The term censorship is used to refer to the proscription of an idea or image that is deemed by the government or any authority to be unduly controversial, obscene or indecent. From antiquity, governments have both censored and supported works of art. The United States government hesitantly created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965 to provide material support for deserving artists. Initially the government did not want to support individuals or groups of individuals because it feared that the works of art they created might end up being construed as national art and it only allowed NEA to be formed after being pressured by activists. The need to cease underwriting vulgar art became apparent in 1988 after an artist named Andres Serrano who was funded by the government through NEA made a picture named “piss Christ” which depicted a crucifix in a container full of his urine. A year later, an artist called Robert Mapplethorpe who was funded by the same body compounded the situation when he made images portraying sadomasochism, nude children, flowers and homosexuality. This prompted the senate to call for government action against vulgar art. However, the due process guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the constitution of the United States has suppressed most efforts put forward by NEA towards outlawing obscenity and instilling decency in art. This is probably because the intentions of the artists work may easily be misinterpreted by people calling for actions. If the government or other institutions such as universities among others allowed art work to be censored based on peoples feelings towards assumed moral or religious authority, discrimination against people based on their gender, race or sexual orientation, fear of taboos or controversial issues etc then no work of art would ever be created. Apparently the United States is a cosmopolitan country and different individuals will have different views upon an artists work and this makes it difficult to censor art work based on people’s attitudes. It is therefore incumbent upon the artist to draw boundaries between freedom of expression and social responsibility when developing work of art meant for the public. Freedom of Expression
Although freedom of expression is guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the constitution of the United States, artists must understand that freedom of expression has both explicit and implied limits. The first amendment of the US constitution fosters a mutually supportive relationship between artists and the society. The society gains a lot from free and diverse artistic expressions which address contemporary and past issues by challenging people to rethink their assumptions. The article titled “Censorship versus Freedom of Expression in the Arts” by Chiang and Posner expresses concerns that the government may illegitimately censor art to avoid corruption of morals and avoid subversion of politics.
Suppressing verbal and non verbal expression i.e. speech/writing and works of art respectively undermines free communication which is fundamental to the preservation of a creative culture and a free society. Indeed, art should be censored because it can and does cause offense. This is exemplified best by the work of art by Francis Goya titled “naked Maja”. Apparently, the artist wanted to show disdain to those who associated female nude with evil. However, the artist was summoned by the Spanish inquisition in 1815 to reveal who had authorized him to make the painting which was obviously offensive. Goya self censored his work to protect himself from losing the job of a court painter by clothing the female who now became the “clothed Maja”. Recently in 1991, a group of female teachers in Penn State managed to persuade the authorities to bring down a repainting of “naked Maja” which made it difficult for them to teach because it was considered to be a form of sexual harassment...
Cited: Bica M., Camillo. Social responsibility and art. Visual arts press, 15 Oct. 2005. Web. 24
Chiang, Tun-Jen and Posner, Richard A. Censorship versus freedom of expression in
the arts. Elsevier, 1 May 2006. Web. 24 January 2013.
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