OP-EDS

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August 16, 2002

Parents are right to shield kids

I would consider myself an artsy person, who enjoys and encourages many forms of art. I have even found brilliant some controversial art pieces that others might want to censor. But I am realistic and aware of the fact that in today's society there should be common sense. Specifically, I am thinking of Irving Penn's "Nude" exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the absolute right of parents to restrict their children from viewing this artistic presentation.

Since 1949, Penn has been photographing females for fashion designers and magazines. Also, he has been capturing women in their "earthly bodies" as he calls them, presenting them as unglamorous and indeed as they really are — purely human and nude. These separate artistic ventures have both been presented in separate exhibits. Only now at the Art Institute have these two been shown together.

Penn's photographs have a certain beauty to them. They show both the elegance and grandeur that a woman can contain as well as her raw and unrefined self. I appreciate his work and his talent as a photographer. It is not him that I take issue with. He has a right to free expression.

I do take issue with parents who bypass the sign by the entrance to his exhibit. The sign has a warning to parents that some of the photographs are graphic, violent, and may be offensive to young viewers. Some parents do not even seem to realize the importance of this warning. It was certainly not instituted to divert audiences away from the exhibit. This would be silly; art is meant to be viewed.

I wouldn't argue with parents who freely take their children to this exhibit if I knew that they themselves had first viewed it. This would be quite logical, and it would demonstrate their ability to judge what is right for their own child based on their level of exposure to the topics in the photographs. However, many adult tourists and other families visiting the exhibit may not have a chance to view the images twice, and therefore they simply bypass the warning. Perhaps they also feel that the themes depicted by Penn are not harmful to their children. This infuriates me. Again, I point to the fact that the sign at the entrance is posted by people who have viewed and understand the material as potentially harmful. This warning might even be a response to someone finding it offensive.

Parents need to ensure their children's healthy mental development. I find it hard to imagine that any parent would find a need to expose a young child to this exhibit without first acknowledging the warning and the images it contains.

I also disagree with the positioning of the exhibit, since it is placed adjacent to the children's section of the lower level. Like it or not, when one passes from the stairs to the children's wing, one is greeted by Penn's nudes. And, if one's eyes wander across the image, female genitalia will certainly greet them. Given the massive warning label at the door and all the children coming down to their own wing of the museum, it seems logical to perhaps begin the exhibit on a side wall where only those who enter might see its jewels.

Surely, the parents and the museum alike are at liberty to exercise their right to free expression. However, there is a certain moral responsibility that they must take on. They must also use some lintellect when judging whether an exhibit is appropriate for children or not. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the city's treasures and should be esteemed as such. However, not all of it should be seen at once.

Penn's photographs have been in production since 1949; parents can certainly wait a few years until their children fully understand all that the photographs mean to express before they show them all that a woman entails.