Dennis Craig Smith
Imagine, if you will, that you are a fly sitting high on the wall of a three-sided wing of a metropolitan art museum. This room has been set aside for a single life-sized sculpture of a male nude upon a pedestal, around which a group of older school children, their teacher and a few random adults are gathered in a hushed and admiring circle, together with the museum lecturer, who is holding forth on the various merits of the piece in question. At times, some of the onlookers slowly circle the statue to find a slightly different perspective.Now look to the outside, beyond the large, frosted window panes. It is a hot day, and on the broad sidewalk running past the museum, a man strides determinedly ahead, his eyes focused on the front. Except for his sandals, this gent is completely naked. There is a bit of amused heckling from some onlookers across the avenue, in front of a barbershop, but our pedestrian ignores the catcalls.Suddenly a police car pulls up. Two burly officers in blue shirts and shorts emerge and belligerently confront the walker. After a brief exchange of worlds, the officers hustle the naked man into the back seat of the squad car, covering him rather perfunctorily with a blanket. They pull out and take their prisoner a half dozen blocks to the area police station, where he is booked for “indecent exposure” and incarcerated until his family can arrive with a bail bondsman.An imaginary scenario, this could easily have been a real one. It illustrates the screeching cacophony stemming from our schizophrenic attitudes towards nude “art” versus the sight of the real thing–a living, breathing, naked human being.If you can hold two opposing views in your head, some might call you a philosopher. Others might call you a fool.Dennis Craig Smith, author of The Naked Child; Growing Up Without Shame, explores this global conundrum, examining the origin, nature and puzzling prevalence of these opposite attitudes towards nudity in historical and contemporary societies.