Two 'art' controversies have made it to the front page in recent weeks, and both raise similar questions.
First, a painting depicting police officers as pigs was removed from exhibition at the Capitol.
This week, a judge refused to order its return.
"There is little doubt that the removal of the painting was based on its viewpoint," Bates said in his ruling, dated Friday. But he concluded that the government's editorial decision to select and present the artwork meant that the display amounted to government speech and was, therefore, not subject to First Amendment protections.
There's more at the link.
Then, the University of Alaska at Anchorage defended a bizarre (and offensive to many, including myself) painting by one of its professors.
The painting shows a nude Captain America (as portrayed by liberal actor Chris Evans) standing on a pedestal and holding Donald Trump’s head by the hair. The head drips blood onto Hillary Clinton, who is reclining provocatively in a white pant suit, clinging to Captain America’s leg. Eagles scream into Captain America’s ear, and a dead bison lies at his feet.
The painting, created by Prof. Thomas Chung, hangs on campus as part of an art exhibition this month.
But it became controversial after a former adjunct professor, Paul R. Berger, posted the image on Facebook, saying he was “not sure how I want to respond to this.” On one hand, he posted, “first thing that comes to mind is freedom of expression,” but he also noted the university’s exhibit was publicly funded.
Again, more at the link.
I think there are two problems to contend with.
- If government was involved in any way with the artwork - funding it, and/or paying its creator, and/or deciding whether, where and when to exhibit it, and so on - then it's pretty much no longer a 'free speech' issue. That's what the judge decided in the first case.
- If it involves politically sensitive matter (as both these paintings do), it's bound to offend individuals and groups who disagree with its viewpoint and perspective. In art as in conversation, civility and common decency are still social lubricants. When they're deliberately thrown away, friction results. If this surprises artists and/or their supporters, they're living in cloud cuckoo land.
I have only one strongly-held opinion about both paintings, and that is that government - support, funding, whatever - should have nothing to do with either of them. If an artist wants to express a particular viewpoint, no matter how personally offensive I may find it, it's his or her right to do so as a private citizen, just as it's mine to support or oppose what their works have to say. However, when tax dollars play any part whatsoever in producing, displaying or supporting the artist and/or the work(s) concerned, I draw the line. The 'cops-as-pigs' painting should never have been displayed at the Capitol, and the 'beheaded-Trump' painting should never have been exhibited at UAA.
(For precisely the same reasons, I oppose any and all state funding for the arts. Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize private freedom of expression. It's too easy for it to be hijacked by those of one or another political, social or cultural persuasion - just look at the NEA or PBS for proof of that. Let those who like the art in question support it by their purchases, donations, etc. Leave public funds out of the equation.)