Artistic expression has been a part of society since the beginning of time. Going back to the rise of man, you can find cave paintings and other early forms of art. As societies have grown, the art has continued to change and develop, each age bringing new forms of expression. No matter what form of expression this takes, it seems that one constant is the desire for art censorship. As a primary enemy of the artistic endeavors, censorship is not something that any artistically-minded individual wants, but avoiding it might be easier said than done. In some recent examples, you can see just how far it goes.
In a very recent event, artist Steve Olsen’s piece titled “Buy Sexual” was removed from an art gallery by local officials because it did not live up to “community standards.” The work itself was a play on the culture today and how advertisements of all kinds rely on sex to sell. For this sort of censorship to occur in a public arena is not something that should be acceptable by any means.
When Nick Rindo created this masterful piece for use at the Minnesota State Fair, he likely didn’t suspect it would be the subject of so much attention. Known for his work with crop-art, Rindo is used to using seeds to create his works of art. Among those, he often makes portraits of pop culture icons. In this case, he was following the news about women coming out again Bill Cosby for alleged sexual assault. In the name of art, he created this piece using canola seeds -also known as “rapeseed.” Apparently, many of the visitors did not appreciate the caption explaining this and the fair actually had his work removed because of it.
Back in May of 2015, another artistic event was cancelled in the name of censorship. This was not a show of paintings, sculptures, or more specialized visual arts. Instead, it was a collection of performing art pieces that were meant to support the fight against art censorship. Ironically enough, the entire show was cancelled because the New York City’s Sheen Center did not support one of the plays titled “‘Mohammed’ Gets A Boner.” Though this may have been in poor taste, cancelling an entire event sounds like overkill.
Of course, some might argue that since this was a private event it was within their right to do so. Sure, it might have been within their right, but was it really the right thing to do?
When Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A., commissioned a wall mural from Italian street artist Blu, he quickly discovered that he had gotten more than he bargained for. Before the anti-war piece was even finished, Deitch made the decision to have it whitewashed without opening it to public viewing, citing concerns that the imagery of coffins draped in dollar bills instead of American flags would be insensitive to the nearby VA hospital and war memorial. It’s true that Blu did not provide Deitch with his plans for the wall in advance of starting on the mural, but the artist’s supporters have pointed out that Blu’s work is controversial by nature. “They know what Blu’s work is like,” said street artist Alex Poli Jr. “—he critiques things and some of his subject matter is poignant and not pretty. This is Blu, that’s what he’s known for.”
Unsurprisingly, most artists were on Blu’s side, while most art gallery personnel were on Deitch’s. Although these particular circumstances are certainly not the same as other more cut and dry instances of direct censorship, there’s definitely some irony to be found in an art gallery painting over a piece they commissioned themselves.
Ultimately, this sort of censorship is dangerous to the culture as a whole. It robs people of art with intrinsic value and can really miss the entire point of artistic expression. Art censorship squelches individual creativity and reinforces the idea that people are not free to express themselves or to say what they feel without judgment. While some situations can be complicated, as with Blu and Deitch, it is hard to believe that censorship of artistic mediums isn’t sending a questionable message at best.
What do you think about art censorship? Do you have any other serious instances where this occurred? Let us know in the comments below.