Bare necessities in art and life

February 24, 1995

While I have no wish to extend the saga of Southampton University's Naughty Pictures beyond its natural life, there are two or three points made by Ms Ni Bhrolchain in last week's THES ("Why No Nudes is Good News") that are worthy of comment.

First, the references to female nudes may have led your readers to imagine that the works of art under discussion were the oil-painting equivalent of a centre-fold spread. Hardly. Larry Wakefield is an interesting artist, but I fear he will never be asked to do the graphics for Penthouse.

Indeed, a number of my colleagues and students were unaware of the subject matter of the notorious pictures until Ms Ni Bhrolchain kindly drew it to their attention.

Second, the way in which democratic legitimacy is claimed for this act of censorship may be technically correct in that the faculty board which was ultimately responsible is a body of all the faculty but, as your readers will, I am sure, appreciate, the reality does not always fit the text book. The majority of the faculty - including me - are certainly guilty of not fighting the censors with sufficient vigour but there is no evidence that we agreed with them.

On the contrary, this is a classic example of the "culture of complaint" in which exaggerated concern is granted to the offence taken by a small group, largely because the silent majority are otherwise engaged going about their lawful business.

Finally, the attacks on Larry Wakefield should not go unanswered. He is accused of cynical self-promotion, and playing the outraged artist. I have never met Mr Wakefield, but I find it difficult to believe that any artist could be other than "outraged" to be told that serious works of art which he lent to an institution at their request and which had hung without adverse comment for more than a decade were now deemed "inappropriate" and to be returned under brown-paper covers.

His real offence in the eyes of his critics has been in not allowing this act of censorship to pass unnoticed, and for this he deserves the gratitude of anyone who cares about freedom of speech and expression.

Chris Brown

Professor of Politics

University of Southampton

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