To Censor or Not To Censor…

Censored Book Images

Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to order books and videos for my art room.  I was so excited to be able to further enhance and integrate my lessons with these awesome tools.  I love integrating stories and art.  But, I had one predicament…sometimes art depicts naked people!  Oh the humanity!  I delayed the introduction of these materials until I could look through them.  Responsible, right?

Some art contains the naked human form. That is how it has always been, and that is how it will always more than likely be.  As art educators, I know it’s our job to inform and educate our young artists, but where do we draw the line?  While I take steps to prevent any unnecessary potential for controversy, I briefly acknowledge when nude or naked art presents itself.  When this happens, I briefly discuss with my students that some view the human body as art, and so those artists choose to depict the human body in their artwork. It is what it is, and the mature and respectful thing to do is to acknowledge it and move on.

I am usually of the philosophy “better safe, than sorry” (and still am), but after reviewing some videos and taking a couple weekends to familiarize myself with the stories and scour the pages of these new, informative, relevant, and fantastic books, cutting out perfectly sized, one-of-a-kind undies and tops was getting to feel a tiny bit tedious.  I ended up switching to just plain rectangles.  I did indeed provide layers for all of those images that looked a little “cold” before they entered the art room library, and will continue to review all materials as best I can before introducing them.  But, I still wonder: Is there a right or wrong answer to this, or are there just too many variables to consider?

What is your stance on art room censorship? 

What do your discussions with your students look and sound like about this topic?

At what age, if any, is it appropriate to share nude art? 



Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek

Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Jorena

    I guess I pseudo censor. I don’t hang any nudity up in my classroom. I usually only use that type of art with my 6th and 5th graders. We have a discussion beforehand. It’s usually an electronic media display so it’s gone when we’re done.

  • Laura

    I will photocopy the image, then paint on little bathing suits or undies using white out, and re photo copy, if I really want to show the artwork. It’s hard, because the censoring causes giggles as well, but it’s not going to get you fired, like the actual naked pictures…and you have to factor in how important the students seeing that piece is, instead of another one.

  • Merry Anderson

    I have been teaching art at the elementary level for 43 years. I teach in a very
    academic community, with a great liberal arts college at its core. I have always shown artwork without censoring. My students visit our three local art museums frequently, and many have travelled internationally. I have never had any mention of what we share in our art classroom, and have only been thanked for creating a rich art history program , with weekly discussions of art and artists.
    If any child giggles, I remind them of what they see every time they visit a museum.
    I encourage them to accept that artists have always celebrated the beauty
    of the human body.

  • Linda Knoll

    Maybe I haven’t been at this quite long enough, but it seems extremely prudish and disrespectful to to artist to cover up nudity. If you’re going to have it, explain it and show it the respect it deserves.

  • Amy Gale

    I remember worrying about this when I first starting teaching art. I had great art anthologies that I wanted students to be able to use, but many of them include nudes. I teach preschool through 8th grade in a public school, so my classroom/art library needs to work for all ages. There is too much great artwork in the anthologies and they are such wonderful tools for reference and inspiration, so I decided to include these books in my classroom. I teach students that many artists think the human body is a work of art, that they should look at it as they would any other artwork. I also tell them that if it’s too much for them, too uncomfortable, or they just don’t like it, they should turn the page. Occasionally, there will be some uncontrollable giggling and I have to step in to re-direct, but other than that, there haven’t been any issues.

  • Jenette Noe

    Thank you for taking on this topic. I’m trying to decide myself how I want to approach the topic of censorship. I live in a very conservative community, and I like to err on the safe side, but I also think that there are too many important pieces of art featuring nudes to ignore or censor them all.

  • I teach K-5 I live in an area where students are extremely sheltered. We were not allowed to discuss the school shooting last year, and if students asked about it we were told to tell them to talk to their parents about it. I do not show students nude forms, I use other examples to teach the curriculum. Some of my students have NEVER seen the other gender’s private areas. They often get nervous when they draw an animal and add nipples!! I had a kid ask me if he was in trouble because he put nipples on his monkey, and I could not hold my laughter. I feel that it is not my place to introduce elementary students to the naked body if their parents haven’t, but I do show them many other forms of art, just not nudes. I feel that nudes are not the end-all-be-all to build art appreciation, it’s just one facet that can be explored in older grades. When I do lessons about artists who use nudes [like Gustav Klimt], I just use tons of their other work minus the nudes. As long as I’m covering the curriculum and exposing the kids to tons of artists and styles, I feel that I’m doing what’s important to me. [I don’t show it and censor it though…which I guess is the point haha, I just don’t show it.]

    • BT

      I use the same method in my class. There are just too many opportunities for parents to complain and make your life miserable. There are so many art examples that I am able to skirt the issue. I just don’t want to deal with it. Let the parents talk to their kids at museums when the subject comes up. I do teach k-5. They are babies.

  • Alecia Eggers

    It’s so amazing to see the spectrum of responses, thank you for contributing to this conversation!

  • Angie

    I teach K-9 in a conservative school and have a set curriculum that the parents are fully aware of. In 2nd grade we look at The Discs Thrower, but I show a picture that is not taken from the front. The statue does not faze the kids because they have already learned in social studies that the first Olympians participated nude. In fifth grade we look at The Vitruvian Man, The David, Birth of Venus, and the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel. Before looking at the first nude we discuss how the idea of naked makes us feel uncomfortable, then talk about how the nude has been used through history. I’ve only had one parent ask me to cover the nudes because his/her child was uncomfortable and my answer was no, but offered to send the student out of the room when we discussed the works in the future. The parent ultimately choose to have the student participate in the discussions. I refuse the censor nudes because I feel it turns it into something dirty or wrong.

  • Laurel

    I am not a strong believer in censorship, however, I do believe that there is a time and age for it. Let’s face it, some children just are not mature enough for some topics. Nudity is one thing, violence is another. I found a huge amount of “be headings” for example for religious art with John the Baptist. I wrote to the creators of the Art Authority App and asked for a more appropriate option for children. Guess what. They listened and cropped famous works of art, eliminated others, and really gave us an option. You can still see the full works on their reg. app if you like. Cropping is a great tool as well as those little black rectangles.

  • Emily Valenza

    I have never censored the artwork I share with students (k-8th). All of my students have visited art museums and have seen nudes in that context. Strangely, I’ve never had a parent even broach the topic.

  • John P. Gullick

    Just be age appropriate to be safe. Consider the general maturity level in you classes. In regular public school or parochial school use work of artists that do not display nudes in younger grades. High school should not be a problem. Middle school may be okay for some nude works, however, there is still plenty of art by almost any artist that is not nudity. If your school ranges from elementary to middle school err on the side of caution. If you can’t show the nude works without fake panties or big black squares, then find a different piece of artwork rather than defacing the artist’s work. It shows you are embarrassed to show them and incapable of handling the giggling or blow-back from parents/administration. Hope this helps.

  • Jamey B

    There are too many nuances to nudity for parents, educators, and students to reduce this question to basically “Do you censor the artwork?”. Since nudity has different purposes for different people, you can’t just declare to 5-11 year olds “(I) offered to send the student out of the room when we discussed the works in the future” because of choosing a rigid stance on showing nudity. What values are you embuing? “You either look at nakedness or you don’t get to look at the work of art.” Isn’t it more important that the student be involved in the observation and critique? If you place “Speedos” on David, is it any less of a masterpiece? “NO! I MUUUST SEE HIS GENITALS TO APPRECIATE HIS SCULPTURAL MASTERY!” Sure, the children (most of them) know what is under there. The laughter of the undies even being there helps to indicate that the students are engaged, probably even moreso at that point.
    As I mentioned earlier, nudity serves a number of purposes, and it may not be beneficial to all of those students to have an educator make that choice for them. A young psychology is a fertile and fragile one. If we address WHY the masters chose to paint nudes, it equally serves the purpose of opening that critical conversation. I often give an Incredible Hulk illustration, that if he was covered in saggy, bulky sweatpants and a hoodie, you might think there was flab there. Shirtless Hulk shows us the cool muscles that make him up. Clothing, to the artists, might just get in the way of seeing what people truly look like.

    Censorship like this isn’t about keeping angry parents quiet… it’s about discussing the topic for what it’s worth instead of just growing another numb generation that just accepts is as, “Oh, it’s art, that’s just what artists do. Paint/sculpt naked people.”

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  • malcolmboura

    The research evidence is crystal clear. There is no evidence that nudity causes harm to children of any age. Conversely there is very strong evidence that the attitudes encouraged by prudery result in widespread and all too often serious harm. Ever wondered why the teenage pregnancy rate in the least prudish western countries is one tenth that of the most prudish? For indicators such as age at first intercourse, teenage abortion, promiscuity, and sexually transmitted infections the picture is similar. Near perfect correlations, well understood causal links, and enormous effects. I recognise that parental/societal prejudice, there is no other suitable word given the appalling effects, can be a problem but that is what it is and it must be tackled as such. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.
    Violence I know a lot less about. I suspect that it may be a cause for concern but I would be cautious about censoring it without first looking at the evidence.

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