Art and censorship - Maxicours

Art and censorship

  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion art et pouvoir
  • Approfondir sa réflexion sur la question de la censure envers les artistes et leurs œuvres
Points clés
  • Censurer c'est atteindre à la liberté d'expression. Or, au-delà de ses valeurs esthétiques, l'art est primordial pour une société car il véhicule des idées, des opinions, des prises de position et permet, ainsi, de faire réfléchir les spectateurs.
  • Interdire une œuvre est contraire aux principes démocratiques. Pourtant, toutes les formes d'art peuvent être l'objet de la censure, y compris la presse et la télévision.
  • Certaines périodes historiques étaient plus propices que d'autres à l'exercice d'une censure forte par les États eux-mêmes : l'Allemagne nazie, l'Espagne de Franco...

Art is vital to our societies, not only for its undeniable aesthetic values, but because it conveys ideas that must be taken into consideration. But these ideas are not to everyone’s liking and though freedom of expression is guaranteed by our constitutions, some would like to have them removed from public display sometimes.

1. Freedom of Expression

Not only paintings or sculptures can be subjected to censorship. The press, film, novels, music, dance, theatre plays or television can be submitted to it, too. Yet, free communication is essential and works of art are among our most effective instruments of freedom. They are powerful means which make people think about their environment, society, politics...

In September 2019, the Richmond Arts and Culture Commission prevented Christy Chan from writing sentences which were critical of President Trump in his project, entitled Inside Out. Chan had collected thousands of messages on the environment and immigration and he intented to project them on a wall.

That is the reason why freedom of expression through art must be preserved. If you do not like a work of art you do not have the right to forbid it just because you think it is bad. Someone else may find it good. Moreover, it would be contrary to our principles of democracy. It is important to respect a work of art even though it does not appeal to you. And who can say if such work is acceptable or not?

Free societies do not need censors of any kind, for if there were censorship freedom of speech or expression would be banned or seen as dangerous. We can judge art and decide if it is repugnant or trivial but we cannot expel it from our societies. Freedom of speech / expression is the basis of free societies and must not be questioned.

2. The Dangers of Censorship

If you decide to suppress some ideas or artistic creations you will automatically ask the artists to create out of their personal sphere and this will lead to inevitable conformity. Art is interesting because it adopts different ways and nothing could be worse than seeing the same things over and over again under the pretext that art should not shock.

During World War II censorship was so strict in Germany that the Nazi Party controlled all kinds of communication including the newspapers, the radio and the television. Only their ideas mattered. As for art, they considered modern art as degenerate art and the artists who created those works of art were of course punished because they were supposedly insulting Germany.

In Spain, whereas Franco ruled over the country for nearly four decades, some topics could not be tackled and because Spain was overtly Catholic, sex, contraception, divorce or homosexuality were banned. Artists could not attack religion and the church and they had to be very careful if they imagined works dealing with the Civil War. As for social issues, poverty was censored and woe to those who decided to bend the rules.

As we can see, it is very difficult to be creative when governments trample on freedom of expression.

3. Conclusion

Expressing one’s ideas through art is a wonderful thing which must be respected. Too many artists in the world have suffered because of their ideas but they had the merit of disclosing them to the public. In so doing they knew they exposed themselves to censorship, or worse, but it was a way of drawing attention to their own ideas while fighting others.

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