Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
The Naked and the Darned
[p.22] Back when I was at BYU (around 1982), there was a letter to the Daily Universe editor that went something like this: “I am appalled. When I went to the Wilkinson Center to buy a year’s supply of candy and chocolate at the candy shop, I happened to innocently wander into the gallery across the hallway to be affronted by pernicious obscenities! To my shock and horror, 1 found that administrators at the BYU had allowed a perverted art student to display detailed drawings of frontal nudity in the Wilkinson Center gallery!” Okay, so my reconstruction of the letter isn’t entirely accurate; it was actually ten times as bad as that. The only problem was, much to my personal dismay, I had to agree with the writer of the letter. I too had seen the pictures and was equally offended: they were easily the most obscene things I had ever seen in my entire life. All of the nudes were grossly obese. Now before anyone [p.23] gets mad at me, let me explain that I personally am not in great physical shape myself, so I’m not picking on fat people. In fact, my wife asks that I not appear naked coming out of the shower in front of our boys since I might scare them.
Back to the BYU incident. The next day, true to the principle of unintended consequences, the Daily Universe ran a lengthy article about the incident, and, in one of the most satisfying episodes of irony I ever experienced at BYU, the Daily Universe ran large photos of each picture.
Before getting worked up over this topic, let’s first explore an ignored tradition of nudity in LDS church art. It is not a strong tradition. Not including Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham, there is only one example of nudity in church-sanctioned art: semi-topless Lady Liberty in half her splendor appears on the masthead of the LDS Nauvoo newspaper, The Nauvoo Neighbor.
Nakedness is treated in the scriptures, of course. Adam and Eve were naked without shame before the Fall. Of all God’s creations, only humans feel the need to cover their nakedness. The Hebrews considered nudity shameful, as illustrated by David’s emissaries being humiliated by foreign powers who sent them back home with their beards shaven and their outer clothing cropped to show their buttocks (2 Sam. 10:4). That trip [p.24] back to Jerusalem was no doubt a pain in the—well, you know. There’s also the puzzling episode in which Isaiah goes naked for three years as a sign (Isa. 20:2-3). Of course, some commentators interpret this to mean he only went around without his shirt on, and maybe that is what happened (if you think that’s unusual, just read what Ezekiel does in his book). The only other prophet I know who went shirtless from time to time was President John Taylor when he was working in the backyard (as reported in Sam Taylor’s The Last Pioneer: John Taylor, a Mormon Prophet).
Hmmm. I imagine if Mormons had a monthly meeting in which everyone over thirty-five had to attend naked, it would actually curb sexual sins since most people would lose their appetite. It would also be an interesting foil to other monthly meetings: “I would like to stand and bare my … ”