Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Pivotal Moment

There are what I refer to a pivotal moments; moments that change your life to the point where it will never again be the way it was. A marriage, death of a parent, graduation, life is full of pivotal moments. Those are big ones, but there are also small ones that forever stick in our memory.

It was Art Period in Miss Alice Millican's fifth grade class, John G Hardin Elementary School in Burkburnett, Texas—I can still see Miss Millican walking back and forth at the head of the classroom, the Life Magazine curled in her hand. Maybe I don't remember the exact words but I do remember the essence of what she was saying.

Life Magazine had just published a several page essay on Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel and she was about to share the photographs with the class, but felt the necessity to first explain the nude in art in a very elementary way.

Raised in the Baptist Church I do not actually recall ever having seen another person undressed unless it might have been my nephew during a diaper change and I would not even swear to that. It is conceivable that I had never seen a painting, sculpture or photograph of an undressed person (we never said naked, that was taboo, and I had no idea what a nude was.) No, that's wrong, I did go with my brother once when he met his friends out at Rankin Tank for skinny dipping. Having been threatened within an inch of my life if I ever told I am sure that I put that pretty much out of mind.

Miss Millican carefully explained the beauty of the undressed body and how that artists used the undressed body to convey only the very best of human nature. It was something to be admired not cause to be embarrassed or ashamed. Even in today's ultra permissive society I am not sure an fifth grade teacher could get by with that same speech today.

Then she showed us the photographs of Michelangelo's paintings and carefully explained the stories contained in the photographs and, I'm sure, their Biblical connections. I feel pretty certain that I never mentioned to my parents Miss Millican's art lecture. But it was a pivotal point in my thinking about the human body and the beauty of the human body.

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