Essay on The Censorship of Art

This essay has a total of 2763 words and 10 pages.

The Censorship of Art


Things are heating up in America. People are protesting outside of the movie theaters,
concerts, and book and record stores of this great nation everywhere. What is all the fuss
about? Censorship, Government officials and raving mad protesters alike have been trying
to stop the expressive creativity in everything from Marilyn Manson to Mark Twain. One of
the biggest shake-ups happened in museums all over the world recently that would have made
Michelangelo and DiVinchi’s hair stand on end. In the Constitution of the United States,
the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, press, the right to assemble
and to petition the government; the Ninth Amendment says, "The enumeration in the
Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others
retained by the people". So it seems one cannot use any of the other rights to quell the
rights of an individual or group. Then why is the government trying to censor literature,
movies, music and art? All of the world’s modern society has become desensitized and
easily trainable. Therefore society has come to accept the ideals, morals, and values
driven into the psyche by the dominant forces in the nation: the Government and the
Church. By quieting the objective voice these two institutions stand in the lead and stay
in control.


One might assume that the blood-sucking politicians have nothing better to do than to look
for things that offend any one major group of people (i.e. the church) to obtain votes. In
this manner the government is becoming more and more controlling and artistic censorship
is just another way to maintain control. Things were not always so. Government had very
little to say about censoring anything. Was it not only three decades ago that as one
nation the population was united by the ideals of peace love, and harmony? As an art
student in the 60’s era, Robert Mansfield states in his article, Artistic Freedom:
government challenge "the first amendment was seldom an issue of concern…In fact it seemed
that boundaries of expression were governed only by individual creative ability intellect
and imagination". Where have these ideals gone? It seems in recent years they have
disappeared with the freedom of thought. Why is it so important to some people not to
offend? It seems the people easily offended are the ones deciding what is acceptable for
the population. "Well about a decade ago when the nation debated about funding
controversial art," writes John Cloud of TIME magazine, "in the capital of crude, few
people consider rude art a problem." Articles ranging in titles from "New York’s Art
Attack" to "Creative Chaos" are appearing in TIME and other numerous front-page materials
across the country. In H.G. Hovagimyan’s TOKARTOK: The Censorship of Art, he states:
"Artists are often asked to change parts of their works to conform to the publics
morality. This has been going on since the Pope asked Michelangelo to paint fig leaves on
Adam and Eve." Yes do not forget about the control the church has had on artistic
expression since the beginning of time. When the church has something to say everyone
listens. It is amusing how when something offends the church it quickly disappears.
However, when these people see some bubble that looks like the face of the Virgin Mary in
a tortilla chip, they start worshiping it. Next comes a media circus and before lunch it
is all over CNN and every other news broadcast in the world. It is obvious the government
uses those situations to promote the Church and its ideals of acceptable art even if it is
a tortilla chip.


As the 1960’s came to an end the meaning and importance of the first amendment became
indisputable. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago, protesting against the
Vietnam War and the political assassinations of the late 1960’s (with the governments’
interjection and objection) showed that the so-called guaranteed right of freedom of
expression was not so guaranteed anymore. This point was proven again by the incident at
Kent State University on May 4, 1970, where students rallying against the presidents
decision to send troops into Cambodia without declaring war were arrested, beaten, bombed
with tear gas, and ultimately shot at by a dozen men armed with M-1 rifles. "A total of 67
shots were fired in 13 seconds." Is what it said in on the May 4th Task Force of Kent
State University. Four of the students were killed and nine were wounded. The extent the
government would go to in order to quell the objective voice was proven that day. The
government proves once again, in modern times, that they cannot be trustworthy of
humanities unalterable rights by trying to censor artistic expression. In September 1999
an exhibit called SENSATION went on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. One of the
artists, Chris Ofili, portrayed a black Madonna adorned with elephant dung and pictures of
women’s crotches from porn magazines. New York City Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, said " The
idea of having so-called works of art in which people are throwing elephant dung at a
picture of the Virgin Mary is sick." What is sick is that the government seems to have the
idea that it can make decisions for the nation. Had the Mayor decided to go to the exhibit
the mayor would have found out Ofili includes elephant dung in all of the works not just
the religious portraits. It would also come to pass to the mayor that elephant dung
symbolizes regeneration to the African culture. The wonderful Mayor then threatened to cut
the museum’s funding of about $7 million dollars (a third of the museum's budget) unless
SENSATION was cancelled. Now bad mouthing the exhibit is one thing, but to threaten to cut
the funding is another story. In an article that appeared in TIME Daily news: When a Mayor
and the Constitution Collide, the article shows how the First amendment is just a notch in
the mountains to government officials. What is important to the government is forcing
their ideals of morality onto others. "Monday Federal court judge ruled that the mayor
trampled all over the first Amendment in his attempts to remove funding from the Brooklyn
Museum of Art because of an exhibit he deemed offensive." Guiliani withheld $500,000 a
month from the museum from October 1st 1999 until the court hearing which ruled against
the mayor. The dictator mayor Guiliani then suggests the board of the museum resign. Time
arts writer Steven Madoff said, " There’s no end to the gall that Guiliani has." The mayor
tried to close down this museum for one single painting? A little harsh one would think.
Mrs. Hillary Clinton in a public statement to the press defended the museum saying, "It’s
not appropriate to penalize and punish an institution such as the Brooklyn Museum," She
then added to her statement that she would not go to see this exhibit because she would
find certain things offensive. Everything Giuliani tried to do has backfired including the
attempt to evict the museum from the city owned building. What right does any government
official have to cut funding to a program in which there are so many artists work, time,
and effort? Just on account of one person finding it to be offensive does not mean that
everyone else will. What one person sees as tasteless may be tasteful to another. Remember
that society does have the option to go and see the work or not to go to see the work. The
all-powerful mayor never went to see the exhibit himself, but somehow found the time to
criticize it. In a Letter from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Director Arnold L. Lehman he
comments on the way SENSATION is a refreshing and attracting part of this exhibit. He
stated, "SENSATION is a part of our plan to revitalize the very concept of how art –
whether traditional or the most challenging – can speak to people in their own
language…our museum must be central to the topical sociocultural issues, expressed through
art, that drive our daily lives." Art means so many things to so many different people. So
how can the government decide what the public wants to see? It has more to do with what
the government does not want the public to see. The government is afraid people will see
new controversial art and think a thought or two and realize what a laughingstock life has
been made due to the need for control. On the National Coalition Against Censorship web
site in an article The Long and Short of It, the article reads:


" Mayor Giuliani’s reaction to the Sensation exhibit stimulated a satirical installation
from artist Hans Haacke, now on display at the Whitney Museum of Art Biennial Exhibit in
New York. The provocative artwork, Sanitation, links the current culture wars to the
banning of "degenerate" art in Munich in 1937. It displays the text of the First Amendment
Continues for 5 more pages >>




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