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Censorship and the visual arts

Censorship and the visual arts
Banksy street art: Graffiti cleaner
Graffiti depicting graffiti removal by Banksy. Created in May 2008 at Leake Street in London, painted over by August 2008.
Notice the animals resembling cave art from Lascaux or Altamira. Photo credit: Banksy
Censorship and the Visual Arts
The international, although by no means universal, appeal of art is mirrored by its ability to provoke
controversy the world over. Significantly, the catalysts for outrage and censorship seem by and large to
be the same; countries that take pride in their liberality and support for freedom of expression react in
ways remarkably similar to those they perceive to be repressive. (Harrison)
Throughout history, individuals and groups have recognized the communicative and persuasive power of the
visual arts. They have used art to their advantage. In religious structures, frescoes, paintings, windows etc. were
originally themed to communicate with the illiterate and to set the proper atmosphere for worship. Posters,
murals, and graffiti are traditional tools used by dissidents to promote social and political change. Politicians pay
millions of dollars for effective visuals to sway public opinion. Artists of all types have used the communicative
power of their métier to draw public attention to social
Our Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of expression to all
citizens. In theory, this means that the atheist has as much
voice as the evangelist, the socialist as the capitalist, the poor
man as the wealthy – and yet, individuals and groups are not
content to speak their minds; instead, they try to obliterate
opposing messages and silence their “opposition.” Think, for
example, about the right-wing vs. left-wing battle for the
airwaves: Fox News vs. PBS and NPR.
Censorship is a broad topic with broader implications for our society
and personal freedoms. As you research and write this paper, be
inclusive in your research. Take in more information than you think
you will need, and then apply what you have learned and concluded
to focus on the following issues in your writing:
• Address the issue of censorship as it pertains to the visual
arts in the United States
o Should a government, a religious group, or a board of
directors, for example, have the right to refuse to
display art in a
public location based on its personal
o What has been the trend in art censorship over the
past 20 years?
aesthetics or standards of morality? Include in your
reasoning not only traditional art forms such as
sculpture or painting, but also street art, performance
art, cartoon art, etc.
• Use your answers to the questions above as a springboard to
address the following, more universal, questions:
o What are the implications for our society if your
opinions were to become law?
o The birth of the internet and its growing importance
as a communication and news source signaled an
exponential decrease in the influence of traditional
mainstream media. Considering our increasingly
visually oriented culture, what impact will/does
censorship have on our ability to make logical,
informed decisions? What will this do to our society?
Specifics: • MLA or APA style (use Word template if you are not familiar
with the style). Include reference citations and a Works Cited
page. Use endnotes rather than footnotes.
• 3-5 pages typed, works cited page is extra.
• Submit electronically via Blackboard or email not later than
11:59 p.m. on Monday April 18.
• Plagiarism is not an option, even with a few word
substitutions. Cite all
• Use your computer’s spelling and grammar check tools.
of your sources, and be certain that you
are not using someone else’s work without permission.
• I have included on the following pages a number of potential
references that you might find helpful;
During his first year in office,
Virginia Attorney General Ken
Cuccinelli censored the state seal –
designed in 1776.?
In 2002 curtains were installed to
hide a 1931 Art Deco statue named
Spirit of Justice in the Department
of Justice Building in Washington,
D.C. Attorney General John Ashcroft
disliked giving press conferences
with the partly nude statue in the
background. ?
ISIS recently destroyed priceless
ancient statues, claiming that they
were blasphemous idolatry. ISIS
members imposed their own beliefs
on cultural worth. They censored
the art.?
Iranian film maker Abbas
Kiarostami has to work outside of
his homeland because ”Iran will
have zero tolerance for filmmakers
who support the country’s political
opposition …”?
“First they came for the statues,
then they came for the performers,
and then they came for …me.”
(see Neimoller)?
Grading criteria for this paper:
5 = Excellent 3 = Average 1 = Poor SCORE
TECHNICAL (maximum 20)
Research paper style with citations and Works
Cited page – use template 5 yes 0 no
Clarity of expression: The right words with the
right spelling and the right grammar
10 7 5 2 0
Document Structure: beginning, middle, end 5 4 3 1 0
CONTENT (maximum 80)
Understanding of assignment: Have you
addressed the issues required?
20 15 10 5 0
Clarity of opinions 20 15 10 5 0
Originality: the thought behind your reasoning 20 15 10 5 0
Support of conclusions 20 15 10 5 0
GRADE: worth 40 points of your semester grade 100-90=A 89-80=B 79-70=C 69-60=D 59-0=F
Works Cited / Possible Resources
Harrison, Sara. “Censorship and Controversy in Contemporary Art.” 2002. ProQuest.
Pastor Martin Niemoller, speaking of the Nazi threat of WWII:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

First, They Came for the Art
‘Degenerate Art,’ at Neue Galerie, Recalls Nazi Censorship.
By Holland Cotter, March 13, 2014
This article is an excellent place to begin your research. Nazi Germany was infamous for censoring art and artists
their leadership considered decadent. Follow this with a visit here:
Degenerate art: The art the Nazis hated
Alastair Sooke , March 2014
“By telling Germans what art is the right art and what art is subversive, the Nazis could move on to say what
people are the right people, what religions are the right religions, and eventually who could live and who could
“As time has moved on and contemporary art has moved with it, controversy has somehow always managed to
keep up. Going back to the beginning of art historical study, we can find cases of both individual artists and groups
who have rocked the artistic status quo with their innovative contributions to the art of the day. The 20th century
was no exception.”
“The FREE EXPRESSION POLICY PROJECT, founded in 2000, provides research and analysis on difficult censorship
issues and serves as an intellectual resource for the free-expression community. The Project seeks free speechfriendly
policy solutions to the concerns that animate censorship campaigns.”
Commentary: Of Threats, Intimidation, Sensitivity, and Free Speech: The Muhammad Cartoons
By Marjorie Heins
” (February 22, 2006) – Countless words have been spilled over the Danish newspaper JyullandsPosten’s publication
last September of 12 cartoons commenting on journalistic self-censorship and Islamic beliefs, including several that
caricatured the prophet Muhammad. Surely, everything has been said by now.
“Yet the controversy rages on: Is this an easy case for freedom of expression? Should there be no acquiescence in
demands by some Muslims, backed up with lethal violence and threats, to suppress the cartoons? Alternatively,
should sensitivity to intense religious feelings dictate self-censorship, or even government censorship, in the
interests of saving lives and calming outrage? “
Debating Art: Censorship Or Protest?
Published: December 06, 1989
” An angry debate has erupted at the New School for Social Research after a caricature of a black man the school
was displaying in an art show was defaced by an instructor who branded the work racist.”
Controversial ‘Jesus Ants’ Art Goes Marching Again — on Bicoastal Tour
By Mary Quinn O’Connor & Garrett Tenney
Published June 17, 2011
“A controversial exhibit that was quickly pulled from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery last year is back –
and this time it’s hitting the road on a bicoastal tour. “
October 20, 2011, 6:00 am
Prague Art Show Courts Controversy With Unusual Element

Criticized Philippine Art Exhibit Is Closed
Published: August 9, 2011
Controversy over art is good for society, argues Steven Tepper
by Jim Patterson | Posted on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 — 3:48 PM
Controversial ‘Art in the Streets’ exhibit cancelled at Brooklyn Museum
By Ayelet Pearl | June 22, 2011 1:20 PM EDT
“The latest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles is on track to become its most popular to
date. ‘Art in the Streets’ has drawn in tens of thousands of visitors, both regulars and first timers, in its opening
week and promises to attract thousands more.
“So when the Brooklyn Museum, scheduled to show ‘Art in the Streets’ after its four month run at MOCA, abruptly
cancelled the exhibit, many pointed to the controversy that surrounded the LA exhibit as the reason.”
Santa Monica Home Covered In Graffiti Art Stirs Controversy
Santa Monica Home Covered In Graffiti Art Stirs Controversy
September 10, 2011 9:55 AM
Legal Issues by Timothy Geigner, Thu, May 1, 2014.
“In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating wrote that the Justice
Department is “telling bankers to behave like policemen and judges.”
“Operation Choke Point is asking banks to identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing
something government officials don’t like,” Keating wrote. “Banks must then “choke off” those customers’ access to
financial services, shutting down their accounts.”
“Keating said the highly secretive operation was launched in early 2013. That’s when porn stars started to complain
to the media that their bank accounts were being shut down without explanation.
“Let’s not mince words: a program that was built upon the goals of stopping financial fraud has devolved into a
massive government overreach into private businesses that are operating within the law.”
Art Censorship
Fartashphoto’s Blog: Art Censorship. Posted in Uncategorized by fartashphoto on October 14, 2010
“Acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami says the political climate in his homeland is forcing him to work
“…Iran will have zero tolerance for filmmakers who support the country’s political opposition, Culture Minister
Mohammad Hosseini said Last month.
“Anybody who avails himself of its (cultural) syndicate cover for making political activities and undermining values
of the establishment are not tolerated and harshly condemned,” Hosseini said during a press conference in Tehran.”
Ask Metafilter. Examples of art censorship submitted as response to an open query. 2011.
Index of synopses of court cases about art censorship.

Censors Remove Ai Weiwei From Shanghai Show, Leaving Uli Sigg Powerless

China removes Ai Weiwei from lists of past award winners and jurors of Chinese Contemporary Art Award – of
which he was a founding jurist. Why? He criticized his government. 2014.
Published in 1989, not athe complete original article, but the info is still apt.
Art, censorship and morality: your choice of transcript or audio file of discussion from the open university. 2008.

The naked truth: A history of art censorship

A history of art censorship by the Art Media Agency. 2013.
AIGA article; Art, censorship and courage. 2006.

Censorship of the Arts

A synopsis of some of the broader issues of censorship, with sample yes/no arguments.
ACLU. What more do I need to say?

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