Virginia newspaper takes courageous stand against art, freedom of speech

Pax Arcana

Whenever people ask my thoughts on the current crisis in newspapers, I offer the following anecdote:

I was once told to cut a reference to eBay from one of my stories, because the paper did not want to “call attention” to the Internet. This was in 2006.

In related news, Romenesko* today links to a story in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot about the bizarre tale of Beth Reid — a 17-year-old high school student and artist.

Reid recently entered an art contest sponsored by the paper and was awarded 1st place for her self-portrait. The judge who awarded her the honor was Aaron De Groft, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary.

But the paper’s marketing director nixed the honor because Reid was nude in her self-portrait — despite the fact that she is crouching and none of the goodies are showing. So they judged again and a second judge awarded first prize to a student who sculpted a nude torso of a pregnant woman. Again, rejected.

Here’s how the newspaper executive in charge explains herself:

“We honestly don’t believe those two pieces are appropriate to be held up as the winners of a high school art show, because they do depict the nude,” Pam Smith-Rodden, director of marketing for The Pilot, said at the time. The marketing department runs the Student Gallery. Two Pilot employees, one from the marketing department and one from advertising, were selected to conduct a third judging, from which a winner was chosen and announced Tuesday.

I think Pam Smith-Rodden is a hero who should be given a medal. It’s not really nudity that’s so offensive, but thinking about nudity. And nothing makes me think about nude girls more than seeing them not-nude. Or nude but with the good stuff covered up. Or with clothes on.

Furthermore, nudity has no place in the art world. Art is about paintings of lighthouses and dogs. And NASCAR legends.

Da Vinci meets Jim Neighbors meets exhaust fumes

Some art is just swirly lines and geometric shapes. That art is weird and I don’t understand it, but at least there’s no naked people.

Reid disagrees:

“My work is on display at the Chrysler, but they could not suffer me to receive a ribbon,” Beth said. “I think it seems ludicrous.”

“And, of course, there’s naked men on the front porch,” said Beth, referring to a monumental statue of torch bearers at the museum’s main entrance.

Look, young lady. You have a very active imagination, and that’s good! But take it from us media professionals — there is no Internet and there is no nudity. Neither thing exists, because if they did, advertising might suffer.

Art lovers raise money for teen who lost Student Gallery title [Virginian-Pilot]

* For those unaware of the Web-surfing habits of journalism nerds the world over, Jim Romenesko’s blog at the Poynter Institute Web site is like a gossip site for buttoned-up old media types. If you are truly interested in what makes journalists tick (short answer: Equal parts anger, nostalgia, and self-aggrandizement disguised as self-deprecation), you would do well to read it often.



Filed under art, media

3 responses to “Virginia newspaper takes courageous stand against art, freedom of speech

  1. Colin

    I hope nobody ever gets the idea to put nudity on the Internet.

  2. Pingback: Teen’s nude loses art award to hypocrisy « Jennie’s Palette

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