Why do authoritarians attack the arts?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Landrum Kelly, Apr 6, 2017.

  1. I think art is often used to probe boundaries. If you, personally, have no such boundary, if the boundary it is probing isn't a boundary for you, then it's not going to have much meaning to you.

    Just as a side note, for that reason, I would also want to know whether flags were a boundary for the curator and the art-makers in the show. I don't know either way. But if it was not, they would not be in a position to make a discerning and heartfelt presentation of the tensions in the flag issue. Ditto for any artist working on a boundary: if it's not an issue for him/her, poking at someone else's boundary is probably not going to be done in an insightful way.
  2. I think, the objective was not to favor any one religion over others. Mentioning God doesn't necessarily mean Christianity only, although the founding fathers happened to be Christians. There are Hindu and Jewish senators who can all utter God bless America, each from their own individual beliefs.
  3. Julie,
    This may sound like a hypocrite, after all I have said, but the flag display tests my boundaries as well. I would cringe at the thought of stepping over the flag, or any other nation's flag. However, I also believe in what I said in my previous posts. I think there are more people like me among the ones who are in a similar position. It's the tension between one's moral tradition and rational ideology, that I think is one aspect the flag work explores.

    I went to the artist's website to know more of his own perspective. It's interesting that I didn't find much. Instead, he listed all the comments that were written in the book next to the flag. I think that's what he wanted, to start a debate.

  4. Yes. Probing. It's when the immediate departure into free speech arguments and whether or if things should be funded completely overshadows whatever the art is about that I think things have gone awry.

    I'd also agree that, as long as it focuses attention, even an outsider's attempt can be useful. Uncle Tom's Cabin or even Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, both well-intentioned white writers writing about African-Americans, raised attention, if nothing else. See Lincoln's supposed comment to Stowe about starting the war.
  5. I agree, but the original discussion with David was about government funding of art, and the flag work was given as an example.

    Desecration of sacred beliefs seems to be a recurring theme in art. The cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, the flag display and M F Hussein's depiction of Hindu goddesses all seem to fall in that category. In each case, the artist's intent could be different, but the net effect seems to nudge us from our positions of comfort and test boundaries, as you mentioned.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2017
  6. It's my feeling that the discussions of freedom of speech and funding, etc. are all reactions to probing. They are inevitable. They tell us that art is working.

    If we all get comfortable with our current boundaries, if we have our perfect freedom of speech and all-embracing toleration, and government funding ... there will always be found, new boundaries, and art will be there, probing. We can't legislate boundaries away; and we will always react to art's probing by trying to legislate the art away. In other words, calls for control or suppression are just a sign that contact has been made.
    Supriyo likes this.
  7. Through 2014, there have only been Christian chaplains in Congress. National shows of religion generally exclude those who are not Christians (there are exceptions) and generally exclude agnostics and atheists. Many Americans falsely declare this to be a Christian nation but I can understand why they carry around this bogus notion.
  8. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    wouldn't you get the same discussions if art was stagnating?
  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    now, the cartoons, they were a result of someone probing (as in jabbing something with a sharp stick) but i suspect the probing isn't sufficient to make them art
  10. I agree its debatable whether the cartoons can be called art or not. It can be an interesting discussion in itself what constitutes art and what constitutes social commentary only. However, I had two more examples which are more squarely in the art category. My point was, whatever the artist's intent, whether its petty provocation or making a statement, such works almost always test our boundaries (ref. Julie), and in doing so trigger debates and discussions, albeit at the cost of much hatred and emotion turmoil.
  11. Whenever theres a majority of a religion in a country whose constitution seeks secularity, there are always challenges (and hypocrisies). That doesn't mean the core principles have been abandoned. It is always a fine balance to cater to the minorities without alienating the majorities, and vice versa. I agree, the constitution is based on the premise that God exists and thereby excludes agnostics and atheists. Nevertheless, the constitution has some ambiguity inherent in it to allow it to remain relevant as times change. For instance, it also does not define marriage, otherwise it would have been hard to defend the rights of the LGBT community without some constitutional amendment.

    The premise that God exists is probably our nation's boundary, but the constitution still allows anyone to hit that boundary via the core principle of freedom of expression.
  12. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    extremists tests us. artists can do many things ; test, enchant, captivate, bore
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2017
  13. I agree with that. I understand, testing the boundaries is one facet of art, among many others.
  14. ""the Left" as having a lock on art that is sponsored with public dollars. If there is a leftist tilt to art, it exists quite apart from state sponsorship, in my opinion."Lanny.

    Hmm, its money that promotes Art....seems a simple thought, Lanny. Money is in the pockets of the right.....seems a simple thought ,Lanny.Correct me if Im wrong but the lefty folk tend to be the poor....sort of left behind by the right righteous.

    How many millions of dollars does it take to be Mr President,, Lanny. Real world ,Lanny...

    Governments control; Art....they like proper Art expressing their proper values.
  15. There's no debate on whether cartoons can be considered art. They are art. Period!

    15 Historic Cartoons That Changed The World

    BTW I'm a cartoonist so I'm biased. Just full disclosure.
    Ray House and Landrum Kelly like this.
  16. Not all cartoons, we were referring to the cartooons that mocked Prophet Mohammad. My comment in itself wasn't very clear.
  17. Externally imposed censorship generally, and of the arts specifically, is one of the signs of a failed regime, and is intolerable. A regime that truly fears the thoughts and ideas of the opposition, and seeks to prevent its subjects from exposure to those ideas,, is one that is ripe for collapse. This consideration of censorship speaks directly to one aspect of the OP's original question. There are two other types of censorship that also deserve consideration, and they are far less obvious and far more endemic than that imposed by politicians.

    The first of these occurs when any museum director (or newspaper editor, or store manager) decides which items of art (or news or merchandise) are to be accommodated and displayed. There does not exist a single museum or other venue in which there is sufficient space and time in which to display every possible piece of art. This is true for every form of art or information, whether it be performance, sculpture, news, fashion, dance, or automobiles. The very act of deciding what one will accommodate in the space (and budget) available is an act of evaluation and censorship. The criteria used in making these choices will be as varied as the myriad persons doing the choosing, but they are editorial choices nonetheless. Based on what we see in one another's galleries, it is clear that my choices would differ from Julie's, and both of us would likely choose differently from Fred, and Supriyo and Lanny would almost certainly offer further variations, given the freedom and opportunity to select a finite display from nearly infinite choices. We each would choose a different balance among competing criteria, from among such options as creativity, social applicability, technical prowess, need for exposure, cost of the installation, community interest or standards (there's a hot-button issue!), etc. ad infinitum. Yet, regardless our good intentions and desire to be inclusive, the simple and essential act of choosing is de facto an act of censorship, for those we do not choose will not receive the same level of attention, publicity, or access to an audience as those we do choose. This is why I posed the questions above. If we want our government to choose a finite number of artists who will benefit from a finite amount of tax money (yes, it must be finite), then it is incumbent upon our elected representatives to set a budget and criteria by which such decisions will be made. As the political winds blow, so will the priorities and budgets. I find little benefit in labeling one set of choosers as evil simply because their taste in art (or news, or automobiles) is different from a competing faction. What our modern democratic governments have brought us is the opportunity to experiment with a sliding scale of options and priorities in a wide range of issues, including the public funding and support of the arts. Contrary to the impression I have left with some, I am not in favor of wholesale divestment of public support for the arts. Rather, I believe responsible use of taxpayer money demands we establish as a society a set of expectations and conditions that match our cumulative interests and engagement, acknowledging that doing so will require a concomitant choosing of how that money/opportunity/resources will be spent.

    The second type of censorship we all routinely engage in is self-censorship. I self-censor when I choose which images I will post on this site. I self-censor in electing to not keep images that would be embarrassing to others (unless doing so would undermine a necessary documentary truth). I self-censor when I critique others' photos. In short,I make decisions constantly about what I will say and how I will say it, with the intent of communicating important (or banal) ideas and information without hurting, offending, embarrassing, or ostracizing other people. That does not mean I am unwilling to say hard things, or be truthful when the truth can hurt feelings, or worse. It does mean I hope to do so honestly and with care and consideration for all who will be impacted by what I say. This does not come naturally to me, and has been a very hard-learned lesson in the school of life. To the degree that art, in any form, is a tool of communication just as are words, then it is subject to the same self-censorship the artist might use with words. As Julie so correctly asserts, much of art is about probing, even breaking down, boundaries, whether in thought, perception, technique, style, mores, social constructs, etc. Yet, the question every artist (and facilitator of art) must answer is how willing is one to risk offense in making the artistic statement. In a perfect world, it would be possible to make every needful or desired statement without resorting to images or subjects that would either demean nor offend anybody, even the criticized. However, we do not live in a perfect world, and we are all very human. Sometimes it is impossible to convey an honestly horrific message without using horrific language. (Picasso's Guernica comes to mind.) But, when the choice exists, how do we respond? Supriyo notes quite accurately that there can be a big difference between "petty provocation" and (meaningful social) "commentary". Which path an artist chooses actually says more about the artist than it does about the subject of his/her art. What if in the case of What is the Proper Way to Display... the artist had offered two entry books? One that required the writer to stand on the flag while writing, and another that did not? I'm not suggesting this is what he should have done, but what message would it have sent or opportunity would it have granted participants?

    I acknowledge there are times when open combat can only be met with combat. So long as there is a Guernica, there will be a Guernica. But, for all those times when we can communicate in terms and in forms that build people up or offer criticism (perspective?) without devaluation, should this not be our goal?,
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  18. David, your ideas about censorship go way beyond the pale to me. By your usage, any choice anyone ever makes is an act of censorship. I could never be that cynical. Here's a reasonable definition of censorship:

    A curator choosing an exhibition is not prohibiting anything and not suggesting the unchosen alternatives are threats or unacceptable. When I decide to eat steak tonight, I am not forbidding myself from eating chicken. A choice is not an affirmative or a pejorative prohibition of the alternatives.

    When I toss photos and choose other photos to share, I am not self-censoring. I am editing. When a student writes a term paper and deletes a few passages in the process of composing his thoughts, he's not censoring himself.

    When a government burns books, bans an author, bleeps words from a speaker, removes chapters from an essay, that's often censorship. Merely choosing among various artists to support is nothing remotely like censorship. The consistent suppression of a particular message or type of speech would be censorship.

    While I've disagreed with much of what you've said up until your last post, it's all been cogent. Your last post, to me, went off the rails.
  19. Fred, your quoted definition and position apply explicitly to my first paragraph. I'll make no bones about it whatsoever. There are numerous examples of editorial acts that have the same net effects in regards the dissemination of ideas and information. A popular one would compare Fox News to MSNBC. To the degree that the stories reported by each contain factual truth (and only to that degree), each reports the news, but gives a very different spin on what is happening and why based upon which news stories (or facts) get reported. I'll not dwell on intentional lies, deceits, or flummery that most "news" organizations put forth as news today. Whether we call it self-censorship or self-editing, whether it is done intentionally to present a consistent position, or simply because there are not enough column-inches above the toothpaste ad, the net effect is the same. The beauty of the Internet is the degree to which it has democratized the sharing of information, including art. At the same time, the variety of information and its sources has made it ever more difficult to discern truth.

    Rather than dwelling on my application of the term "censorship", how about discussing the real and potential impact of editorial choices (self- and otherwise)? We can argue for hours about definitions. If one institution chooses to display a caricature of a Catholic cleric, while another declines to display a similar image of an imam, regardless the rationale, is the result not de facto the same as censorship? If I am off the rails, perhaps I'm pushing Julie's boundaries?
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  20. While I disagree with David that acts of museum curators constitute censorship, selecting which photos to display can be self-censorship depending on scenario. For instance, if I strongly feel a photo is important and meaningful, but choose not to show it because it will cause me or my family physical or financial harm, or damage in social relations, that is some sort of a self-censorship in my opinion. When the government does it, i.e. choose which art to fund (to protect harmony within a greater family thats its citizens, or to prevent political disaster), thats another implicit form of censorship. Its not really the act of choosing, its the intent of choosing thats tied to censorship IMO. I still feel, the government should not get into the business of choosing which art to fund (it should gather an expert committee and let it work unhindered), rather use this opportunity to educate its people about the value of self restraint and the latitudes that art should enjoy. Rather than suppressing what is offensive, protests should be through dialogs and discussions.

    However, I come from a society in India consisting of multiple religious groups who have been holding on to edges for centuries in terms of peaceful coexistence. In such a society, any deviation in self expression from the established norm is often taken as sacrilege and tends to turn nuclear. The message gets lost in hatred and disgust. In such a society (where racial relations are fragile), the government often resorts to practical reasoning in censoring art and social commentary to prevent loss of life. Although I still find it hard to accept such censorship, I do acknowledge the challenges of such situations. I do think, the society in US is very different and most people hold the value of freedom of speech and expression at high regard. In such a country, it is probably not impossible for the government to take a neutral policy in terms of funding art.
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