One seemingly average morning, earlier this May, I entered my Advanced Placement Art history classroom at San Clemente High School to discover my favorite teacher had been suspended for showing the class a film called The Artist is Present. As I was researching additional information on his suspension, I came upon recently published article on OC Weekly’s webpage that concerned my art history teacher, Roderick Urquidi. It revealed to the public that Urquidi had shown an “inappropriate” film during class that showcased nudity of the human body in various ways, and that certain parents had been appalled that they had not been asked to sign a permission slip to allow their teenage kids to watch the film in class. I write today to share my experience as a student of Urquidi’s for the last two years, not to deny any accusations against him, but to give another perspective.
I was enrolled in Mr. Urquidi’s World History class last year as well as his AP art history class this year, my junior year of high school. English was always my favorite subject in school until sophomore year, but Mr. Urquidi changed that. Mr. U opened up a world that I had never knew about. He taught me about cultures all over the world, he taught me about the gray areas in life, he taught me to care about our environment and preserving the earth, he taught me about the prejudice and hierarchy that has haunted the history of humans, but also about the beauty and wonder we create in art and our capacity for compassion and love towards each other. He showed me that art can change the world and has inspired me, as a songwriter, to write about what I really care about, in hope that one day I can influence people, as several artists he introduced me to did—Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Cab Calloway, Anoushka Shankar, Vik Muniz (artist from the film Wasteland, who took on the challenge to make beautiful art out of the trash from the world’s largest landfill in Brazil,) the makers of Food Inc. (it converted me to a vegetarian diet,) and Marina Abromovic, the artist from “The Artist is Present,” among so many others.
From Hellenistic Greek to Italian Renaissance to Modern art, we have seen nudity in art as a class all year—because seriously, let’s face it—nudity is a part of art. AP art history is an elective class, therefore it was a choice made by each student to take this class, and I assume AP students would be prepared enough to expect that there might be nudity. Art is full of controversial messages and themes, and diving into the subject of art history takes some open-mindedness from students and perhaps parents too. Despite the criticism Mr. Urquidi has received for showing The Artist is Present which included nudity, to our class, I was personally inspired by it. It was not a movie about nudity, it was not meant to be “inappropriate” or “provocative.” It was about humanity, passion, crossing-boundaries, all the things that art is—Marina Abromovic, the performance artist featured in the film, used art as a way to connect with her audience through being honest and true to herself. I felt I could connect with her through this film because she had compassion and an understanding and love for all humanity that was astounding. Her art brought tears to my eyes several times throughout the film.
Now each morning that I walk into class, the excitement of learning is no longer there. His collection of Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Nick Drake album covers remain posted on the wall, his library of philosophical and political books remain stacked on his bookshelf, and various trinkets—an aged guitar, and several pieces of art from past students—linger around the corners of the room, but without him at his desk or passionately lecturing away in front of his podium. I had planned all year to give him the album I just finished with my band, The Moon Police, on the last day of school and thank him for his inspiration. My intent on writing this letter, again, is just to share my opinion, and let the public know that Mr. Urquidi was admired and respected by many of his students of the past and of the present, and that his suspension from San Clemente High School was perhaps the results of a mistake, perhaps the result of the innate controversy of art— but not a crime. I sincerely hope that he will continue to enlighten kids like me about the beauty of art and of life.