Talking to Children About Nudity in Art
Parents and Guardians:
While you are visiting, you may see a number of images of the nude body. It may be helpful to talk to your children before entering the exhibition spaces about images of the nude in art, to encourage them to examine their own responses to the work, and to think about why an artist might choose to include a nude body in a work of art.
A good place to start is to simply share that some of the works of art they will see while visiting will contain images of nude bodies. People who visit the Gallery have all kinds of different responses to these images. Some people laugh; others feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. All these responses are normal. But why? Why is the body so humorous and/or embarrassing? Do we fall into hysterical laughter when we are in the shower or bath? Probably not. Part of seeing a nude figure in a museum is just that: we are accustomed to our nude bodies only in private. To see one in public is a shock. Artists know this too. In showing the nude body, artists remind us that the human body can mean many things.
Nudity can be a symbol of:
- Privacy – the artist observes a very private moment when the person in the artwork is alone or with someone they love.
- Innocence – Christian religious images over the last 500 years often include images of angels figured as nude babies, and the Christ child is often depicted nude. Like all babies, these figures are innocent and unaware of their nudity.
- Bravery – When Michelangelo sculpted his famous statue of David, he spoke of David’s nudity as a symbol of bravery. David faces a giant without any protection on his body, relying on his faith and his skill to protect him.
- Vulnerability – Nudity can be a symbol of a lack of defense: a person who has nothing and nowhere to hide.
What are you wearing?
Another way to approach this topic is to think about clothing instead of nudity. What do clothes tell us about a person? Clothing can send a message about:
- The time in history
- Age and cultureWealth and style
- The wearer’s profession
- Stereotype and expectations