Sunday, January 8, 2017


Caravaggista, an art history graduate student and now adjunct whose blog I have followed for years, just landed in a huge Tumblr donnybrook. One of her followers asked her add a tag to her posts for nudity "so I can blacklist it." Caravaggista refused, saying that nudity is pretty fundamental to art in the Renaissance, and anyone who doesn't want to see nudity should just not follow her blog.

Hoo boy. Within a few hours that post had acquired hundreds of comments, negative and positive. One of the positive:
Asking a classical art blog to tag for nudity is like asking a cat blog to tag for kittens. If you don't want to see it, don't follow a blog that expressly posts about that subject.
Although the author of the original question did not say why he or she wants to block nudity, most of the critics took this tack:
I can't even begin to imagine how triggering it can be for the students in your class. Your insensitivity to others' feelings about nudity, regardless of how you romanticize art, is disturbing. The mark of true educator is the ability to grow and shift with the times and not hold onto old notions and bigotry. If you care more about your professorship than about something folks might not be able to look at because of trauma, you probably shouldn't be a professor.
So here we are again in the big ugly fight about trigger warnings. But what is really disturbing about this comment is the assumption that hypersensitivity is the future, and grouchy pedants who want to show nude paintings are bigots who had better get with the times.

I find myself wondering, why nudity? I mean, Renaissance art is full of crucifixions, beheadings, torture, and other awful things, but your problem is just naked bodies?


G. Verloren said...


My reaction is always to ask, "What is the cost to meeting this person's request?"

If you're interacting with others in a public setting, and someone asks you to do something that doesn't really cost you anything, but which benefits them in some way, why would you choose not to meet their request?

We do this sort of thing all the time in public spaces. It's the way a civil society functions. If someone politely asks you to move a few feet over so they can take a picture, a normal person does so without thinking. If someone asks you to move your bag off a park bench so they can sit down, without some particular good reason, why would would you ever refuse them?

This blogger already tags their posts. They already are taking the time and putting forth the effort for other tags. Someone politely asked them to include one more tag among all the others - a very, very small request. They're being asked to do something which effictively costs them nothing, in order to provide a substantial benefit to someone else. Why would they refuse?

But heck, it's not even the refusal that's the issue. You have the right to refuse a public request if you really want to. You don't even need a good reason, or to explain yourself. People might look at you a bit funny, but it's your right to say no and carry on about your business.

This blogger could have easily responded to the tag request by simply saying "Sorry, no" and been done with the matter entirely. In fact, they almost did.

But they didn't. They just couldn't stop typing after that first simple sentence. They had to start preaching their gospel. Someone else disagreed with them on how to view and appreciate art, and so that person had to be corrected. They had to be educated.

Not empathized with, or understood. Not accepted for their differences, even if those differences seemed baffling and incomprehensible. They had to be made to stop thinking and behaving as they did, because apparently such thoughts and behaviors are unacceptable, and must be rectified.

Why? What harm is there in adding the nudity tag? What harm is there in someone using that tag to filter out certain posts? What is the benefit in refusing to include the tag? What is the benefit in getting up on a soapbox and publically telling someone else they're wrong for wanting such a tag?

You know what that accomplishes? Less than nothing. It alienates people. If someone doesn't want to see certain content on your blog, and you don't give them a means to avoid seeing it, and then you also go on to publically harass them about it? They're going to stop visiting your blog and go elsewhere instead. They're going to simply stop caring about the topic you're so desperate to educate them about. It's flatly counter productive. So why do it?

G. Verloren said...


Now, maybe you feel very strongly about nudity in art. Maybe you think it's absolutely vital that people grapple with it so they can properly understand and appreciate the work. Maybe the only reason you try to "correct" them is because you're so very, very passionate about this subject that you love so much and invest so much of your time, effort, and life into. Your intentions are noble, your motives are pure, and you genuinely just want to help them learn.

But if that's the case, you need to be empathetic to people who display hesitation or anxiety about some aspect of your passion. You need to be gentle and understanding of their needs or fears, even if you personally don't understand them. To get them to engage with the subject in the way you want, you need to encourage them and convince them, not correct them and discipline them. You need to accomodate their difficulties, not spurn them simply for facing such difficulties when you or others don't. You need to help them overcome the obstacles to their learning, not denegrate them for being unable to overcome them on their own.

Too many professors think that all you need to do is put the correct information in front of someone and tell them to learn it. Education is not that simple. People are complex and complicated beings. Individuals learn in vastly different ways, possess vastly different aptitudes, and face vastly different obstacles to learning. What works in teaching one person simply might not cut it when teaching someone else. And it is a bad teacher who blames their student for not understanding properly, instead of blaming themselves for not explaining properly - even when the explanation in question works perfectly 99 times out of 100.

If you truly care about teaching people, then you need to be willing to help them to learn, not treat them rudely and condescendingly for having trouble or failing.

John said...

Well, yes, you can't have a shouting match unless two people are shouting. I would simply have ignored this request. Caravaggista chose to post her negative response on her blog, by way of taking a public stand that nudity is so fundamental to Renaissance art that a mind hostile to nudity just won't get the whole business. To invite the argument and then be offended by angry responses is a bit off. But it's her blog. I can't imagine ever asking any writer to change his or her work to suit me.

Michael said...

Silly request.

I visit a website most days - Discarding Images - that posts all kinds of whacko (by our standards) medieval images. Recently we got to see "Nature In Her Forge." A women wielding a hammer above her head is holding on to the leg of an infant who is on an anvil being "forged."

If you don't like hammered infants, don't look at the blog.

G. Verloren said...


Here's a question - why such disdain for people?

Why can't someone enjoy reading only part of a blog? Who are you or I or anyone else to tell someone what they should and should not enjoy reading? To tell them that if they can't appreciate and enjoy 100% of something, that they then don't deserve to appreciate and enjoy any percentage of it whatsoever?

Compare to other normal activities.

Ever read a book you love, but it has a chapter or more that you don't particularly care for, or perhaps can't even stand? Moby Dick with its interminable chapters on whaling that don't do anything to advance the plot is a good example. Well guess what - chapters are typically labeled, numbered, and/or named. You can skip over those chapters if you want to.

Tags on a blog are no different than chapter and page numbers. They allow someone to find the content they want to read, and avoid reading content they don't want to read. Imagine if your librarian told you "If you don't like boring, irrelevant chapters on whaling, don't read Moby Dick". What arrogance! What condescension! If you can't enjoy 100% of the book, you don't deserve to enjoy any of it? That's absurd!

How about a different example.

Let's say you attend weekly plays at a local theatre that is dedicated to performing Shakespeare. But they don't tell people in advance which show they're going to be performing, so you have to show up blind and find out once you're there. Let's imagine that you love most Shakespeare, but for whatever reason you simply cannot stand The Taming of The Shrew. And let's imagine that like most people, you don't have unlimited free time in your life, and other needs and desires are competing for your time and attention.

So you ask the theatre group if they would let you know what next week's play is going to be, because you're going to be particularly busy and if it's The Taming of The Shrew, then you're not going to bother trying to clear you schedule so you can attend.

And they respond, "Well, actually it is The Taming of The Shrew. But why should that matter?" And you explain that you just don't care for it, and they launch into a tirade about how it's a vital part of his works, and you absolutely need to like and appreciate it to properly understand The Bard, and they can't imagine why anyone would not want to watch it, and they finish off by saying "If you don't like The Taming of The Shrew, don't watch Shakespeare and don't come to our plays."

Could you even imagine that? These are people who love Shakespeare and want nothing more than to share his works with others and help them to appreciate it - and they're turning people away! They're actively alienating people who share their own interest! They're giving them powerful reasons to stop caring about Shakespeare and to instead dislike or resent it! They're effectively telling their greatest potential allies in the cause "Fuck you, you're No True Scotsman, you're not good enough to appreciate Shakespeare like we do, get out!"

Alternatively, they could just post a weekly schedule for everyone to read, and then let people decide which plays to attend and enjoy and which to skip. Where's the harm in that?

But no - it's about the principle of the thing! Shakespeare demands perfection! You must appreciate 100% of his works, otherwise you don't deserve to appreciate any of them!

Well good luck with that, folks. Enjoy performing for an empty theatre, and then bitterly lamenting to yourself how "People these days have no appreciation for the genius of Shakespeare! Philistines, all of them!" as your money dries up, your troupe falls apart, and your passion becomes unshareable. Great work.

pootrsox said...

As I understand it, from the "about" part of her blog, this blog is about Renaissance art. One major characteristic of said art is nudity.

If you don't like nudity, you really shouldn't be perusing material on Renaissance art-- you can never tell when you'll be seeing some.

That being said, yeah-- she probably should simply have ignored the request, not responded to it.

G. Verloren said...


Except you CAN tell when you'll be seeing nudity in Renaissance art if the person blogging about employs a nudity tag.

Again, there's this trap people are falling into in that they think they are fit to judge what other people "should" or should not be perusing. Who are you to decide?

As bizarre as it may sound, there really are people who read Playboy magazine purely for the articles. And as bizarre as it may sound, there are people who are interested in Renaissance art who would like to be able to avoid the nudity.

And even if that means they only see 1 out of 100 posts on your Renaissance art blog, because the other 99 of them all contain nudity, again - who are you to tell them no? If that's what they want to do, if that's how they want to enjoy the content of your blog, what right do you have to judge them or try to "correct" them?

Maybe you really do think they're missing out on a vital aspect of Renaissance art. But even if that is the case, surely seeing 1 out 100 of your Renaissance art posts is better than seeing 0 out of 100?

How is telling them to not read your blog better than letting them read the 1% of it they're interested in? How is making other people feel hurt, upset, and resentful out of some misplaced elitist mindset better than accepting their personal limits and comfort levels, and then gently encouraging them to push the boundaries and expand their horizons over time?

In short, why act like an asshole about it? Why choose to be negative and dismissive, instead of striving to be positive and inclusive?

Michael said...

G. Ver. - I have no disdain for people. Also, I have no desire to tell people what they should or should not read.

I do believe that people should make their own choice based on their own preferences. And it is not up to me to tell another person what he/she should prefer.

As other here have noted, if one does not care to see nudity, one can choose, based on those preferences, to avoid any and all website, museums, library books, lectures, etc., that feature Renaissance art which, as any student of art or the Renaissance knows, will contain many uncovered body parts.

G. Verloren said...


One can also choose to make a simple request that any reasonable person would happily meet because it costs them nothing to do so and it makes someone else's life easier and more enjoyable.

Again, you're reducing the argument to "These people can't engage with 100% of a thing, so they should not even attempt to engage with any percentage if it whatsoever."

And again, I ask how it better that someone engage with 0% of Renaissance art instead of engaging with even just 1% of it? Why would you ever argue for that, unless you have disdain for them and their inability to engage at 100%?

Michael said...

G. Ver - It would seem to me that a request for a "nudity" tag to be added to a Renaissance art website is akin to asking that a tag for "white" be added to a website dedicated to photographs of snow.

Similarly, a person taking a comparative anatomy course should not have to be warned, "This Course Will Contain Images of the Body Parts of Various Animals."

I'm not sure what you mean: "These people can't engage with 100% of a thing, so they should not even attempt to engage with any percentage if it whatsoever." I don't think I am making that argument.

I expect - and it is not an unreasonable expectation at all - that a follower of a blog that specializes in Renaissance and baroque art and architecture knows that nudity is a major component of that art.

leif said...

what a wonderful world we live in, that we can debate this. seriously.

i've often felt the lingering requirement to explain myself probably too far, and due to that experience i sympathize with her having done just that. and yep, she should have probably said, 'sorry, no' and put it to rest. in that or in her egged-on retorts should she have taken a moral higher road? perhaps. it is her blog, and she can put nearly anything on there. concerning the victim of abuse who chimed in... that's atrocious that happened to her, but can someone *not* know that in art from nearly any time period, not just the renaissance, contains nudity?

G, to your point about doing something that takes no effort when politely asked, yeah it's a pretty decent analogy, and where i think it runs aground a bit is on idealistic principles that at some point the blog's visitors could ask for everything to be tagged, and it becomes ridiculous. let's tag male parts and female parts and baby parts and severed heads and impalements and on and on. is that really the point of an art blog? maybe so, if the point is to catalog it for reference. if however the point is to display art you're interested in for some reason? i'm going to say that's too much. she should have stopped with 'sorry, no.'