Bare necessities in art and life

February 24, 1995

Clearly, the rot has gone very far: a female academic, Maire Ni Bhrolchain, objects to, and is instrumental in the removal of, paintings from a university "workplace" - ie a conference room - on the grounds that the (male and female) nudes depicted in them "emphasise women's private role as sexual beings thus undermining their dignity at work and their professional status".

The (male) artist protests and many commentators see the censorship as an instance of "political correctness" and prudery. In response, the academic accuses the artist of cynical opportunism, instructs him to "liberate his imagination" by consulting Sally Swains' Great Housewives of Art; denies that she is either politically correct or prudish; and accuses the press of having "concocted a phoney row". What rot.

It might be uncharitable to suggest that any opportunism here was Bhrolchain's own - that it was she who courted notoriety by emulating the female American academic who objected to a reproduction of a Goya nude on display in her workplace. But what is undeniable and unmissable is that Ni Bhrolchain's actions and comments betray philistinism. Quite simply, she does not know what art is. Her apparent immersion in such fatuous exercises in political correctness as John Berger's Ways of Seeing can be seen as mitigating but the obtuse refusal to see anything in a nude figure other than a "celebration of human sexuality" is her own and reveals cultural ignorance and impoverishment.

Michael Daley

UK director

ArtWatch International

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