Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 (about pornography), “I know it when I see it.” The quote was actually given to him by his law clerk, Alan Novak, as Stewart struggled over the definition. I have seen the statue of David in Florence; there were groups of people, many of them nuns, taking selfies with it. This statue is anatomically correct and exact, but it is not pornography. Not everybody agrees it seems; last week, a principal in a school in Tallahassee, Florida was forced to resign because one parent of a sixth grader – one – complained about the children seeing a photo of David ( and Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” painting and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”) during a class on the Renaissance. Two other children’s parents asked to be informed of this kind of material in the future. Under pressure from this one parent – one – was enough for the school board president to push the principal to resign. I wonder if that would work with guns? (Crickets…)
Look, I don’t want children being exposed to pornography. There are some things that are inappropriate at certain ages, and porn is degrading and abusive and should never be shown to minors. I don’t think children taking art classes should have live, naked models; I don’t think there should be nude public beaches. I think people should keep their curtains closed if they choose to walk around naked in their homes. I’m not a prude; I just believe in boundaries. But Michelangelo’s “David”? It isn’t pornography, at least by my definition. In fact, we visited a lot of churches in Italy, and most of them had naked statues somewhere in the Sanctuary. David had originally been placed in a church alcove but was considered too beautiful to be in such an obscure place, so it was moved to a more public location. And yes, there was some controversy; for a short time in the 1500’s a bronze fig leaf was placed over David’s groin. That didn’t last very long.
I wonder how far this assault on education and the arts will continue. I don’t want people walking around naked in public areas, but it seems a bit extreme to take art like David and relabel it as pornography based on one’s limited moral code. No – we shouldn’t have art in public portraying sex acts. No – we shouldn’t have children attending risqué acts in bars. We have brains, and we can tell the difference between pornography and art. Like Justice Stewart, I know it when I see it. David ain’t it. And just as a point of reference, it seems that the state of Florida doesn’t mind naked women statues in public places. This statue of two women is proudly placed outside of what looks like a welcome center near the entrance of Weeki Wachi State Park, just north of Tampa, Florida. I hope parents are covering their children’s eyes as they enter. Wouldn’t want them to get any ideas, would we?
Prayer – God of the whole person, heal us of our shame and open us to the beauty of Your creation. And give us wisdom as we work to understand the difference between beauty and smut. Amen.
Today’s art is Michelangelo’s “David” and the statue at Weeki Wachi State Park.