To the Editor

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To the Editor

From Peter Plagens

Published before 2005


To the Editor:

In all the 14 years I was the art critic for Newsweek magazine and, before that, 20-plus years as a college art professor, I never encountered anything quite as idiotic as the suspension of Middletown High School Art teacher Peter Panse for encouraging students to take life drawing classes in New York City. Given school board President Crescenzo's preposterous equation of 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds attending such classes with "abuse of our children," it's hard to know where to begin refuting the board's troglodyte reasoning. But, for starters:

  • The nude figure is central to the grand tradition of Western art, from Michelangelo to Picasso and beyond; experience in drawing the nude figure is essential for practically any serious student.
  • The inclusion of competent, sensitive drawings of the nude figure in a high school student's admission application portfolio to a college art department or an art school is a huge plus, especially in getting scholarships.
  • I myself attended Saturday life drawing classes at an even younger age than fourteen, and continued to take them right into graduate school, with no apparent damage to my psyche other than my eventually becoming an abstract painter.
  • A life drawing class is probably one of the least eroticized and most wholesome environments in modern life, including the cineplex, the mall and, yes, the hallways of a large public high school.
  • If the school board wants to be consistent in its philistinism - and in its de facto punishment of ambitious students at Middletown High School - there are any number of museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, within reach of Middletown high School students that the board might want to place off-limits. And, come to think of it, several artists (e.g., Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli, Rubens, Rembrandt) it might want to prevent its students from studying.
The school board owes Mr. Panse not only immediate reinstatement, but a public apology.

        Yours truly,
        --- Peter Plagens
            Callicoon Center, NY