Several years ago, BYU exhibited “The Hands of Rodin” art exposition. The BYU Administration had a hard time deciding which sculptures they should exhibit. After a long debate they decided to keep crated ‘The Kiss’, ‘Saint John the Baptist Preaching’, ‘The Prodigal Son’, among others sculptures; they said that this pieces did not fit the theme of the exhibition.
Dante in his Canto V of the Inferno tells the story of Francesca and Paolo. They were in Hell because Francesca cheated on her husband Giovanni, with her brother-in-law Paolo. One day Francesca and Paolo kissed while reading Lancelot’s book, after they got intimate they were killed by Giovanni. Francesca firmly blamed “the book, and he who wrote it” for his misfortunes.
Dante exhorts the reader to analyze the influence that art, literature and other media have on us. He emphasizes the question of how choice and accountability influences both parties in the author-reader and artist-audience relationships. This is what I’m going to discuss in this post, and specifically I will try to give some possible arguments that might have been discussed by the BYU Administration Department in the debate regarding The Kiss sculpture display. I want to clarify, beforehand, that I may or may not agree with the arguments given in this post. This is not my personal opinion about this topic.
First of all, Rodin is considered as the progenitor of modern sculpture. This is a big deal considering his significant contribution to art. Even to think of excluding this famous piece of art in an art exhibition is a huge mistake. When talking about an art exhibition all that matters is the art; The kiss should have been exhibit for art’s sake.
President Bateman, president of BYU at the time, said that they had to take into account that this exhibition’s public was larger than the BYU community. They were concerned that these pieces could offend the visitors; however this argument may have been invalid. LDS members all over the world are surrounded by worldly things; they are usually a minority in their communities. I attended schools were I was the only member of the church, and trust me when I say that we are exposed to worse things than this.
The scriptures say that we should study from the best books, however we do not live in a bubble; sooner or later we will face things that will require our good judgment. We need to be prepared to discern good from evil. The gospel principles will protect our lives; however, they cannot keep us from worldly things. Our judgment is to be guided by the gospel principles; LDS members will be exposed to art, literature and other media that will call for their best judgment.
I think that we can’t blame the author of any art work for creating it; it is a shared responsibility. The author is as free as anybody to create as he wants. As an audience we are responsible and accountable of how we use our knowledge in judging a work of art. We should just take the best out of the art and the media that surround us. We should live under the thought that if something inspires us to be closer to God, then it is something worthy to keep, otherwise we should not.
3 thoughts on “BYU debates on displaying The Kiss by Auguste Rodin”
I agree about The Kiss being displayed for art’s sake. I also like what you said about not living in a bubble, and being prepared to use our own judgment. We are responsible for our perception of art such as this, it is not the artist’s responsibility.
It is true that we do not live in a bubble, however I think your argument points to the idea that it is definitely an inappropriate piece. You talk about people being exposed to things that are evil as if the sculpture is bad and anyone with morals would condemn it. This is not true. This sculpture is not like a porn website that is made specifically to arouse inappropriate feelings. It has value that can lead to reflection on culture and even on morals.
I think the question at hand is where do we draw the line between what should be considered art and what should be deemed inappropriate. We need to make sure children and other people understand the difference so we can appreciate art and the culture that it brings.