This article title is probably going to be quite controversial. I intended it to be that way because every time somebody makes a truth claim regarding the proper way to do something involving art, you’re going to open a can of worms. I’m doing this intentionally to bring out the point that we have reached a different set of rules as far as artistic discourse is concerned.
Long gone are the days when people go to an art gallery in Paris in the late 1800s, for example, actually go on riot mode because they don’t like the paintings there. They feel that the paintings are indecent, gross, crude, nasty or even bordering on pornographic.
So, what do they do? They go crazy. They rip up canvasses. They ban artists. In many cases, they blacklist artists so as to make their lives a living hell.
Good luck getting paid for your artwork. Good luck getting a sponsor. That’s how bad things were back in the 1800s.
It would be nice to say that times have dramatically changed. Well, to a certain degree, they have. Gone are the days where you would have such violent reactions unless, of course, there is some sort of government funding for your work. If that’s the case, then you can bet that, at some level or other, there would be some sort of debate as to why the government, through its many different artistic agencies, should at some level or other subsidize such “offensive” work.
Of course, this leaves the open question of what constitutes offensive? What may be offensive to you may not be offensive to somebody else. Case in point is Serrano’s work, Piss Christ. This was a photo of a crucifix in some sort of container that is obviously filled with human urine. This caused a lot of alarm not because of the art work itself but the fact that government funds were used to subsidize that artwork.
Outside of that context, however, there’s really not much drama. You can go crazy, for example when an artist packed his own feces in a can and called it art and started selling it. Well, nobody really batted an eye. It was just another regular day in the postmodern art world.
Now, you might be thinking that this tolerance is an awesome thing but, believe it or not, the tolerance can only go so far because there is politicization in the art world. You probably don’t need me to spell out the certain “third rail” topics that you should not touch with a 10-foot pole if you want to continue receiving funding or if you want to continue teaching as some sort of professor in an art college.
However, you already know what I’m referring to, and this is where the danger comes in because it may seem that we live in a modern world of art that is so completely liberated and so completely open minded that pretty much anybody can say anything, and as long as it’s within the confines of artistic expression, it’s a free for all.
Well, you’re more than welcome to believe in that delusion, but when you look at how things actually play out, this is far from the case. There’s a tremendous amount of censorship going on. Now, this opens another can of worms. This really raises the issue of is all censorship bad? Are there, just by the basic operations of human nature and human decency, certain places you should not go?
I leave these questions up to you because the fact that they exist does cast some lights of doubt as to this self-proclaimed freedom that we think we have in the here and now. It may burn bright. It may seem awesome but, believe me it’s not as absolute as you think.
The worst part to all of this is you don’t want find out in the worst way when you start losing your funding or when you start getting a bad name in the media. Getting dissed for bad taste is one thing; getting dissed for expressing incorrect thoughts is another.