Has it come to this? The Associated Press reported on Dec. 5 that a 60-year-old painting on view at NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – showing a preteen girl dozing in a chair with a sliver of her underwear showing – provoked an online protest to get it out of sight. Signed by thousands, the plea contends that showing this work “is romanticizing voyeurism.” The museum doesn’t see it that way and neither do I.

Look, ma, no hands

Granted the current climate in the nation is stormy with scores of sexually abused women rising up to get their offenders out of seats of power.

But should a painting that may or may not hint at lechery also be banished? If yes, a lot of paintings held in museums around the world should be taken down, beginning with works at the Met besides the one in contention, namely “Therese Dreaming” by Balthus. As far as he’s concerned, there are a whole lot of his works that are way more sexually-charged than that of a sleeping kid with her underwear showing. I’m thinking of his flat-out disturbing privately owned painting “Guitar Lesson,” which shows a female teacher fingering the genitals of her student like the strings of the instrument.

What were you thinking?

Besides the Met’s Balthus, the museum’s American wing holds a life-size marble nude called “The White Captive” by Erastus Dow Palmer, who was well known for working directly from live nude models - his daughters.

If “Therese Dreaming” can be faulted for “romanticizing voyeurism,’ shouldn’t the study of his children maturing bodies be judged incestuous? In a similar way, isn’t Renoir, who pictured a naked prepubescent female in “Young Girl Bathing” hanging in the Met European wing, guilty of romanticizing pedophilia?

Renoir seems to have answered the question when he famously said, ”It’s with my brush that I make love.”

Riding high at a female’s expense

Talk about a hot-button painting. If “Therese Dreaming” is objectionable, where’s the outcry over the outright prurience of “The Swing” by Jean-Honore Fragonard’s, which describes a girl riding a swing while a smirking man hiding in the bushes just below her looks up under her billowing skirt?

Art history indicates that the idea for the painting came from a courtier who wanted likenesses of his mistress and him. But the artist he first commissioned, Gabriel Francois Doyen, was repelled by the idea. The job then went to Fragonard. Prurient? Sure. Even so, where is the equivalency between sexual abuse and a painting that merely hints at it? Isn’t that like faulting a person for simply thinking unclean thoughts?

Letting it all hang out

Speaking for the Met, Ken Weiner was quoted saying that the museum will keep the Balthus painting on the wall because it offers a teaching moment for the public. "Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation.” We need that.