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Effects of Art Censorship on Society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 5328 words Published: 14th Jun 2018

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The manner in which art provides an opening of the paths of human views and development through art libraries, and the limiting effects of censorship

Contents (Jump to)

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 2 – Rationale

Chapter 3 – Methodology

Chapter 4 – Literature Review

Chapter 5 – Conclusion


Chapter 1 – Introduction

In understanding the realm of artists, the implications of art, artists, and the dilemmas faced by art libraries, and museums in selecting and acquiring pieces for their collections, one needs to have an appreciation of the realm in which art exists. Leo Tolstoy stated that “to define art, it is necessary .. to cease to consider it as one of the conditions of human life” (California State University Long Beach, 2005). Egan (1979, p. 166) advises that Tolstoy’s views on art were based on “the contention that good art consists of an individual consciously passing his feelings on to others, or provoking in them “a spiritual union with the artist and other readers”. There are critics of this view in that they believe it dangerous as it “opens the flood gates to art for ethics and politics thereby reducing art to a disguised socialism” (Egan, 1979, p. 166). Regardless of one’s views and or the critics one sides with, art represents a phenomenon that affects us all.

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This dissertation proposal shall take a look into the intriguing world of art, in terms of its quality, censorship, and thus selection by art libraries as a function of the quest to uncover, and provide students as well as the general public with materials that provoke a depth, and range of thinking. The removal, and or withholding of data and information from the public as a result of some type of control body or group represents censorship (Encyclopedia Britannica online, 2007). Harer and Harris (1994, p. 2) advise that censorship represents a phenomena that is “conflict between powerful opposing forces in society that can threaten its very foundation and ideals”. Their definition goes on to add “society disagrees as to what defines the limitations of creativity and expression and who should decide what has passed beyond the limits” (Harer and Harris, 1994, p. 2). The foundation for this examination lies in their advising “It is this power struggle that has the potential for reordering our democratic and constitutional principles, especially if a monopoly of power is secured by one of these forces or the struggle is won in the political arena by those who wish to restrict” (Harer and Harris, 1994, p. 2).

The dissertation proposal being recommended is based upon this underlying principle, and the broader considerations and facets as represented by the selection and exhibition of art in libraries, and related institutions as a result of their artistic quality and other aspects, as an exercise to delve beneath the surface and extract deeper meanings and understandings.

Art, within the context of its selection and presentation represents contemporary as well as past works of art. The process “enables us to think about the ideas of a range of writers and theorists, and in turn how their work has interacted with the visual” (Arnold, 2004, p. 76). Art has an importance within cultures in that it exposes us to the views, ideas, thoughts and visualization of a broad range of thinking, ideas and concepts that are different and in many instances foreign to our own. It opens us up to the possibilities and potentials to question our own views, ideas and concepts as well as strengthen them through exposure. Art, as is also the case with the human race, entails evolution and growth. What was once looked upon as lacking artistic qualities by whatever standards that were invoked, depending upon the period of history own looks at, change, as societies, and people evolve, and thus so do the broadening of their views and ideas.

Art has evolved from its earliest forms “as a vehicle for religious ritual” as represented by the paintings on caves located in France to the Sistine Chapel, “art has served religion” (Cornell University, 2005). It has also served “as a commemoration of an important event, such as represented by the “coronation of Josephine by Napoleon (Cornell University, 2005). Additionally, art has also “served as propaganda or social commentary” to attempt to “persuade us toward particular viewpoints or actions promoted by public or private institutions” as represented by “political parties, lobbyists, governments, or religious groups” (Cornell University, 2005). Art may be used to record visual data, create works of beauty, as a means to storytelling, to convey emotion and to interpret (Cornell University, 2005). The uses and purposes of art are to reach us in some manner on some level, and communicate. As this represents being, and or having exposure to views, ideas, concepts, images and points of view that differ from ours, thus censorship for mature adults, and in an educational setting seemingly represents a closing of possible avenues of exploration, and thoughts on the path to awareness.

Chapter 2 – Rational

The last sentence thus represents the rationale for this dissertation proposal. ‘The manner in which art provides an opening of the paths of human views and development through art libraries, and the limiting effects of censorship’. It is impossible for a title to encompass all of the linked salient facets that comprise the preceding, however, it is felt that such a direction does provide for the study to examine the problems and considerations that mangers have in the selection of materials for art libraries as well as the implications arising from same in terms of the potential dilemmas resulting from facets such as artistic quality, view, and of course censorship. The preceding represents a look at as well as under the surface of the world of art to glean a picture of how art is screened and presented to us, and how these judgmental factors work. The broad view encompassing art libraries, galleries, museums and specialized art libraries is felt that it will show the different manner in which this is approached on many levels. The foregoing means, mainstream, fringe, popular, conservative, historical, classical and other forms. Through a broad based look, the examination should uncover the nuances of the art world, and the degree to which censorship, either overt, or in the eyes and minds of the beholders exists.

Chapter 3 – Methodology

The examination of the field of art from the perspective of the indicated rational will entail the utilization of a broad range of sources and methodologies. Secondary research provides the opportunity to review a large range of information as gathered by differing sources to equate elements, and views that might not have occurred to the researcher in their initial analysis, and or approach (Patzer, 1995, p. 2). While secondary research does permit one to potentially explore a broader range of data, information, views and examples, its limitations are that not everything that exists can be looked at, in addition to some facets of the research being dated, and even outmoded by new developments and approaches that have yet to be converted to literature sources. Secondary research does enable an individual to obtain a grasp of the issues, circumstances, and issues, along with inculcating one as to the broad as well as nuance factors (Myers, 2005).

Primary research is beneficial in gaining first hand information on trends, developments, new occurrences, and related facets that have not yet made their way into publishing circles or common use. It also permits the gleaning of information directly from sources, provided the methodology, survey, questionnaire, and or interview session has been well prepared and is balanced in its approach. However, the problem with primary research is represented by the limitation in terms of the field of respondents. If a broad based survey, and or questionnaire methodology is utilized, sufficient time needs to be devoted to the gathering of source lists, survey, and or questionnaire preparation, mailing, response, and correlation. In terms of preparation, it is probably best to enlist the aid and assistance of a few members within the field to help with the preparation of questions, and or areas as well as the proper syntax, and order of presentation in order to impact confidence in the respondents that the survey is indeed valid in terms of its base and concepts.

In the case of this type of examination, it is recommended that both approaches be utilized in order to gain an accuracte understaning of the surface aspects that can be readliy, and or easily seen or gathered as a result of secondary sources. Primary sources thus represent a look below the surface, asking for facets that might not have been covered in the secondary data as well as potential new areas as made available as a result of said secondary research.

Chapter 4 – Literature Review

Kidd (2003) provides a summary of Robert Mapplethorpe in referring to him, along with Andres Serrano as the pair of artists “…who catapulted the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) into the crisis that is widely referred to as the “culture wars of the arts.” As a result, Mapplethorpe is now generally associated with a particular kind of obscene art”. Kidd (2003) sees this label as being unfair as the circumstances surrounding the National Endowment for the Arts were a result of other organizations that made the decision to show the artist’s work (Kidd, 2003). Secondly, Kidd (2003) explains that “Mapplethorpe’s relationship with “obscenity” was a development of the culture wars and not a fundamental dynamic of his work”, and that the artist’s history indicates “an uneasiness about including his sexually explicit, homoerotic, and sadomasochistic photographs amongst artistic collections of his work”.

The foregoing outcome was precipitated by letters, and a campaign initiated by the American Family Association (AFA) that focused on the United States Congress concerning Serrano’s photograph titled “Piss Christ” which depicted a plastic crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine, thus setting off a debate over his work and suitability for a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (Inde, 1998, p. 100). The escalation of the debate included Mapplethorpe’s exhibit on the same venue, which was canceled as well, in a decision rendered by the Corcoran Gallery Board of Trustees who felt that exhibiting his works might jeopardize future NEA funding (Inde, 1998, p. 100). In Mapplethorpe’s defense, regardless of one’s personal views and opinions concerning his art, a follow up exhibit after the Corcoran Gallery cancellation that was held by the Washington Project of the Arts saw some fifty thousand individuals view his work with only twelve complaints being registered (Inde, 1998, p. 101). And prior to the Corcoran Gallery exhibit, Mapplethorpe’s works were shown in both Philadelphia as well as Chicago in the United States “without major incident or comment”.

The underlying current with respect to art, as we are reminded by Nichols Fox, is that (Inde, 21998, p. 102):

“Art can be strong stuff. In any totalitarian regime it is one of the first things suppressed. In our condition of moral superiority as a democratic society we have prodded the Soviet Union for years to loosen its hold on its writers and painters. Now it is doing so at precisely the same moment that our own tolerance for dissent appears to be weakening.”

Art, in varying forms and degrees is all around us all the time. It is present in the shape of the vehicle we drive, the coffee maker in the morning, the graphics in video games, and in every object that we use. These common and everyday versions of art encompass our world. Art, in the sense of the context of this examination, is subjective. It is open to the interpretation of its audience and critics (Esaak, 2006). Art, is what we think it is, or, what a number of people think it is (Witcombe, 2005). There is no one singular definition that satisfies all the contexts, and in order to get a grasp on it, it is generally thought that it is better to see it in terms of “the way something is done” (Witcombe, 2005). In the context of this examination, the definition of art has its roots “in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy” whereby art comes to represent “a collective term encompassing painting, sculpture and architecture”, which was later expanded so as to include music as well as poetry (Witcombe, 2005). It is from this basis that the decorative arts as well as crafts such as metalworking, furniture making and other utility forms are excluded, and an artist differentiated from a craftsman (Witcombe, 2005).

And while a small cadre of one’s friends, and or associates may revere an individual as an artist, the process in terms of the art world, meaning the recognized channels of sales that include galleries, private collections, curators, museums, libraries and other modes whereby values are established, means being or becoming recognized (Crawford, 2005). Exhibitions such as Mapplethorpe has participated in, put his art in front of a broad cadre of the public as well as art professionals thus establishing him in this circle, titled the art world. And as the acceptance, and or reputation spreads, so does the clamor for the artist’s pieces. And such represents the process via which galleries, museums and art libraries enter the process. University art libraries are an integral part of the art recognition process, bringing new artists into the pre-professional and professional mainstream through providing visibility, and a form of recognition (Johnson, 2006). The process of art selection at universities, galleries and museums takes into account the broad context of the history of the institution, its historical foundations, reputation as being progressive, or conservative, the links to supporters, and its rationale for operating (Johnson, 2006). The theme and direction of university art library collections is a product of the focus, and image the universities seek to project as well as the types of artists, and works that they look to attract (Johnson, 2006). This process entails the overall library’s purpose, which is represented by the university, its faculty, collection history, and fit into the broader scheme of academia.

The aspect regarding artistic recognition represents an extremely important area for an artist. The example as drawn by van Gogh, and other artists whereby the withholding from the world, the merits of their views would lessen us all (ProgressiveLiving.org., 2007). Critics in the world of art are there to evaluate works, and to “separate the wheat from the chaff” (ProgressiveLiving.org., 2007). Their position is to wade through the offering of artists, and render opinions on their work as qualified professionals to supposedly shield us from works, and or artists whose level of development is not yet refined, or noteworthy. This represents a highly subjective process that the managers of art libraries, museums, and other artistic areas review and consider in their decisions to acquire, and or showcase works of art. The process is far from perfect, yet at the same time it is far from being flawed. It, as an open system that allows for the inputs, views and opinions of a diverse range of individuals to comment upon and showcase what they believe is art. Critics do not always represent the best source or views on what might constitute art, and thus the broad array of art libraries, galleries, museums and literature provides the opportunity for open debate or selection. Such was clearly demonstrated by the Mapplethorpe situation whereby the authorities had to reverse their field. The depth of the preceding represents an area for further examination and research.

Johnson (2006) advises that university libraries promote themselves as well in the broader sphere of other universities, galleries, and museums of all sizes and renown. The universe is a competitive one in which past selections, progressiveness, qualities and track record of selections, connections, exhibition power, personnel, space, facilities, web site, and a host of other facets enter into the overall considerations. And while artists need these outlets, university art libraries need new, present, upcoming, and established artists to enhance their standings and reputations (Johnson, 2006). Just as artists must promote themselves, universities must also follow this course through providing, and showcasing the unknown, unexpected and as a location whereby the newest, best, and unusual can be found. An example of the preceding is represented by Birmingham University’s Chrysalis Project, whereby it is digitizing all of the works ever held by the university as well as all of the 26 programmes that are “published annually by the” university’s “Society of Arts & School of Design between 1978 and 1902”. The goal is to broaden the appeal of the University’s art library on the Internet as part of its self-promotion program.

Within this scope are the managers who must select as well as go after the new, unique established, up and coming, unknown, known, and hot artists. An example of the foregoing is provided by the art system in Russia. There is and has been a large cadre of art libraries in Russia that have been, and are in the rise (Kolganova, 1999). More than repositories of books and printed materials, these libraries hold engravings, photographs and art works. The IFLA (2005) newsletter advised that “Russian art libraries” are engaged in a diverse series of “programmes, projects, exhibitions, conferences and workshops” aimed at sharing as well as securing artistic works. The preceding represents a system of coordination in Russia that seeks to display art works in addition to literary materials. The university art acquisition system is far from being national in scope, it is international, and needs to be in order to be relevant (IFLA, 2005). Olga Sinitsyna, the Chair of the Art Libraries Section of the IFLA, brought such a development to light when she announced that one of her goals was to get the Russian art libraries more involved in IFLA activities and participation (IFLA, 2005). The IFLA (2005) is comprised of over 1700 associations, institutions, and individuals on a global basis that includes most UK universities as well as Birmingham University. The preceding scope of the manner in which university art libraries must reach, and operate provides a look into the highly sophisticated nature of the systems involved.

And while no such formal organized inter cooperation methodology exists in the United Kingdom, as per the Russian example, the informal, yet organized system of competing interests in the acquisition and display of art, nevertheless is a reality. University art library compete with themselves, and private art libraries as well as galleries and museums, with the prize being their reputations, and selection processes. This creates unique, and difficult problems and challenges for art managers. They must be progressive, provocative, on the leading edge, contemporary, modern, classical, and innovative in not only varying their pieces, they must have the network and contacts to be fed pieces in a highly competitive arena, yet make selections that have there base in ethics as well as contemporary moral, and other values. Thus, managerial problems involved in selecting works represents a key aspect of the research in that it requires the utilization of questions to obtain views, methods, procedures and techniques. The insights concerning the following areas, were not located as a result of secondary sources, thus calling for the use of primary research to uncover the techniques, approaches, methods, considerations and other aspects utilized by managers in carrying out their functions. From a review of literature such as Johnson (2006), Kolganova (1999) and the IFLA (2005), it was postulated that managers have the following problems, and considerations in the selection of works and artists:

  1. Overall Art Library Developmental Considerations

As advised by Johnson (2006), and Kolganova (1999), as well as shown in excerpts of the IFLA (2005) newsletter, art libraries do not exist in a vacuum. They must interface with the outside world in terms of competing for new art talent, as well as other types of selections across a broad spectrum of art types.

  1. Art Types

In planning for the future, the manager needs to be aware of the various types of art that other libraries have, and are presenting also focusing upon what direction they might take in the future to avoid being caught in a battle for talent and selections in a finite universe.

  1. Recent Trends

The manager also encounters the problem of being on top of the recent trends, not only in terms of what other art libraries and museums are doing, but also in terms of artist development, contemporary trends, new explorations, and what the public itself is finding intriguing. The key to success is being ahead of the field in terms of recognizing, and equating what new developments are on the verge of exploding into new trends. This potentially represents the most important singular facet of their work in being progressive, forward looking, and daring. Birmingham University has developed such a reputation over a long period of time thus helping to ease the managers task of finding new talent as a goodly part of the art world in this regard comes to the university as a result of its positioning, and progressiveness. Understanding as well as responding to such developments represents an extremely important facet in being in front of new trends as a leader, as opposed to following. Such takes on a national as well as international flavor in having the resources, contacts, and pulse beat on a global scale.

  1. University and Public Perceptions

In the quest to be progressive and leading edge, the manager also must be cognizant of the potential effect that a particular type of display, acquisition and or exhibition could have upon the university, alumni, and public opinion. Birmingham University’s selection of Mapplethorpe is such an example. Controversial prior to his works appearing at the university in 1998, the institution was involved in a major controversy as a result.

A book on Robert Mapplethorpe, and American photographer, a homosexual who died of aids in 1988, was taken out on loan from the university library by a Spanish woman for utilization as a piece of research on a thesis representing “art versus Pornography” (Weaver, 1998). The controversy developed over two photographs in the book, titled “Helmut and Brooks, NYC, 1978, and Hank and Tom, Sausalito, 1977”, who were engaged in what were described by the police as “unusual sexual acts of an extreme nature” (Weaver, 1998). In a decision that took over eleven months to reach, the university was cleared of violations of the Obscene Publications Act, based upon the view that “the effect of the book would not be to tend to deprave, and corrupt a significant number of those who are likely to read it” (Weaver, 1998).

The preceding example illustrates the need to be progressive as well as forward thinking in creating an environment of academic as well as artistic freedom that is justified against the broader, and wider precepts of the outside world.

  1. Budgetary Constraints

Managers are also faced with the prospects of working within budgets that may be less than adequate in terms of competing with other universities, art libraries, museums, and specialty libraries.

  1. Ethics and Morality

The Mapplethorpe example represents one whereby the ethics, and morality of the university can be brought into question as a result of artistic selections. Walking that fine line represents a daunting task, and problem to be addressed by managers in that being too conservative could leave them on the outside looking in at more progressive moves, and thinking as represented by other institutions.

The foregoing represent a few of the key areas regarding the problems faced by art managers in the running and administration of their function(s). Such therefore calls for additional research of a primary nature to discuss, and uncover the areas and aspects of problems, and concerns faced by managers in the administration of their duties. Said information was not seemingly located in a search of secondary research sources.

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Art does have a purpose. As a result “judgments about art need not be subjective, artists really are up to something, although it’s a complicated sort of something)” (ProgressiveLiving.org., 2007). The over riding fact regarding art that Mapplethorpe as well as other artists provide and open us up to is that “there is no disputing tastes” (ProgressiveLiving.org., 2007). Art is by nature subjective, and along with that “moral judgments are all subjective, and that the truth is purely subjective” (ProgressiveLiving.org., 2007). The preceding is the lesson provided by the Mapplethorpe example, and others concerning ethics, morals, and censorship. Understanding the realms of thinking that exist in the world represents a means to be less susceptible to them as a result of overall balance. Art exposes us to provoke as well as delight.

Chapter 5 – Conclusion

The world of art is a highly subjective field, in which the purpose, benefit, usefulness and or beauty is a representation of the beholder. Leo Tolstoy (California State University Long Beach, 2005) advises us that “to define art, it is necessary .. to cease to consider it as one of the conditions of human life”. Egan (1979, p. 166) states Tolstoy’s views were based upon “the contention that good art consists of an individual consciously passing his feelings on to others or provoking in them “a spiritual union with the artist and other readers”. Mapplethorpe’s case in terms of Birmingham University brings forth the specter of censorship that Harer and Harris (1994, p. 2) advise that censorship represents a phenomena that is “conflict between powerful opposing forces in society that can threaten its very foundation and ideals”. It harkens to what Nichols Fox states in that “Art can be strong stuff. In any totalitarian regime it is one of the first things suppressed” (Inde, 21998, p. 102).

Art is what we think it is, and or what the artist is attempting to get us to think it is. It is subjective, and thus differing views hold differing passions. The point is, art is art! It is a collective term encompassing painting, sculpture and architecture”, which was later expanded so as to include music as well as poetry (Witcombe, 2005). Defying any singular attempt to completely encompass it, yet being a realm that can be understood. The dissertation proposal to develop into ‘The manner in which art provides an opening of the paths of human views and development through art libraries, and the limiting effects of censorship’, represents a means to equate facets of the world of art on many levels, yet tied to the realm itself.


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