Friday, April 15, 2011

Drawing Lines

One of the many nonquilting hats I wear is that of a book sorter for the annual book sale at the local public library.  As one of the perks of the job we are allowed to buy books early, and last week I came upon a book by Piero Ventura, whose books I had loved to read to my kids.  This particular book, Great Painters,  was a history of art for young people, maybe fifth or sixth graders, and I decided to add it to my collection of books for the grandchildren.  At home as I leafed through it, my eye was caught by a strong black color that seemed to stand out from the page.
Somebody had given all those cavorting cherubs little black shorts.  I looked further and saw that the same someone must have thought that in Spring Botticelli should have given the three Graces and Flora something a bit warmer to wear.
After that I was not surprised that Manet's Olympia had been given a little black dress:
But did the infant Jesus sitting on the Madonna's lap really need pants?
This book had been withdrawn from a nearby school district (not Wellsboro), and we will never know where the blame can be placed.  An overzealous librarian?  An outraged parent?  It is hard for me to understand the mindset of someone who would go to the trouble to deface a book  this way.  Yes, Olympia did cause a stir in the adult world when it was exhibited so perhaps I can at least formulate arguments about that painting, even if I don't agree with them.  But what exactly were children being protected from with the other embellishments?  

I was eminently amused by all this.  And given what's shown in our current day media, it was easy for me to smile at this as a relic of an earlier era--until I read a brief note in Time Magazine this week about a woman who was caught trying to take Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women off a museum wall because it "has nudity and is bad for children."  Wouldn't it be great if so many children were showing up in art museums so often that what they saw there would change their lives?

So what does this have to do with quilting?  Well, it does have a lot to do with art and with the difficulty we seem to have making a distinction between the beauty of the human body and pornography. It reminded me of the brouhaha created when Quilters Newsletter ran a story that included a quilt with an image of nude woman on it.  

Now I don't usually put human figures in my quilts--I've learned not to say never about using any technique in my quilting--so it doesn't apply directly to my own work.  But it does remind me of lines we all draw around things we find acceptable and unacceptable.  I do not think that throwing out all boundaries and saying everything is equally acceptable is a workable situation, mainly because most of us would be lying to ourselves.  We do have preferences, things that makes us uncomfortable, things that draw us into a work, but making those boundaries absolute and impenetrable could cut us off from an experience that might change our lives or connect us in important ways to the world and the people around us--or just make us better quilters or better artists.  Hmm.  Better artists?--I could start a new tangent here but should be getting back to making art, not just talking about it.

And if you are still reading, thanks for the company.

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