“Erotic Self” Art Final Requires “Nudity,” Mom Displeased

Photo by UCSD Guardian
Photo by UCSD Guardian

The mother of an anonymous UCSD student enrolled in “VIS 104A: Performing the Self” made statewide headlines last weekend when she claimed her daughter risked failing the class if she did not perform her final exam while nude, as per Associate Professor Ricardo Dominguez’s syllabus. The Editorial Board understands the sensitivity and caution one must exercise with public displays of nudity, as we all have unique comfort levels. However, we fail to see any evidence to suggest that Dominguez’s assignments are particularly inappropriate or unexpected. This is due to the unique artistic nature of the class, as well as the professor’s upfront communication about the course’s requirements throughout the quarter.

At a glance, the course syllabus offers little in the way of concrete information. The final assignment simply says, “Create a gesture that traces, outlines or speaks about your ‘erotic self(s).’” According to students and Dominguez himself, though, this means performing “gestures” while naked in a candlelit room, along with the other classmates and the professor, who are similarly nude. The Editorial Board would have agreed with the unnamed mother that making the final assignment mandatory was completely inappropriate and borderline illegal, if not for several mitigating factors.

The class itself is not required for graduation for visual arts majors, or any students, for that matter. Furthermore, multiple students have confirmed that the final nudity requirement was repeatedly made clear from day one, with several of them dropping the class outright as soon as they learned of it. One interesting note is that in the 11 years that Dominguez has taught VIS 104A, he claims to have had zero complaints. Although the Editorial Board could not confirm the validity of that statement by press time, it certainly speaks to the mindset of those who choose to continue with the course.

The visual arts field often depicts the human body and nudity as a part of artistic license. If carefully fostered in a safe, mature environment, we see no reason why the VIS 104A final should be judged any differently. It may not be a comfortable situation for some individuals, but as far as we can tell, there’s no reason to suspect this optional elective is a “perversion” or “shame.” Indeed, many past and present students of the class have defended the assignment’s merits.

The visual arts department has undoubtedly reviewed and affirmed the class syllabus and further adds that the final can be creatively interpreted, stating: “There are many ways to perform nudity or nakedness, summoning art history conventions of the nude or laying bare of one’s traumatic or most fragile and vulnerable self. One can be nude while being covered.” Dominguez’s VIS 2 syllabus from last quarter also had a “naked” assignment but stressed that one did not have to be nude, since “one can be over-dressed and still completely naked and raw.” Perhaps the students would have benefited if the professor had included this clause in the syllabus for VIS 104A, but, in all fairness, that was his choice.

In the absence of any damning evidence, the Editorial Board cannot condemn Professor Dominguez for his actions thus far. He has the freedom to dictate his class, and students have the choice to enroll in it or drop it — nobody is forcing them to take the course. We are all capable adults here at UCSD. In the proper environment, nudity has tangible artistic value, and these upper-division assignments, while admittedly controversial, force us to confront our insecurities while encouraging greater self-expression. To put it bluntly then, if you’re uncomfortable with nakedness, you shouldn’t take the course.

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