For the past few years, I have been increasingly interested in art. My knowledge of this field used to be very limited, and that is the main reason I decided to pick History of Art for my A-levels. In my first class, our teacher asked us what we thought ‘art’ was. At the moment, I genuinely thought it was one of the most challenging questions I have been asked at a school, and I still think that way. Not only because of the depth of it and the great amount of knowledge required to answer it as accurately as possible, but also due to how personal it actually was. From this first contact with History of Art, I learnt that this concept was too broad, too personal and too subjective for me to describe it.
Limiting art is, in the end, a way of limiting beauty and culture itself. As I said before, art is not the same for me as it might be for you. Art is a really personal world that is defined by our senses and the emotions a piece produces in us. If someone does not appreciate or agree with someone, that is not an excuse not to respect that person and opinion. Nowadays, we are expected to be as politically correct as possible, and I partially agree with this new situation. As human beings living in large and diverse communities, we must take care of each other and try not to damage anyone’s sensibilities. However, this attempt to keep everyone satisfied should, in my humble opinion, exclude art. If you are offended by art, you might have to reconsider some of your points of view.
I find it really curious how everyone is so concerned about free speech through social media and the internet overall, but not that many people realize that censoring art is denying someone their freedom of speech. In the creative process, the artist captures a bit of his mind and heart. They undress their soul and do their best for people to enjoy their work. Art is a part essential of culture, and when culture is censored we can tell something is really not okay in society.
Waterhouse. Schiele. Valtònyc. Santiago Sierra. When someone mentions art censorship, these are the most recent cases that come to my mind. The reasons behind this unreasonable decisions are various and different depending on the case. Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse was taken down from Manchester Art Gallery early this year because, as the gallery’s Curator for Contemporary Art states on The Guardian, ‘‘presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale’’. However, we see every single day in the mainstream media how women are represented on film, television, magazines and video games. Much more sexualized, just an object of desire without a clear role but attracting a wider audience.
The naked body is still censored 100 years later in Egon Schiele’s artworks, and it definitely does not come as a surprise to anyone. Male and –especially– female bodies are still not considered natural enough to be treated in a casual way. Several metro stations which exposed Schiele’s studies of naked human bodies as publicity for an exhibition were censored, which resulted in a campaign to make everyone think about the implications of rejecting art because of the exposure of something that should be absolutely normal. The Spanish rapper known as Valtònyc has been sentenced to three years of imprisonment due to his songs against the Spanish Monarchy, which is a clear example of political censorship of art. At the same time, the work of the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra was removed from one of Spain’s most famous art exhibitions because it condemned the imprisonment of secessionist Catalan politicians.
As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, Art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (…) producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. Art is made to appeal in different ways: to astound, to make people think, to make people enjoy. Beauty is not objective, but a social construction and it is up to each one of us to accept it or not. For me, a specific piece might be art –it might be beautiful–, but for someone else it can be offensive. Not agreeing with someone is never an excuse for censorship. It was not a way to stop creativity three hundred years ago, and it will not be a way to stop it in the 21st century.
Image credit: J.W. Waterhouse