Censorship and Public Art

In the article Out of Tune by John Frohnmayer, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said that free speech, “…may indeed best serve its high purposes when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger…” (P. 49). This sentence singlehandedly expresses my view of the First Amendment, and this view was only reinforced after reading this article. A major part of this article was the discussion of the Alaska Experiment, where the Visual Arts Center in Anchorage, Alaska put together a symposium full of works that had been censored somewhere in the United States at one point in recent time. The controversy of the piece, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” is a perfect example as to why I agree with John Frohnmayer.

The uproar that resulted from this piece being displayed was incredible, full of arguing, disagreements, protesting, and even stealing. While this piece upset many people, including Veterans, I think it also enlightened many. Multiple people were quoted saying that they were not sure coming into this exhibit if they would stand on the flag or not, and their actions ended up surprising them. It is my belief that exhibits like these should be respected because of the messages they are sending. The point of the whole thing was not to disrespect America or any of the symbols associated with America. It gave people insight to their own beliefs and made them think about where they developed these beliefs.

Frohnmayer states later in the article, “Before a controversial artwork is to be presented, the presenter should, by a series of discussion or lectures, remind us of the First Amendment and what it means to protect unpopular ideas and how it preserves our ever-evolving democracy” (P. 48). In my opinion, this completely goes against everything the exhibit was trying to do. The message of the flag exhibit would not have been sent had the creator prepped the audience beforehand. It is unnecessary for people to spoon feed us our rights every time something controversial is presented to us.

I believe that it is important to remember that not everyone is going to agree on everything. Frohnmayer says, “A crucial distinction is that, in supporting a person’s right to speak, we can still vigorously disagree with the message” (47). I believe this battle has a profound effect on us as individuals. It triggers something deep down inside of us and brings out emotions and beliefs that are necessary in defining who we are.


~ by mccaule2 on May 29, 2010.

2 Responses to “Censorship and Public Art”

  1. I agree with you that not everyone will agree on everything. In fact, I think it could almost be accurate to say that there will almost always be someone that disagrees, not matter what the action is. If we constantly cater to everyone’s desires we would never get anything accomplished. I think it is healthy to have disagreements on things, this way we are able to learn what we are truly passionate about. When someone is opposing our beliefs and challenging them we have to critically think about the way that we do. When we do this we either realize that we do not feel as strongly as we once did about the controversy and we change our opinion or we become even more passionate about our opinion.

  2. I really like your third paragraph and how preparing one’s audience for an ‘unpopular’ idea defeats the purpose of the work of art. By ‘spoon-feeding’ the audience, the artist would not be conveying the message he or she originally meant. The shock value or initial reaction is truly priceless and should not be altered out of safety or caution. As I have stated in my post, it seems so typical or predictable that unpopular or minority works of art are subject to criticism and do not conform to societies’ ‘rightness’ criteria. How many times in history has the unpopular or minority view been the correct or most valuable one? By shunning and not giving the minority a chance, we may never know what we are missing.

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