PBS Art Documentary Sparks Controversy in Dallas Schools

PBS Art Documentary Sparks Controversy in Dallas Schools
A PBS documentary series being offered as a supplement to the middle school and high school art curriculum in the Dallas Independent School District has become a cause for concern, reports the Dallas Morning News. The series, art:21 — Art in the Twenty-First Century, features short biographies of more than 40 contemporary artists with in-depth looks into their various techniques. Some of the more provocative fare showcased, incorporating heavier themes of sex, race, and violence, has been targeted by concerned parents as well as teachers. According to the Morning News, African-American artist Kara Walker’s famed cut-paper silhouettes of explicit images referencing slavery and Sally Manns nude photography of children have been singled out as especially controversial.  

Laura Sohm
, DISD’s secondary visual art coordinator, explained that art teachers were given the choice of using the documentary in a classroom setting. “They’ve been advised to use their own discretion to preview the art before showing it,” she said. The intention of the lessons, according to Sohm, is to expose students to moral issues found in controversial art in order to experiment with “problem-based learning.”

Regardless, some parents are concerned that certain teachers may deem the documentary acceptable while they themselves may not. Many believe that students will research the artists on their own time, only to find a trove of inappropriate fare. Noah Simblist, an assistant professor of painting at Southern Methodist University, dismissed such reasoning, saying that Internet research could unearth unseemly information about any public figure.