started happening, I was angry, but then I kind of realized that it is a public school and there’s a lot of issues that come with that, and I guess I understand it,” Williams said.

The censoring of the female body sends the message that women should feel apologetic for their anatomy, their way of dress, their makeup, and everything else that is purely superficial. How can one be “offended” by the naked female body without subconsciously commenting on the woman as whole?

It seems that in a culture like this, the censoring of the female body is related to several societal issues, including the shaming of women (body shaming, victim blaming, rape culture, etc.) and the overall objectification of women that seems to be an unending phenomenon in today’s world.   

“Yeah, it’s annoying, but it more frustrates me that in the society we live, the reality of things being censored, but it’s been reality forever and we still have to censor things that should be normalized,” Williams said. “A lot of my art shows proud, unashamed femininity and I guess I’m a feminist and I wish we could normalize things in society that are often covered up.”

In fact, the issue is very close to Williams’ AP concentration statement. She described how it was focused around femininity and joys of womanhood, and how it depicted women unashamed of themselves or their bodies.

“I like to use my art as a voice against the unfair issues in our society, when I can’t find the right words,” she said.

There was a lot of conversation regarding the nudity shown in art recently at Cary-Grove. Because of my art and Ash’s, AP Studio Art teacher Mrs. Guss said there will be a new policy put in to place for next year’s senior artists. While it is uncertain as to what it will be, it will begin to address senior artists and the contents of their portfolio.

While censoring a piece of art is one thing, suppressing women in real life is another. In our patriarchal society, there is often a tendency to keep the voices (and bodies) of women unheard and unseen. It’s these unfair patterns that are also sometimes seen in the dress code at Cary-Grove.

There seems to be a very thin line when it comes to what’s appropriate and what isn’t at Cary-Grove not only in art, but in the dress codes. There are a lot of rules pertaining to the what girls wear versus what guys do.

For example, every year the vice principal sends out a slideshow regarding the dress code for prom. While there are six slides detailing what will and what will not be deemed inappropriate for our female students, there is one slide for boys that says simply “Formal tuxedos or suits must be worn with a tie or bowtie.”

Now let’s be real. If a student walked into the gym the night of prom and wasn’t wearing a tie, it is unlikely they would be made to wear a gym uniform the way some girls have in the past. True enough, students should dress appropriately for a school event, especially one as formal as prom, but for one night a year they should be given a little freedom, as long as they are respectful. Prom is a night that everyone looks forward to and plans for, a night that people spend hundreds of dollars on, and a night that every girl wants to look and feel their very best.

As I was taking a picture with some friends, I saw a girl wearing a two piece dress that was pulled aside and asked to use safety pins to pin her dress together. If it was a dress that was ridiculously “showy” I suppose I would understand this action, but it wasn’t. It was a strip of skin barely an inch thick, so it seemed unreasonable.

Furthermore, the everyday dress code is not only vague, but also targets female students. As the warmer weather rolls in, we’ll be seeing a lot more shorts and tank tops, and potentially a lot more students being asked to change what they are wearing.

Hopefully in the future students will be able to express themselves in whatever way that they choose, whether it be through what they wear or what they create.