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Friday, 12 December 2014


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Mike, I'm getting confused by the stacked posts concerning the display of nudity at the work place. So, I go here. In the "nudity" post, a reader named Ken suggested a NSFW tag on posts containing nudity, because, well, they're not safe for work. There were some objections to this, and even suggestions that his objection was a form of prudery. In a comment, I suggested that he might just be trying to hold onto his job, because what is safe for work is sometimes dependent on the crankiest (even momentary) viewer of your computer screen.

You replied:

"The question isn't whether it's good to protect readers at their work (it is), the question is whether those book covers are actually enough to get anyone into trouble at work, anywhere. I have trouble believing it. Can anyone speak directly to that? A Human Resources director at an actual company, say? --Mike"

I'm obviously not a human resources director, but if you really want to know the extent to which this kind of thing is restricted, here's one fairly thorough source:


This is written by Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who writes a blog called the Volokh Conspiracy at the Washington Post.

Here's a portion of his commentary on the issue, clipped from the link above (The numbers in the text are footnotes from the original blog)"

"Employers are in fact enacting such broad policies, 85 and are indeed suppressing individual incidents of offensive speech. When a Florida city found that "frequent sexual jokes and innuendos among employees [created] a hostile work environment," the city announced "a `zero-tolerance´ policy on sexual humor." 86 Leavenworth, Kansas has enacted a policy that bans all sexual harassment, including even isolated incidents of "[o]ffensive comments, jokes, innuendos, other sexually oriented stateemtns, and displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons, posters, or magazines. 87

When a library employee complained about a coworkers' posting a New Yorker cartoon that used the word "penis" -- with no sexually suggestive connotation at all -- the library ordered that it be taken down. 88 When a professor at Penn State complained that a print of Goya's Naked Maja hanging in a classroom constituted sexual harassment, the school administration removed the painting, citing as one reason the risk of harassment liability. 89 When an employee at Murfreesboro (Tenn.) City Hall complained about a painting depicting a partly naked woman, the City Attorney had it taken down, saying: I feel more comfortable siding with protecting the rights under the Title VII sexual harassment statutes than . . . under the First Amendment. . . . We wouldn't permit that type of drawing or picture to hang in the fire hall. As far as I'm concerned, a naked woman is a naked woman. 90

In both of the last two cases, the paintings probably couldn't have created a hostile environment by themselves...[but]...To prevent liability, the employer has to suppress each individual picture...."

[Snip. To add one more level of complexity, I had to eliminate the rest of the quote, because I feel the quoted material John provided is too long to conform to Fair Use.

And, confusingly still, my response to the substance of the material is: So our corporate overlords and the legal profession have contrived to create exactly the sort of situation which the free speech clause of the First Amendment was designed to prevent. Which makes the situation literally and specifically un-American, although no less unavoidable for being so. The whole issue is regrettable. --Mike]

Things have developed to the point where the threat of possibly being taken to court is a greater danger than many of the things laws are intended to protect us from. It's so expensive to actually fight something through in court that people race to avoid challenge. That can be good or bad, but it certainly distorts the patterns of behavior.

Could a passport photo be art. I think so.

Conversely a piece of art such as oil on canvas could be completed with all of the art associated with knocking in a nail or opening a bottle of milk.

I got my first camera at the age of 10 but I was an artist before I was a photographer. I was drawing and painting and being commissioned to do so before I bought my first serious camera. Not to get all Zen but surely anything could be art, it's the intent and perception that make it so not the view of a critic with a closed mind. IMVHO.

In 1996 If I remember well, traveling through Europe with my wife and a friend couple, (mainly Spain, France and Italy) we went to the Miro museum in Barcelona, and what a surprise, we found there quite a big exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe. There were a tiny fraction of a little bit disturbing images, but most of them were exceptional male nudes and flowers. Although I knew about his work through books and magazines, his original prints really impressed my wife, my friends and me. I remember a couple of large platinum palladium prints of a nude black male that were so beautifully composed and executed that the sexual organs were just irrelevant. My wife and my friends still remember those prints today. He was also a master of flower photography. His flowers have an organic sensuality and a quality that reminds me the paints of Georgia O'Keeffe. The following photograph of a calla lilly was there


I did my own interpretation with a 5 Mpix Olympus E1 of a calla grown by my wife.


During the same trip we visited the Sixtine Chapel and there were plenty of beautifully painted figures of male and female nudes, but probably because they were painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti with the Pope approval, they are allowed and tolerated by the puritans and fundamentalists.

Mike: you can delete the following paragraph if you think is to offensive for some readers.

When my father was 89, he used to play bridge with some friends, all younger than him. The wife of one of them was dying of cancer but he participated in the bridge plays like nothing was happening, and the guy regularly went to church every day. One day my dad asked him "How come that you are not taking care of your wife?" and he replied "because God is taking care of her". When my father told me this story, he added "I rather go to hell with a couple of prostitutes than to heaven with these puritans, I will have a much better time. He was so right.

Yes. The whole issue is very regrettable, but what would be even more regrettable would be some poor soul, confined to a cubicle, who was disciplined or fired as a result of visiting your site on his break.

A NSFW tag is neither a form of censorship, nor is it a tacit acceptance of prudery on your part—it's merely a courtesy to your (unfortunate) readers that find themselves working under what you and I might consider oppressive conditions.

They're only asking for you to cut 'em a break. This way they can pick their own battles. It'll be their choice whether to click or not.

...and yet the "Jonathan Jones's" of the world keep getting responses. Why bother?

Words fail me.....

I always thought sexual harassment was the sort of thing that Jimmy Savile got up to.

Of course if the lawyers tell us otherwise......

Whether by coincidence or not, this site was blocked by British Telecom (my broadband provider) today citing "Parental Contols". I do not have "Parental Contols" activated but after activating and then de-activating them I can now access the page. I am really only posting this to see if any other UK readers have had the same problem.
In this case I don't think it was the NSFW aspect but your links to The Guardian newspaper which probably caused NSA or GCHQ to block the site just to remind us who is in charge ;(

The free speech thing is indeed regrettable. What they achieve is self censorship. So they already won.

Re the photography-is-art thing, i just saw what commenter Richard Brown found: "Interesting that his previous article contradicts this:- http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/jan/10/photography-art-of-our-time
At least be consistent"

I have regrettably been witness to both sexual and racial harassment in the workplace. Only once or twice, but it's not nice, especially when it becomes ingrained in the culture.

Nevertheless, it would seem stupid to ban office romance just because one employee harasses another. If you did, half the Western world's working population would never get married.

Sadly, the law has to step in when the few people who should know better lack any basic respect for other people's rights.

I am against limiting people's personal freedom to express themselves and engage in harmless office banter. Nevertheless, there is a line we walk all the time, and it shifts constantly.

Open racism and sexism in the workplace was rife in the 1970's and on the whole I am glad to see the back of it. However, it may now be more covert, but it never went away entirely. Some people NEED simple rules because they are too dumb to know better.

Where the line is today is something we can all argue about till the cows come home, but a zero tolerance policy is better than no policy at all, and anything else would be almost impossible to draft or police. That is the real issue.

I agree with Mr. Bullard. However his appeal to authority (his own even) adds nothing to the weight of his argument.

Brandishing my MFA here, speaking from authority, because I am rarely given the opportunity, and because why not?

A dozen thoughts about what is or is not art and what is or is not "safe for work"

1. What is or is not art is really tricky. As an exercise try and make something that is not art.

2. If exercise 1 doesn't convince you, try and make "something that is art" and show it and the "thing that is not art" to an artist and see if they can figure out which is which.

3. Zero tolerance policies are stupid beyond belief. You'll end up with pants on pianos and kids getting suspended from school for pointing a banana at someone and saying "bang" or if they are somewhat older than that pointing at someone else's banana and saying "bang?"

4. NSFW depends on where you work.

5. Sometimes attempts to remove sexuality from the workplace backfires completely , it's like putting underwater on a nude statue.

6. The artfulness of work does not derive from your tool but how you use it

7 That's what she said

8. It's all about context.

9. And timing.

10. See number six

11. And now from Gertrude stein's hometown of "there is no there there" Oakland California the other T.O.P. addresses this existential question regarding context. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqxyeS7EVJk&sns=em

12. This is not a list.

Is "Elmer Gantry" a banned book or can people still buy and read it?

Maybe if the artists needs to get their hands dirty, feel textures, use their hands.....they can shoot film and build a darkroom. Feels pretty "artsy".

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