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 along with quotations in Nazi-style script from Patrick Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms and Mayor Giuliani and is surrounded by garbage cans blaring the sounds of marching troops. So far the controversy over Sanitation has not evoked a peep from Mayor Giuliani.”
The fact of the matter is that the mayor will not have anything to say he has already lost the battle. Federal Court Judge Nina Gershon stated in the article When the Mayor and the Constitution Collide, “There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression… to abide by government demands for orthodoxy.” Why should the nation have to harmonize to the morals of the government? The fact of the matter is the nation should not have to conform to the government’s morality. The government, in this manner, has violated the god given right of choice in order to quell the voices of objectivity and maintain its all-powerful reign.
By G.H. Hovagimyan
March 15, 2000
Artistic Freedom: government challenge
By Robert Mansfield
March 27, 2000
When a Mayor and the Constitution Collide
Time Daily Michael Eskenaz
November 2, 1999
TIME Magazine: Shock for Shocks Sake?
By Steven Henry Madoff
October 11, 1999
Letter from the Director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art
By Arnold L Lehman
December 14, 1999
Kenfour the May 4th Task Force: Kent State University
Revised April 4, 1996
Moviefone.com – Reality check: A Religion professor examines DOGMA
Date written Unknown
CNN Interactive web site Supreme Court studies federal funding of art
March 3, 1998
Christian Coalitions stand on the arts web site
May 5, 2000
Time Magazine: New York’s Art Attack
By John Cloud
October 4, 1999