Censorship in Art

When is art unacceptable? The US government claims that it tries to protect the people from being exposed to offensive material, but the main issue is do they have the right? Is censorship allowed? The First Amendment says that people have the freedom of speech and expression. So, does it allow the government to suppress this right? Artists say “No, that art is only a painting, a portrait, a sculpture, a window for expressing feelings.” Officials and many concerned people argue that the first amendment does not give artists to publicly display offensive or “pornographic” art anywhere. It would corrupt their young children and is outright insulting. Concerned parents and religious groups say that art is good but it should not be displayed publicly. Government says it does have a right to protect people from being harmed and seeing provocative art counts as being harmed. The supposed motivation isn't to protect the adult viewer from an adult nude, but to protect the child and the innocent and the religious.

Artists say that Governments and officials and even museums have large P.R. departments that ultimately control what is disseminated in the press and so help to shape the public perception of what contemporary art is. Most often, it is tagged as outrageous and useless to the greater glory of man. And artists are seen as social anarchists rather than cultural analysts.

If Art has never directly offended you, you may immediately take up an artist’s side without thought, just because it’s an issue of rights suppressed between a big force and a small “helpless” force. Naturally, a person would try and defend the underdog, but after hearing about some examples, you may want to change your mind, or perhaps these cases will further strengthen your feelings about freedom of speech.

A famous example is when Michelangelo’s David. Thousands petitioned and protested, trying to ban it from ever entering America, but it did anyway. An agreement was eventually settled and it entered America, showing that the country is not entirely without freedom. Still, artists say its just not enough.

Controversial artist Andres Serrano's photo of a crucifix submerged in urine, would offend many in the community. Attacked by many Christians, Serrano believes nothing he has done is wrong and he feels that people are over-reacting. The Pontiac exhibit, by artist Jef Bourgeau, prompted the obscenity charge, because it contained a collage of nudes from the artwork of Serrano, Sally Mann, Balthus and other artists.

Censorship is not a thing of the past; only a few years ago, Former mayor Giuliani threatened to cut city funding for The Brooklyn Museum of Art, freezing millions of dollars because an exhibit is to include a dung-decorated portrait of the Virgin Mary. The museum's Board of Trustees voted to proceed as planned with the exhibit that opened Oct. 2. They said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had no right to freeze funding just because he didn't like the exhibit's content. "Under the First Amendment, this museum may not be punished for offering to the public an entirely lawful exhibition," said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer representing the museum. Giuliani had threatened to evict the museum from its city-owned home unless the board agreed to change the exhibition of British art, "Sensation," which he has called "sick" and "disgusting." He also has threatened to freeze at least $7 million in funding, a third of the museum's budget. The museum eventually decided board to post signs warning of the explicit nature of some of the works rather than require visitors under 17 to be accompanied by an adult. Giuliani had said that condition violated the museum's lease with the city, which calls for open admission. The leaders of two dozen city museums and cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Bronx Zoo, warned Giuliani in a letter that his actions set "a dangerous precedent. Glenn Scott Wright, the London representative for artist Chris Ofili who created "The Holy Virgin Mary" painting, which is adorned with pornographic cutouts and a clump of elephant dung, called Giuliani's measures an infringement on free expression.

In the end, it’s majority rules. Because the majority feel that censoring is necessary to preserve the innocence of others, the government feels that it is their duty to censor. Until that changes, we can expect censorship for years to come.

For more information on censorship, visit http://www.ncac.org/

Also see for a lighthearted and less serious site but it does make good points for censorship. http://www.righttocensor.com/mission.html*

Hey, while you’re at it, visit the Anthony Comstock node, which features one of the most famous censors in the history of America. Many today still call him The Great American Bluenose.

Right to Censor is now defunct, but I chose to keep the link up anyway...