08 October 2009

Concerning Censorship

I have thought quite a bit about the issue of censorship this evening after some questions arose concerning the current show at the center...


This discussion is a very important one. It goes far beyond this one exhibit, beyond this one artist, beyond even the arts center and our community.

In regard to the larger discussion, I am adamantly against censorship – not just as an artist, but also as a responsible citizen of a democracy. Censorship is a certain path to the enslavement of reason, critical thinking, and civil discourse, perpetrated by groups in power – or by groups willing and able to create a loud enough uproar. It chips away at the foundation of education, at the value of alternative ideas and the creators of those ideas, and, most importantly, at the heart of our power to make decisions for ourselves – it dis-empowers. Censorship is a response to a stimulus that has offended a particular ideology, and while censorship may seem desirable when you are of the censoring party, it is degrading and demoralizing when your viewpoints, ideas or creations are the ones being suppressed.

It’s been asked “Would you consider hanging photos or paintings depicting explicit scenes from dog fights?”  Myself, I would respond, “I might, if I believed the images to have artistic merit, and/or if they expressed an important social message.” Uncomfortable imagery, uncomfortable stories, uncomfortable ideas need to be explored and deconstructed, their meanings discussed, understood and considered. If we close our eyes and minds to the things that offend us, if we refuse to consider the ideas of the others, if we refuse to listen to those we do not agree with, we limit our growth and our vision, we set ourselves up to get blindsided by trends and social agendas, and we continue to foster the destructive division and rancorous dichotomy that is evermore apparent in much of the social discourse in this country. It is when we – both sides – carefully listen, and then respectfully express our agreement or our opposition to ideas and concepts that valid, meaningful communication happens. At the point when communication truly happens a working compromise is possible.  And although it is not the case in this discussion, I must add that if those who disagree with refuse to reciprocate with a similar respect it in no way negates our responsibility to continue to listen and communicate respectfully...

I am not concerned with following any one group's particular political correctness agenda and in regard to the controversial pieces in the show – it is my understanding that in general sadomasochistic culture is participated in by choice, not force and therefore only of concern to those who willingly participate.  I recognize that others may feel differently, and respect their viewpoints. However, I do not recognize this perspective as a valid position for censoring artistic expression. But for this discussion it is important to take into consideration the varied ways that the center is used by the community and the impact of imagery that some in the community may feel is graphic in nature. 


Anonymous said...

I guess I'll weigh in on this. Painting and drawings sometimes depict things. But, they are not those things. Paintings of dog fights are not dog fights. Paintings are paintings - nothing more nothing less.

I think it's nice that things like yoga classes are housed at the arts center, however if it were a choice between yoga and painting, I think paintings and drawings should have priority.

The human form is not offensive. I don't think the paintings should be covered - nudes, S & M or otherwise. Yoga can be done with eyes closed. The priority of an arts center should be the art it exhibits. If the exhibition committee selected this exhibition, the exhibition committee should stand behind it.

Art sometimes offends, but that's the reality of art. People will get over it. That's my two cents worth.

MontaGael said...

This is exactly the kind of discussion I want to have.

I agree with you on this.

I agree that the human form is not offensive - in fact I think the human form is just as beautiful as any other subject that can be painted or drawn, or photographed, or imagined, no matter what shape or condition it is in. The miracle of our existence (individual and collective) needs to be celebrated in as many ways as we can find to do so.

I agree that people often confuse the images of reality (or the images of imagination) with reality. Most people cannot understand that the image is supposed to make you feel something without having to experience the reality. Actually I think most people want to live without experiencing much of reality (which might explain the popularity of "reality tv" although I cannot say for sure since I have never seen a reality tv show - well... other than one episode of Project Runway, and I would not call that reality by any stretch of the imagination...).

I agree that art can offend. And I agree that people need to just get over it.

My concession for covering the paintings during certain events was based on the fact that the persons leading those events were not forewarned that we would be having an exhibit that contained graphic imagery, not because I felt like the paintings should be covered...

It's the issue of choice - I choose to expose myself to a wide range of experiences, but it is my choice. I respect others' choices not to do that. I respect the fact that people may not want their children viewing graphic images (but I think it's mostly because they do not want to, or perhaps feel incapable of, having a meaningful discussion with their children about what they see. I chose - and would do so again - to allow my children to be exposed to a range of subject matter that many parents might see as objectionable. I believe that my kids, for the most part, have healthy attitudes, a high level of political sophistication for their ages, are comfortable in their own skins in regard to their bodies and their/our non-hetero-normal sexual identities, and have a better relationship with me than they otherwise might of had - partially due to the fact that they were urged to consider things with open eyes and an open mind, and to determine their own viewpoints free from draconian decrees from me.)

On the other hand, I suppose we could say that their choice could include having their events someplace else... But I think it would be hard for the film society though, to pick up and go... and part of my suggestion for a disclaimer in the future is that I don't ever want to be faced with having to consider covering an artist's work again. If I tell people upfront that our exhibits may include graphic imagery then they can decide if they want to have their events at the WAC or not. And it's not really important to me if they decide not to...