Why do authoritarians attack the arts?

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

  1. David makes some very interesting points about censorship. After first reading his post, I thought he was simply wrong: for curators there is choice along with benevolent censorship. My argument was something like this: if I go to the grocery store, I censor myself from buying food that is fattening or that contains stuff that's bad for me, even though I like some of those foods and may look longingly at them. But I choose to buy the Kiku apples over the Fuji apples or maybe to buy bananas instead of apples. I have a limited appetite and a limited amount of money to spend, so I have to choose, but one choice could be as good as another.

    However, that argument doesn't work as an analogy to what David has written. Do you see why?

    Because I know which foods are good and which should be censored, which are "bad for me." None of us can know which art is "good" and which should be censored, which is "bad for us." On what grounds could a curator claim to have simply be making a choice (which kind of apple) versus a censorship (which is good for you and which is not)? In fact, I think a curator is on safer ground claiming censorship (what is more "nutritious") than simple personal choice (what he/she thinks tastes better) reference use of public or museum funds.

    Self-censorship, the other "type" that David writes about, seems to me to be so patently obvious that I simply agree with him. At the same time, I would say that I'm not sure it can be called censorship in the sense that what it's working on or with is emerging as it's being censored. I'm not preventing something from being seen or shown, I'm shying away from or toward something that is about to be seen or shown. I have to choose on the fly, in the moment. On reflection, given time to make deliberate decisions, I may make different choices. Is that not what the making and showing of art can be about?

    My grace note to the curators would be that the good ones present questions, not answers.
  2. The reason I dwelled on your application of the term "censorship" is that it's hyperbole, which is a kind of spin in itself, and therefore an example of what you're accusing others of doing.
    And another institution chooses to display something else, that's what makes horse racing. I know when I go to a museum, if they are displaying Mapplethorpe downstairs in the special exhibition galleries, they may very well be displaying religious Renaissance paintings upstairs. I generally have the impression that museums are advocating what they are showing to the extent they want to bring the work to their viewers in the best light possible but not because they necessarily are pushing these works over others. Likely, following the Mapplethorpe show will be a show that doesn't showcase S&M and instead might well showcase heterosexual nudes of Edward Weston. And, if one museum is showcasing Mapplethorpe, likely on the other side of town there's a museum showcasing Weston. It's not up to the museum to be all things to all people all the time. It's up to the people to realize no museum is going to give them a complete survey of art at every moment and that if they want a well-rounded overview of art and its history they might have to visit several museums on several occasions.

    My own body of work is not about presenting the world democratically. It's about developing a voice, often taking strong stands, sometimes getting passionate about what I'm seeing and/or creating. Any artist who chooses certain subject matter or develops a personal style is not necessarily doing so to edit other content or style out. In moving forward from the classicism of Mozart toward the romanticism of Chopin, Beethoven wasn't editing out Mozart, he was building upon what Mozart did. I may choose to work in color which doesn't mean I've edited away black and white for myself. I use whatever I've seen in and learned from black and white photography in my color work. My shooting what I shoot doesn't mean I reject or edit out all the wonderful Renaissance work I've seen and loved over the years. It all goes into the mix.

    As to MSNBC and Fox, which are not worth dwelling on much on this site, my advice would be to watch as little of each as possible, but do watch a little of each and choose not to watch only one. What I learned from about Junior High School on was that I was responsible for getting all kinds of information and experience from as many sources as possible rather than relying on a single source for anything. That's not necessarily because every source is affirmatively and intentionally trying to keep another side of the story from me or self censor themselves but rather because many a good source will necessarily focus on some aspect of a thing in order to cover it fully and carefully. Or simply because that's the way life works.
  3. As to government funding of art, a couple of things. Often funding is based on categories other than content and political bent. Funding will often be granted based on age, based on socio-economic status, based on location. If there has to be some determinative criteria, which there will usually have to be, they are likely to be a diverse set of data and data similar to other aspects of the way government tries to serve as varied and fair a community of people as possible. In other words, funding for the arts isn't done much differently from the way funding for other governmentally-sponsored projects are done.

    If it were to turn out that more liberally-slanted art programs and projects have been funded than conservative ones, it might well be because (as this thread has pointed out and as was the very premise of the thread) art has a tendency to be at least somewhat subversive and often questioning of authority and status quo. So, in some sense, insisting on complete parity between liberal and conservative art could undermine the very essence of art as articulated so well in this very thread.

    Even in San Francisco, that bastion of liberalism where I live, so reviled by many on the right and so loved by many on the left, many of our public art dollars have gone toward displays meant to honor servicemen and women, hospital workers, first responders, usually thought to be the purview of conservatives, falsely. As a matter of fact, there ought to be nothing liberal or conservative read into most art. If we see images of gay or transgender people, for example, seeing that as liberally-slanted is a spin on its face. It's simply human, not liberal or conservative. Art is a human endeavor. A lot of it is inherently not liberal or conservative but rather interpreted as such, often used as but not necessarily meant to be a political tool.

    If, instead, we're really not talking about conservative themes in art but religious themes in art, then it becomes a little dicier because of separation of church and state. So the lack of government support for some religious displays should not be seen as a liberal bias but rather as a matter of constitutional precedent based on the separation of church and state.
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  4. The other side of the coin is just as important. The onus doesn't just belong on the artist. How much does the viewer or audience choose to be offended or react with a spontaneous kind of offense?

    When I was a kid, my brother and I saw Mel Brooks's movie The Producers. We thought it was so funny and really enjoyed it. My parents saw it a week later and came home horrified, being just a little closer to what Brooks was poking fun at. The story line was about a musical comedy production about Hitler and Nazis. These reactions were much less about Mel Brooks or the movie production company that backed the film or the theater that showed it. It was about the sensibilities and sensitivities of viewers.

    Art is shared with an audience. Let's not make it a one-sided deal. Offense is just as much a matter of reaction as it is a matter of creation. Stravinsky wrote the Firebird out of a desire to change the face and sound of music and also just because he felt it and heard things this way. That his initial audiences were offended is not really something of his making. Do some artists intentionally push buttons and aim to offend? Of course. But let's not simplify things too much. As many offended viewers and listeners do so not because the artis wanted them to react that way but because the viewer expected or wanted something else.

    I'm offended by a lot of the sensibility that went into the films and photos of Leni Riefenstahl. I think she bears responsibility for her actions in propping up the Nazi regime and mindset. But my offense would never stop me from exhibiting her work if I were a curator of a museum. It's important stuff. It's as wonderful as it is horrible.

    Being offended isn't the be-all and end-all of life. As I've grown up, I realize many things are going to offend me and sometimes I have to make the tough realization that that doesn't mean what offends me shouldn't have a voice.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  5. That or those types of cartoons WERE as David put it "petty provocation", but after some cartoonists lost their lives over such (probative) provocation, it exposed (brought to light) a horrifically violent level of retaliation by a not so globally well known religious group over a simple act of freedom of speech that MADE THAT CARTOON/S ART.

    In fact these are cartoons that literally changed the world especially attitudes towards Muslims. It's still art no matter how tastelessly provocative it is. It was probing, poking to see what kind of people exist in the Muslim community. Now we know.

    It's similar to the behaviors of rednecks I lived among growing up in south Texas. Most were like the congenial characters you see on the Andy Griffith show but there were others that were violent hot heads looking for a fight like those in the KKK (sort of a religion). I never came across such evil rednecks where I lived, but the probative acts of civil rights workers signing up African Americans to vote in the south and being murdered for doing so made more people know about southern rednecks they hadn't known before.
  6. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    we always knew there were extremist muslims (and christians, hindus, buddhists, jews) so were the cartoons, actually, probing?
  7. "M. Courbet has made a place for himself in the current French School [of painting] in the way that a cannonball lodges itself in a wall." — François Sabatier, 1851

    What was Gustave Courbet probing with his cannonball? (We can be happy that he was an artist and not a proctologist.)

    Aside from making pictures of real people doing real things — which was considered outrageous already — Courbet did landscapes for their own sake:

    "Landscape as an independent genre had to be asserted against the conventional belief that only figure paintings mattered. Conservative critics of the Second Empire lost no time in linking the spontaneity and personal freedom implied in the painting of landscape to social and political subversion. The notion that meaning could be found in any corner of nature made nonsense of the prevailing belief in a hierarchy of subject matter. Against these received ideas the painters of pure landscape had to find their way to construct a new kind of meaning out of their own direct experience of nature. The importance of the weight of witness, of being there, was common to both painters and photographers." — Sarah Faunce

    Then, partly or mostly (take your pick) because of them, the boundary moved.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  8. WE always knew there were extremists in these groups? You assume you speak for everyone to be that informed?

    The cartoons probed to show just how severe the extreme and its probability since most of the world wasn't paying much attention just like most folks in the US in the '60's were not much aware of the level of violence in southern rednecks toward African Americans.

    The US is suppose to be a nation built upon the idea that everyone is equal and united but yet we like to divide ourselves into tribes (Chinatown, Little Italy, and other labels of division) because each divisive group sees the other as different, strange and not very like minded to the point they'ld rather not spend the time to get to know the truth about them. They're content in their own ignorance of other tribes and look the other way to protect their own no matter how bad some are. We all know this exists, so how does one expose and get pass this kind of hidden tribal loyalty? An outside party such as cartoonists exercising freedom of speech rattle some cages and not very delicately either.

    It also reveals to the members of that tribe who looked the other way just how extreme some of their members are as a way to motivate them to take action.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
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  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    one would have to be spectacularly uninformed to be unaware of the existence of extremists prior to the attack on the cartoonists
  10. Tim,
    You have many good points. My only question is, at what point do we distinguish something as just provocation vs art. I agree the cartoons and the cartoonists mark an important chapter in human history in modern times, where they brought out medieval bigotry and fanaticism to light. However, is that sufficient to call it art? A provocative writing, or a provocative behavior can have similar effects on the same set of people that the cartoons did, but that alone (IMO) is probably not sufficient to call these art.

    No doubt, provocative writings or provocative imagery often have an explosive effect on communities with fragile sense of respect, and that does portray a strong message. My point is, where the message originates probably makes a difference in whether something qualifies as art. For example, a cartoon depicting terrorists in action can portray irony and blind faith and thereby represent a certain truth. I have seen excellent examples of that and I have no hesitation in calling them art, because the message is clear to me from the cartoon itself. However, when I see the cartoons of prophet Mohammad, I see a revered leader of a religion being ridiculed and to me that just comes off as provocation. I don't see the truth that the cartoon seeks to portray, not until people react to them. Thats why, I am hesitant in calling these cartoons as art. May be I can see them as social experiment.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  11. You don't know that.

    And you keep deflecting from my point about how the cartoon SHOWED HOW EXTREME THESE PEOPLE ARE!

    I take it you didn't get the point about the social dynamics of tribe mentality. Group dynamics. The bigger the culture (group, gang, tribe, etc.) the harder it is to tell if the leaders have control or influence in ratting out these extremists because maybe they're related to them directly or indirectly. Most cultures fear being killed by their own out of retaliation (look at Chicago's black on black murder rate) so this creates an atmosphere of unintended silence and complacency. It's like this in all groups no matter if they're defined by race, religion or nationality.
  12. I think letting oneself be provoked by a drawing tells more about oneself than the artist/cartoonist and the art itself.

    Why does one revered leader get more respect over another. There's been provocative and disrespectful cartoons published about other religious leaders from other religions and no one was murdered over it. Why does one get preferential treatment over another?

    Back in art school in the early '80's I wore a t-shirt that said "Jesus is coming...and he is REALLY pissed". I got a laugh from some and an admonishment from a born again Christian in my class saying Jesus wouldn't be pissed. He's a loving and forgiving savior. I told her to lighten up. I'm sure Jesus would laugh, too, if he was so loving and forgiving.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  13. This subject reminded me of whether we should consider graffiti as art. I know there are some arts councils that respect and provide support for this form of defacing property as a form of protest. There's been some really disrespectful and provocative things drawn and painted on walls toward various religions and religious leaders.

    Why is graffiti considered art and should we support that with our tax dollars? The powers that be used to look down their nose at this and not even consider it as art but saw it as damage to property and a crime. Now it's considered art. Who's making the rules on what's considered art these days?
  14. "If a contemporary artist were to depict a saint today, the result might well be Donald Duck. Why? Donald Duck because he produces nostalgia, he is corny as opposed to sophisticated, non-spiritual as opposed to solid and good taste, dopey and unknowing as opposed to construct-minded. And upsetting. Large open areas of color rather than modeled color. However, another artist might do Donald simply as a reflection of what America likes and seems to stand for." — John Baldessari writing in 1965 ;)
    Tim_Lookingbill likes this.
  15. From this editorial in The Economist magazine:

    "... the notion that the real threat to free expression comes not from people who will kill you if they don’t like what you say, but from being too strongly “for” or “against” those who will kill you for what you say is practically self-parody."​

    "... Unfettered free speech is good for humanity. Charlie Hebdo was firebombed, and its journalists were threatened and attacked for what they wrote — yet they persisted. That they persisted in drawing crass, juvenile cartoons is beside the point. Defending free speech means defending speech you don’t like; otherwise it’s just partisanship, not principle."​
  16. No, it's not. What I find dangerous and appalling is this kind of false moral equivalence so often drawn out of a need to be "fair-minded" instead of discerning.

    The extremist reactions to so-called art by so-called extremist Muslims have about as much to do with Islam as these cartoons have to do with Monet or Renoir.

    Lichtenstein's cartoons were art. Most cartoons are not. Some straddle a line. Most don't. Sometimes house painters are artists. Mostly they're laborers who happen to use paint.
  17. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    so is moderation.
  18. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    just before the fatal attack on charlie hebdo, the french and british banned the french comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala amid
    fears that his stereotypical portrait of Jews and mocking of the Holocaust were a risk to public order

    As a consequence, Dieudonne rewrote his stuff and dropped the most offensive material. I wonder if the french had been a little more considerate towards the feelings of Muslims and asked CH to tone down their act if the loss of life at CH and the Jewish Deli could have been avoided.
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    I should add that Dieudonne was convicted and jailed for 2 months for racist and antisemitic comments he made in a show in Belgium in Nov 2015. So, he is a complete Rse. No doubt there.
  20. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

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