If you love higher education, promote pants (apparently)

Ok, I am confused. Fox News has been all over this story, which is supposedly about a “naked or fail” final in a visual arts class.

Where to start? Well, nudity is apparent in about 2500 years of art history, so I kind of get where the idea is going, but it also doesn’t sound like the students are actually required to be naked; it sounds to me like they can just do some sort of “gesture” that expresses eroticism, viz:

The visual arts class at UCSD, according to the professor, involves students acting out a series of gestures the very last one they’re asked to perform, in the syllabus is labelled erotic self.

The professor, Ricardo Dominguez told a news station it’s true- students would have to get naked, in a dark, candlelit room.

“If they are uncomfortable with this gesture, they should not take the class,” Dominguez said.

UCSD’s Department of Visual Arts Chairman, Jordan Crandall released this statement:
“In part, he said “students are aware from the start of the class that it is a requirement and that they can do the gesture in any number of ways without actually having to remove their clothes.”

Can you figure out what the heck is going on? First it says that they have to be nude, then by the end he says that they do not have to remove their clothing.

So somebody’s mommy complained. Oye. As somebody who routinely causes both the mommy brigade and students to grass to administrators in outrage, I have so been there.

But still, it does have the gloss of the very best lazy tropes of the academy, some of which are common cultural currency, others of which are red meat for conservative h8trz of higher education: that proffies are slimey old gits that prey on nubile young co-eds (Donald Sutherland, Animal House), that the arts from Mapplethorpe onward has become little more than porny nonsense, and that universities are bad stewards of young adulthood.

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Nudity is a pretty common in today’s performance art scene, and I grok why the class has this aspect to it, particularly if it is an elective course. This is the sort of thing that I could see a young artist wanting to push himself/herself to do, if they haven’t already. The candlelight strikes me as odd, but perhaps that is done so that the students have light and shadow to work with as well as their bodies. Don’t you want universities putting students at the cutting edge of contemporary art, and if so, we shouldn’t let reactions dampen exploration.

Nonetheless, this sort of thing is the last thing higher ed or arts programs need with conservatives gearing up to dismantle higher education. Sometimes, the costs of something outweigh whatever benefits.