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Who Speaks for the Artists?

I have an op-ed in Friday's Washington Times, weighing in on the latest absurdities in the Smithsonian's ants-crawling-on-Jesus exhibit scandal. The article begins:

A good share of conservative commentators have avoided remarking on the Smithsonian scandal involving the gay-themed "Hide/Seek" exhibit featuring a video of ants crawling over a bloody, crucified Christ, among other lewd, sado-masochistic porn displays. There was no need to comment because it all had been said before. The cowards and hypocrites who constitute the chattering-class activists of the art world dogmatically avoid offending those corners of society deeply in need of critical reflection, such as Islam and the Middle East, or considered sacrosanct, such as feminism and racial/ethnic/sexual minorities, under the banner of tolerance and diversity. Yet these same noble paragons ruthlessly and intentionally insult Christians and everyone with a modicum of taste and decency, all the while praising their double standard as speaking truth to power.

The Smithsonian pulled the offensive piece after the Catholic League raised a fuss and called for an end of public funding. Yet I can't see praising the Smithsonian for this decision, as it's rather akin to praising an acquaintance's decision to stop beating his girlfriend - he shouldn't have done it in the first place. Belatedly pulling the piece merely represented the Smithsonian's grudging adoption of the common decency obvious to any adolescent of average intelligence and morality.

However, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts - lacking an adolescent standard of intellect and morality - has protested the Smithsonian's decision:

"Such blatant censorship is unconscionable ... we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear."


Discussions - 8 Comments

Well, Justin, I must give you credit. You certainly do possess "an adolescent standard of intellect and morality."

The same person who imagines that Islam and the Middle East do not get enough critical reflection is the same one who staunchly defends Goliaths like the Catholic Church (while remaining 100% silent on the indefensible child-molestation scandals) and its commercial equivalent, Wal-Mart.
Yes, those poor little underdogs need so much help!

Here's a smart analysis of the whole thing, incl. a good look back at the Mohamed cartoons:

Why is government sponsorship of anti-religious imagery not a violation of the cherished "separation of church and state?"

For the record, I didn't agree with attempts to suppress the display. Remove the government subsidy, sure. But not paying for something is not the same thing as willfully supressing.

The child-molestation incidents in the Catholic Church were done by homosexuals priests. The priesthood and brotherhoods of the Catholic Church were preying grounds for homosexual men. I know - I went through 12 years of Catholic schools. When all the child molestation cases broke on the new a few years back, I was surprised that everyone did not know what I already knew. A good portion of the priests/brothers that taught at the Catholic Schools I attended were homosexuals. No one talks about it because the priests/brothers who committed those acts were homosexuals. It is politicially incorrec to attack homosexuals or Mohammed. However, Jesus is open season. Wonder how that will all work for those who attack Jesus when they take their last breath?

I kind of think Justin Paulette is right about the common decency obvious to any adolescent of average intelligence and morality. Judge Learned Hand would agree. But I think like the movies at the Carnes festival, see Anti-Christ, Dancer in the Dark or this exhibit, this is an excercise in Catharsis.

Catharsis makes no sense to the average adolescent of average intelligence and morality. Indeed I don't think I ever experienced "alienation" or any of these fancy words and emotions until I went to college and discovered that this was how educated adults explained growing up and no longer being children.

Almost none of the humanities is natural, or speaks to the average adolescent of average intelligence and morality. This market for art is basically filled by the telivision networks, 90210, the Cardashians, OneTreeHill, South Park, King of the Hill or college bowl games. Who speaks for the artists? In the case of college football I think the answer is the universities, the head coach, the team captains, and perhaps the team effort. Is a football game a work of art? Well once it is recorded it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The average american consumes say the New Orleans Bowl between Ohio U and Troy. 21-48 Troy wins. Decent game. ESPN owned by Disney speak for the artists (players.) It is also brought to you by Vizio. This is SportsCenter! Dwane Wade and LeBron James speak for themselves, but also for Nike, the Heat....

You can go with a Justice Holmes "market place of ideas" theory of the 1st, and the article on findlaw is pretty straight foward. But there is also a theory of Cartharis justifying the 1st.

So many ways to take this conversation, but I want to push it more in the copyright domain.

Seperate Art from function via Copyright v. Patent distinction.

Also I am open to saying that everyone who types speaks for the artist who created Times New Roman.

Not in the sense that we speak for him... but in the sense that by typing/speaking we exhibit his art. (and yes I agree with Nimmer that font should be copyrightable.)

But notice if font is not copyrightable, then a good deal of what is muslim/arabic art cannot really be parodied.

There are pictures of Mohamed, but like the use of the halo depicts sainthood, more or less the islamic version is fire around the head of a bearded man depicted in a flat style of mosaic is muslim art.

I don't know what you could do... burn a persian carpet? destroy the intricate camel leather boxes, smash a Hookah with a hammer of Thor(I happen to like all of these more functional items of muslim art)? It seems that Islam took a philosophical route that turned away from depictions of the prophet. What fetishim Mohamed inheres in is unclear.

Its not clear to me how if I was an artist I could depict the prophet. A burning Minaret?

Perhaps if instead of popularizing ants crawling on Jesus you depicted Black &White world by Cox & Forkum (which is everything Justin says is needed... from an Objectivist(Ayn Rand) perspective.

Cox &Forkum really are good at caricatures. The Ayn Rand school also gives rise to Capitalism Magazine, but more importantly in terms of Art I think the Romantic Realism school, which is really I think closest to French Realism and Neo Classicism. I really like this art as well, and figure the best way to never understand the carthasis of modern art is never to dable in heroin, aids or syphyllis.

In terms of religious/catholic art, and high art the catholic church and spain, france and italy really rule.

Also Spain, France and Italy are signatories of the Berne Convention(as is the United States), and all of this is really a question of the moral rights of the religion/artist in the immagery.

If the cross used was copyrighted...except that parody would give rise to fair use...and the Berne Convention (international law) only has power in California/Disney/ninth circuit.

These Copyright questions are all immensely strange and complex metaphysical areas of the law.

One way to think of Modernity is to think of it as a copyright war.

Here's the Smithsonian's most recent statement on the thing:

This is good:

"Acknowledging that some visitors may prefer not to encounter some of the subject matter in the exhibit, the museum installed signs at both entrances, reading “This exhibition contains mature themes.”

Also, Justin, in your future non-elite travels about Europe, you should probably avoid Spain. You might happen to see a Caganer figurine of a defecating Pope in a shop window - just right there where any passing pedestrian could encounter it!


and cowgirl - not so fast about those abusing priests being strictly gays:

snapnetwork dot org/female_victims/female_victims_index.htm

The Smithsonian's stance is conditional. As was stated elsewhere, swap out Jesus for Mohammed and they'd not show the exhibit. Guaranteed. I see no particular merit in their supposed "standing up to suppression of speech."

a) Are artists free to express themselves as they wish? Yes

b) Are artists guaranteed immunity from criticism or rejection of their work? No

c) Is public funding an element of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech? No

The apparent inability of some to keep separate those three elements of the discussion is maddening.

The same person who imagines that Islam and the Middle East do not get enough critical reflection is the same one who staunchly defends Goliaths like the Catholic Church

The 'goliath' in question has no discernable influence on public policy of any kind.

(while remaining 100% silent on the indefensible child-molestation scandals)

I can see the quantum of time you spend reviewing the Catholic press and blogosphere approaches nil.

and its commercial equivalent, Wal-Mart.



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