David and the War on Art

Gabrielle London

In the Accademia Gallery in Florence there stands a statue, grand and imposing as it looms over a hall dedicated specifically to it. Thousands of people pass through day-by-day to absorb the spectacle, yet still it seems to cast a silencing chill across the room. The towering 17 foot man of solid marble is none other than David, Michelangelo’s masterpiece and perhaps the most famous sculpture in the world. Yet in the past week, it has also become the root of a severe and unjust controversy within the US education system. It has set aflame the longstanding war on art, another victim of inappropriately employed censorship intended to stifle open mindedness and demonize sexuality.

In Tallahassee, Florida, Hope Carasquilla, principal of the publicly-funded Tallahassee Classical School, was forced to resign from her position as a result of including so-called “pornographic” images in the school’s Renaissance art curriculum. Some parents of students who attended the school were outraged at the lack of warning; although, the content of the curriculum was perfectly harmless, and in fact, provided a more well-rounded education than many traditional schools. The specific lesson which led to her termination included David as an example of the iconic Renaissance movement which reinvented and brought life to contemporary art, alongside other revolutionary pieces including The Birth of Venus and Creation of Adam. This ire on the side of the parents of students who were present for the lesson is both repugnant and malicious, and is exemplary of the absurdity of Florida’s political climate. This is an attack, and it impacts not only the well-being and cultural development of American children, but also the very idea of freedom of expression. When parents choose to shelter their children from art and history because it disagrees with their values, they are setting their children up for close-minded development and ignorance. Art and history are facts, and they should not be treated with hostile judgment in a biased light. Parents may choose to become a hindrance to their child’s educational and cultural understandings, but they should not expect such personal values of censorship to also be imposed on the whole of society, especially in schools where other children are being taught. Schools are and have always been designed to be a medium of exchange, of stimulating the mind and creating healthy environments for children to learn. In teaching this lesson with the inclusion of the full, uncensored David, Principal Carasquilla was an advocate in upholding the true values of education and had the best interests of the students in mind. It seems to me that her intention was clear: she wanted to teach the impactful history and necessity of classical art, and how artistic ambition shaped philosophy and social development in the world.

It is also worthy of mention that such political extremities from the Florida government can lead to the very type of totalitarian or dictatorial states which far-right conservatives scorn with every ounce of passion for the “American Way.” Parents are growing far more confident in their views, which can be described simply as certifiably insane, and this falsified sense of justification is bleeding into the education system. Sixth grade children, many of whom have likely seen worse than the marble genitals of world-renowned statues, are being treated by their parents as victims. The very fact that a small group of parents who are entirely blinded by unending dedication to extremist conservatism can push a school board to ask a teacher to be either fired or to resign is wrong. Schools should not fear the parents of the students who they teach, especially when the issue of interest is not the fault of the educators. When the State of Florida is allowing the total dominance of biased right-wing views to become ubiquitous in its lawmaking and its educational system, it gives credence to crazy. These developments are not at all dissimilar from other dictatorial regimes in history, making the power that these individuals hold terrifying, and further highlighting the necessity of change.

This occurrence is also not the first instance of improper use of censorship for the purpose of perpetuating harmful ignorance. It is just one battle in the unending war which has persevered for decades. In many places in the US and other countries in the world, impactful books have been banned for similar reasons that are just as absurd as the attack on David. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has been infamously restricted in a variety of US states in recent decades because of its abrupt and honest discussions about sexuality and human development in teenagers. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been challenged time and time again in the Southern US and Canada, its candid depictions of the country’s racist history proving too uncomfortable for people to handle. Even Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front have faced frequent and aggressive backlash, simply because people didn’t want to think about the ugly truth of the WWII era. Many other novels which have grown globally famous for their iconic writing and gut-wrenchingly real depictions of the times in which humanity has faltered have experienced a similar fate. Trying to stifle literature or art for these reasons is incredibly detrimental, and is an act of violence which is constantly underrated. The only effect that such an action achieves is the upbringing of generations who do not understand the weight of their words, and who do not have an appreciation for the deep-rooted history of our nation and the world we live in, which is polluted with the hateful eras of our predecessors. Understanding the less-than-favorable movements in history is necessary in order to truly surmount them and to grow as a society. Today’s children do not deserve to be shielded from these truths simply because adults are uncomfortable and want to remain ignorant. Discomfort is part of growth just as suffering is essential to happiness and it cannot be avoided when the education of future generations is at stake.

Hope Carasquilla was not in the wrong when she showed the full image of David in the nude during her Art History lesson. She was not in the wrong to show the naked Venus or Adam, and her choice in doing so is one which should be respected and thanked. These artworks are not pornographic works which seek to infect children with sexual misdirection at a young age; rather, they are honorable and iconic pieces of history, depictions of man and his interaction with the religious themes which were celebrated and prominent during the Renaissance and many other artistic periods. They, like those aforementioned books which were challenged constantly, need to be talked about. They demand the attention of modern humanity to be understood and interpreted, to be placed in a context which sheds light on the peaks and valleys of history–whether it’s concerning religion, morality, politics, war, sex, race, or simple human development. They are necessary, and they cannot be cast away at the hands of parents who believe it is better for their children to remain shrouded in ignorance than to become independent, free-thinking individuals. 

This idea of trying to hide the hard truths in favor of sheltering is leading to intense control issues and developing power complexes. In history, such origins have led to the very political states we share disdain for to this day, such as Hitler’s Germany or the North Korean dictatorship. When parents become emboldened by state governments whose extremist right-wing ideas seek to crush individual rights, true education suffers. These actions are hurting the teachers who hold in high regard the following words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana). We, as the successors of history and the shoulders who carry the modern world, must consider what we have and treat it maturely with the knowledge we have gained from the past.


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