Friday, December 3, 2010

The censors

I'm sure many of you have heard about the recent controversy over the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. An article (one of many articles written recently) on the subject can be found here. I don't want to get too political on this blog, but it seems to me that this is only the most recent battle between controversial art (when in the last century was art not controversial?) and congressional leaders feigning outrage to garner support among a specific demographic. Personally, I think it's indefensible that the National Portrait Gallery removed the art in question.
What do you think?

And to illustrate this blog post, I'll represent a book cover I did a few years ago. Since it's illustration and not art, no one should be offended.


  1. Unfortunately, we have elected officials who are more interested in campaigning than governing. This is an issue that the Republicans can use to fire up the religious conservatives and the tea-partiers who think slashing funding for the Smithsonian will solve the nation's deficit problems. It's a win-win for them. It helps replenish empty campaign war chests and keep people distracted from actual issues facing the country.

    I think it sucks that the National Portrait Gallery pulled the art in question. Art is supposed to provoke thought and discussion. We seem to be becoming a nation uninterested in that sort of thing.

    Nice illustration, by the way. What was the book you did this for?

  2. Ryan,
    We've been discussing this a lot in my local museum's young professional group.

    Sorry man, the culture war ended and Jesus & co. won....20 years ago.

    That said, the piece wasn't really that strong. Andres Serrano: shocking on purpose and insightful.

    This was a narrative that didn't have a strong enough focus, and the artist isn't known as being shocking/controversial or at the forefront of this movement. Were it strong enough to fight for, people would've. It wasn't. Unfortunate.

    And honestly, some of those elected leaders are shocked. They aren't the intellectual elite. Many of them still believe that the "new" contemporary art is Andy Warhol.

  3. @John: Thanks! The book can be found here
    Back in 2006-07, the author/pastor had enough money to commission the painting. I have not read the book. My only contribution was the illustration.
    @Cinnamon: Nice input. I totally agree. I'm not upset that this specific piece of art was removed. I'm upset that the "small government" folks like to have a big government when it comes to the value of art and what goes on in people's bedrooms. Not that any of this surprises me.

  4. One of the interesting things that always gets brought up in situations like this is that "tax payer money" was involved and that people shouldn't be paying for sacrilegious and offensive work. It happened quite a bit during the Giuliani years in New York City and it's an interesting argument.

    While it might be true, it's also interesting to note that tax payer money goes toward a lot of things that some tax payers may object to. There are a lot of folks who object to war and yet tax payer money goes toward wars. We don't stop wars because a minority of folks are upset about it. (An extreme example, to be sure but it was all I could think of off the cuff).

    Fact is, art is and has been the whipping boy of politics and religion. It has been censored and destroyed for thousands of years. In Egypt they attempted to strike pharaohs from the historical record by destroying sculptures of them and removing their names from hieroglyphics. In Rome they put fig leafs over exposed genitals on frescoes. On Ed Sullivan they shot Elvis from the waste up so the audience at home wouldn't see his scandalous hip gyrations.

    Perhaps the net result of the controversy is that everyone ends up agreeing that it was a mediocre work, anyway. Perhaps it will be decided that the controversy wasn't significant to begin with but was blown out of proportion because it was spoken of at such a high level and on such a broad stage. Or, perhaps the end result is that it is decided a great injustice was done. Either way, the discourse itself is a great thing and for now, at least, that's one thing they can't take away.