In this country, censorship is a controversial act. On the one hand, it’s used to protect society (especially children) from that which is deemed too violent, lewd or indecent. On the other hand, the act of censorship infringes upon our guaranteed individual rights and freedoms. In the world of fine art, censorship is extremely controversial because the artist’s freedom of expression is valued to a certain extent. So, society is more tolerant and even outraged when artists are censored on occasion.
Extrinsically imposed censorship isn’t today’s topic, however. Instead, I want to focus on intrinsically imposed censorship. That is, how and why do we artists choose to censor our own work? Do we adopt the same standards as external censors? How do we censor our work? And, why?
Shock artists specialize in rebelling against imposed standards. In the grand scheme of things, they are few in number but they do push and even blur the boundaries that define fine art. Although it seems ridiculous today, remember the controversy that surrounded John Singer Sargeant’s painting Madame X? A single strap fallen from the shoulder of a married woman was scandalous! He was forced to repaint the strap back up onto the shoulder. Today, no one would give it a second thought. So, the line between what is moral and “decent” and what is not is ever moving. It’s subjective and changes with time. Artists from all disciplines are frequently the catalyst for this change.
So, when we self-censor our work, are we artists guilty of inhibiting the advancement of the arts? Does advancement necessarily occur by challenging the social norms? I often think about this because the status quo is so comfortable, but if I want to grow artistically I have to shake up my world. I need to question it.
For instance, I have uncensored thoughts all the time. But, before I speak, write, or draw them I make them more socially “acceptable.” I think about whether or not my thoughts will offend others and modify the expression of them to something more palatable. I’m polite. Maybe, too polite. Should I be?
Furthermore, if I find self-censorship to be necessary for my own work, will I impose my standards on the works of others? Should I?
What do you think?