I’m a relative newcomer to the social networking site, Pinterest. My first impression of the service was that it was mainly used by people as a kind of visual “wish list” of things they’d seen on the internet. It was not until I began to observe what artists were doing with Pinterest that I realized it’s great potential for handily building image databases for art. Jumping in, I quickly built catalogs of art, enjoying the ease with which I could “pin” exemplary paintings and drawings off the internet and sort them into various albums by technique, theme, or medium for the benefit of my students. One of the drawings I posted was this favorite nude graphite study by the contemporary Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia.
Imagine my shock when I shortly received this notice from Pinterest:
Despite the wording which seems to distinguish between art that might be “educational,” or “like you might see in a museum or classroom,” apparently no one from “The Pinterest Team” bothered to look into the matter. In fact, the drawing in question has widely circulated in art museums all over the world, and it is a regular visitor in thousands of art classrooms internationally, mine included, because it is, quite simply, a great masterpiece of figure drawing. There is nothing “sexually explicit” about it. Compared to the frankly erotic drawings of Egon Schiele or Auguste Rodin on Pinterest, the frank objectivity of Antonio Lopez’ drawing is tame indeed. My feeling is that some prudish and ignorant viewer thought it was a photograph and complained. Pinterest, afraid of offending its viewers, has only revealed its ignorance by removing it without the slightest research.
This blatant censorship reminded me of the struggles of American artists in the late 19th century to work from and show nude studies in a society in which nudity was considered immoral. Aside from a few Popes demanding fig leaves to cover the genitalia of sculpted nudes, Europe has rarely been as conflicted about the nude human body as have Americans. In the 17th century, Europe disgorged the Puritans who found the New World an appropriate blank canvas for imposing their curious notions of morality on a society. To the present day they continue to dog the American consciousness with their peculiar equation of nudity with sinfulness.
A particular incident in the history of American art makes a poignant example of how deeply this perverse view has insinuated itself into a particular faction of American culture which seems uniquely incapable of recognizing the difference between fine art and the exploitations of pornography. In our art schools of the late 19th century, female models were commonly required to wear a veil to protect their “modesty.” Were the model’s identity to be revealed, she would ostensibly be ostracized for the moral outrage of exposing her body to strangers. Thomas Eakins, a celebrated teacher of anatomy and figure drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia, finding the veil a hindrance to his students’ understanding of the anatomical connection of the head and neck to the shoulders, scandalously defied the requirement and removed it from the model. For this simple act he was fired by the directors and trustees of the Academy.
Ironically, to our modern eyes, Eakins beautiful drawing of the veiled model would actually seem to have more in common with certain kinds of contemporary pornography than she would without the veil. I’ve written to Pinterest, as has another artist from whose site the drawing was removed. I hope to re-post this image to my Pinterest albums at some point. Until then, hat’s off to Pinterest’s rivals in the social networking sphere, Facebook and Tumblr, for not removing this beautiful work of art. “The Pinterest Team” needs to carefully weigh the damage that their ignorant censorship of great art will do to their reputation among artists who increasingly use Pinterest as a teaching vehicle. A simple solution would be for Pinterest to adopt the practice of Tumblr, which allows posters to restrict albums that certain viewers might find troublesome. Or, even simpler, how about just doing a simple Google Image Search when someone complains, Pinterest Team!?