There are times when you completely understand that someone has the
right to do something, but still wonder why they'd ever want to do
it... Or how they thought of it... Or why it's supposed to be a good
That's the case of Chesterfield County, VA art teacher Stephen
Murmer. Like most art instructors, Murmer's an artist in his own right.
A painter, in fact. The problem is that he has to drop his pants to
create his work and that's where his trouble started.
Murmer was told Friday that he was being placed on paid administrative
leave for five days from his job at Monacan High School after
Chesterfield County school officials became agitated over his unique
brand of artwork.
Outside of class and in disguise,
Murmer creates floral and abstract art by slathering paint on his
posterior and genitals and pressing them against canvas in the manner
of a stamp.
Murmer posted a video of his artistic
process online and, although disguised and using the pseudonym 'Stan
Murmur,' his students found it and recognized him. As a result, he's
been suspended. Murmer's website, ButtPrintArt.com, was down because of heavy traffic when I checked it, but I found samples of his work archived here. I'm not sure this is the video in question, but it's a 'Stan Murmur' video.
[Ass Art, Unscrewed with Martin Sargent, Episode #164 (YouTube.com)]
The thing is, he's doing this on his own time and it's perfectly legal,
so it really is a matter of free speech. The school district has no
grounds to punish him for legal activity outside the workplace. It's
weird, yes. It's silly, yes. But there's nothing actually wrong with it. So Murmer, as he should, contacted the American Civil Liberties Union.
is our understanding that Mr. Murmer is an excellent, well-respected
art teacher who takes his job very seriously." said Kent Wills,
Executive Director of the ACLU
of Virginia. "But he is also serious about the art he produces separate
from his teaching duties, and the ACLU believes the First Amendment
protects his right to engage in expressive activities on his own time."
I don't doubt he's serious about his art -- according to the ACLU,
Murmer's pieces sell for $400 to $900 each.
In fact, the school
was aware of Murmer's artistic method since 2004 and it didn't become a
problem until the students found the video. And, apparently, the
students didn't have a problem with it. "When students learned of the
suspension, some called a local television station asking that it
report on the unfair treatment of their teacher," the ACLU reports.
"The television report has since led to countless other media reports
on Murmer's suspension."
"We feel that school officials are
overreacting, perhaps even fanning the flames of this matter," said
Willis. "If Mr. Murmer had not been suspended, the resurfacing of this
old video would have probably just created a two or three day buzz
before dying out altogether."