Connect - Seminar on Censorship

The readings for the seminar lead me to a few overall questions:

  • Should controversial art only be shown in private galleries or museums?

    • Is this a disservice to the population?

    • Does it presume that the population cannot handle controversial pieces?

  • Is there a difference between controversial and inappropriate art?

  • Who gets to decide what is considered to be inappropriate art?

The first piece which I looked at was titled “Of Fig Leaves, Art and Other Disputes; Italy: The Great Fig-Leaf Debate” by Roberto Suro from The New York Times. This piece looked at the fig leaves which were added to certain 15th-century frescos in the Brancacci Chapel. The main question of the piece revolved around wether or not the leaves should be removed from the paintings or not. This raises interesting thoughts for me about the role of us as humans in modern day restoration of art. Is it okay that the fig leaves (which are a part of the history of the frescos) be removed? I was pretty surprised, as this is something about which I have never thought. It really complicates the issue of restoring a piece which has been censored.

Image via  Artsy

Image via Artsy

The second piece, “The Art of Controversy,” also posed complicated themes and concepts. In reading it, I really had to question my own held beliefs that art should not be censored under any circumstance. The piece focused on the “Sensation” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. “It shouldn’t be supported by taxpayer money, and it violates the lease that the Brooklyn Museum entered into, which lease talks about shows appropriate for schoolchildren” (The Art of Controversy.) This caused me to think a lot about what taxpayer money use means in the world of art. Should this put constraints on the art that is shown in an institution? I do not think that there is a clear answer to this. Which is frustrating, but it makes sense. For such a complex and nuanced issue, it is impossible to always (or even ever) find well cut conclusions and answers.

The idea of content in the works which are sought to be censored was somethings that connected the two articles for me. In the debate over the removal of the fig leaves, the point was raised about the fig leaves now adding to the history and the original content of the piece. As the article states, “It was decided to remove them because they detracted from the original and were deteriorating anyway” (Suro, 2). This makes some sense, but does it mean that the new content of the work as created by the old censors is destroyed? Is the new content back to the original? In both situations, however, I felt as though the content of the work was not explored by either party wishing to censor. Both those in old Italy and those in the New York City Government focused more on the offending feature than what the artist was attempting to say. Which lead to wonder if the content should be overlooked in that way? The majority of artists make very conscious choices about what is to be included in a piece of work and how that augments the piece overall In the end, I do not have any clear answers to these questions, only more questions and ideas. These are complex and intricate issues which require much thought and consideration.