A Note on Art, Beauty, and Classical Depiction of the Human Form for OCA Scholars and their Families
By Dr. Dan Sturdevant
Hello Optima Classical Academy Families,
I hope you are well and enjoying the start of the school year. We are so grateful to be off on this great adventure together, and we value your partnership in your scholar’s education! As you know, one of our core purposes at OCA is to introduce our scholars to the good, the true, and the beautiful in the world around them, and to help them to trace and understand their historical and cultural roots throughout the western intellectual tradition. In that effort, we take great pride in creating opportunities for our scholars to encounter great works of art, stories of great artists, and to help them develop an understanding of schools or approaches to art in painting, sculpture, architecture, and even photography in our modern era.
Throughout the history of western civilization, peoples and societies have looked to art as one of their measurements of beauty, perfection, and for an ideal of nature, the human form, or other objects. In ancient Greece, Rome, medieval and Renaissance Europe, and even in some modern schools of art, there has been a particular focus on the ideal human form depicted in sculpture, mosaics, paintings, and sketches, even leading to the use of the “golden ratio” when determining proportions and scale of subjects. Often, when these ideal forms were created, they were depicted in the nude, or various states of undress.
We know that social and moral norms have evolved over the centuries, and we have strict policies relating to digital images including nudity being viewed or shared on school platforms. However, we do make a distinction when it comes to viewing and analyzing images of classical art in various forms. Understanding the role art plays in representing the ideals, histories, literary and cultural traditions of large groups throughout western history is essential for our scholars to build their understanding and appreciation for the beauty inherent in the western intellectual tradition.
As for our part in maintaining the decorum of an academic study of art, we will not share any photography highlighting the human form, nor will we offer any works of a gratuitous nature (sexual, violent, or otherwise) for our scholars to engage. There will be times that we ask for scholars to search for works by a certain artist, and we strongly recommend that you ensure the “safe search” settings on your scholar’s internet browser are set to “strict” for the filtering tolerance of offensive images. That said, we will never intentionally ask scholars to search for any works of art or artists that we know will lead to inappropriate or offensive images.
Finally, we would encourage you to have a conversation with your scholar(s) about the purpose of the works of art they are studying, to have them tell you why those works are important, beautiful, influential etc. and to help them understand that these works are not gratuitous or disrespectful of their subjects or of their dignity. It is always helpful for parents to help frame the conversation around the cultural dissonance between classical art and modern depictions of nudity or the modern understanding of indecency and/or modesty. As I mentioned at the beginning, we value your partnership in your scholar’s education, and we know that with your help, we will graduate excellent artists, and scholars who have learned through a study of classical art to appreciate the beauty all around them, and to understand how it developed, and why.
Thank you for reading, and as always, please reach out with any questions you have!
All my best,