I recently moved to a great new studio space on Central. I have my own locking room with three big windows, carpet, acoustical ceiling, hi-speed internet, and the space has a shared conference room, kitchenette, lobby and restrooms. I love it. Most of the dozen other artists are there during the day, so when I drag in after work, I often have the place to myself. It's a great place to work on my photography and painting.
This past week a weird thing happened.
One of the photographers was asked by management to remove one of his photos from the corridor and related greeting card from the display rack in the lobby. A female artists was offended.
Granted, his work does employ a lot of nudes. His focus is on the fetish community. The photo in question showed the torso of a woman clad in panties with some sort of string nipple clamps on. She was holding the string between the clamps. The was nobody else in the photo. He was not happy about removing the items, but complied as a compromise to the studio group. He had already self-censored by not placing any of his very explicit pieces in the corridor.
Now he has been told that many of the artists are complaining about his work to the management. They say it is offensive in general and do not want it displayed in common areas. When I heard that, I was shocked. These people are artists?
If his work makes them uncomfortable, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to. I asked him what exactly did they say offended them? He does not know, because not one of these cowards has bothered to speak with him about his work. If they had, they would have learned that the models are all people he knows from the fetish community. Nobody was asked to pose in any way they weren't comfortable with. Most shoots were supervised by husband, boyfriends, or others. These are women with jobs and self-respect, not underage runaways from the bus station. His work is a reflection of his life and interests. And he is being judged without being understood.
I do not know a lot about this fetish community, being an outsider to it myself. But I can appreciate his work as giving me a glimpse into something normally unseen, but there. And isn't that a goal of art - to illuminate things one doesn't usually see? To show us things about ourselves and our culture? If not, why don't we all just paint pictures of kittens and flowers? Better yet, the exact same kitten and flower - wouldn't want to go out a limb, someone may get offended.
Many things about this bother me.
Freedom of expression is essential in an art community. Art without risk is just insipid pablum.
Who gets to decide what should be censored? Should we all vote on what gets to be shown in our corridors and at our shows? Who ever heard of art by committee? It smacks of McCarthy-ism.
Is this group so puritanical that they cannot abide anything to do with sexuality? Or are they judging the community pictured? Are they homophobic as well as xenophobic? What about different religions? Would religious iconography be censored, too? What about politics? Also verboten?
I respect the right of anyone to dislike any piece of art. And to not buy it and not support the artist. But to try to silence someone by denying them the right to express themselves through their art really bothers me.
The problem with censorship is it prohibits free thinking and it does not know where to stop.