Autumn Phillips: Art is no blushing matter

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To whom it may concern: I apologize for my behavior this week.

It started with photographer Jessica Maynard. A month ago, when Rachael Small announced she was going to have an exhibit of 40 sculptures showing the bodies of women in Steamboat, Maynard asked if she could do the photos. At the time, we were excited about the show and the concept.

But by last week, I was doing the small-town, lowest-common-denominator dance, and Jessica was going pale.

I was saying something like, "When you take the photos of her work, can you try for minimal nipples?"

I asked her if she could focus more on the artist than on the art. This is a family paper, after all, and I don't want my readers to have "the big one" (as my grandmother is fond of saying).

"This is kind of ridiculous," she said.

And it was.

For the exhibit, 40 women, many of them pregnant, let their torsos be cast and molded into clay by Small for a two-month exhibit. It took Small six months to complete and involved a lot of risk-taking from a lot of women, but there I was, treating art as pornography.

Maybe I could put little paper doll shirts with little folding white tabs over the busts.

Maybe I could draw thick black censor's lines over the breasts.

Maybe I could be more of an idiot.

I believe the saying, "Self-censorship has outlived the censors," could apply.

Painting, drawing, sculpting the nude human form is Art 101. It's freshman year. It's one of the oldest traditions in art.

Yet, Michelangelo's David still wears a fig leaf in some photographs, and it was the current administration that covered the bare-breasted statue of the Spirit of Justice with a drape in the Great Hall of the White House.

Years ago, I saw a sculpture above the doorway of a Croatian church. Underneath a flowing robe, the body seemed distorted. It looked like Jesus was made of bent piano wire beneath his clothes. It looked like the product of an artist who had never studied the human form, an artist afraid of nudity.

And that's why I am apologizing for how I acted in my interview with Small. It was less a question-and-answer session, less of a conversation, than it was me poking her with a stick through the bars of the cage I put her in.

I wrote down what she said but minimized the references to breasts.

This morning, when I sat down to write the story and save Maynard's photographs, I realized that I had neutered the power of the exhibit by being afraid of reaction to its content.

As I wrote, I wondered why I felt no embarrassment weeks ago when I wrote a Front & Center article about the "Bust of Steamboat" breast cancer fund-raiser that featured breast- and bra-oriented art work. I wondered why it was now -- when I was writing about healthy breasts and the strong torsos of local women -- that I blushed.

Discuss among yourselves.

Sincerely,

Your loving censor, Autumn Phillips

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