Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where to draw the line? DAMage report - Art Censoreship

Recently a sculpture depicting a young girl performing a blow job on a teacher was removed from a gallery on the Bowling Green State University campus. The piece entitled, “The Middle School Science Teacher Makes a Decision He'll Live to Regret” was created by Artist James Parlin as part of a series of sculptures called "A Baker's Dozen."  Parlin says it was inspired by a teacher who was the father of his own children’s friends, and his curiosity about why a person would do something they know will ruin their life. 

Other sculptures in the exhibit included, “The Man Who Hasn’t Seen His Genitals in Years,” “Sami Drops a Deuce,” “Bobbie Put Her Gun in Her Mouth” and “John Put His Head in the Oven.” 

(Ermmm - those seem like pretty strong "topics" to me as well, yet they weren't protested against as being inappropriate for children. What is wrong with this picture...I mean sculpture?)

Unfortunately no one can seem to lay their hands on a photo of the sculpture in question, so the ability to judge for ourselves is unfortunately not available. Descriptions say "there's no genitalia. It's made in such a way that you can't see any sort of ecstasy on the man's face and you can't tell the exact age of the person but the title tells that it's a young teen. It's not pictorial graphic. Is it disturbing? Well sure. Is it hard to look at? Well sure. But it's not explicit."

Palin's work (that i've seen) is quite abstracted and spooky. Definitely not realistic and created in a manner to invoke a sense of discomfort in the viewer. 

So is it the concept rather than the visual that is being objected to? According to the the National Coalition Against Censorship although the material may be inappropriate for children, it is appropriate for a public university.

One student's opinion is: "The removal ... sets a dangerous precedent for the removal of controversial works at the peril of academic inquiry itself. Is the university a business? Or is it an institution of higher learning? If the university is a business, an entity that merely exchanges money for degrees and considers customer satisfaction to be of the utmost importance, then the decision to censor a controversial piece of art makes perfect sense. However, if the university is an institution of higher learning which encourages and expects critical thinking from its students, then the administration has done a serious disservice to the learning process." 

Part of the concern with the sculpture, which was on display within a gallery not in a general public area, is that it was uncomfortably near a children's theatre. I feel very, very strongly that there are concept that young children should not be exposed to... not graphically. But are university students still children? I'm pretty dang sure every single one of the students attending have already been exposed to the concept, if not the reality of pedophiles. For the sensibilities of those that do not want to get a face full of it - there are really simple precautions and advisories that can be implemented. Signage, warnings in advertising, restricted admission based on age, etc.

We do it on a regular basis with our movies and our books. I don't see a problem applying the principle to exhibitions. (This gallery show has been rated R for strong adult content. This gallery show has been rated X for explicit nudity, no one under 21 admitted.) 

As strongly as i feel about not exposing young children to concepts that will rip away their innocence, i also detest censorship. Denying people the choice to view the art is taking away our freedom of choice. The outrage is less to the artist in my opinion - who was not denied his right to create the piece - and more to the gallery that has been denied the right to show it and the audience, that has been denied the right to see it.

How can I, or anyone else, make up our minds how we feel/think/react to something when we're denied access to it? 

The entire "controversy" could have been easily solved, without all the national hoopla and teeth gnashing, by simply using some common sense and restricting access to the show, based on age appropriateness.


Paul said...

I agree with your argument about censorship, it is always best avoided. I don't like artists making images just to shock and garner the resultant publicity though. I'm not saying this is an example of this, it's hard to tell without seeing it, but it happens. Censorship sucks but artists sometimes must self-censor.

Anonymous said...

"Palin's work (that i've seen) is quite abstracted and spooky..."

I wonder how much of Parlin's "work" you've seen. At a faculty exhibit shown at Edinboro University (where Palin is the Art Dept Chair) he exhibited a sculpture of a man that looked very much like himself: With a giant penis showing through his pants.

Other Parlin sculptures I've seen are in no way abstract. In fact, I can't recall any abstract sculptures by Parlin at all!

But the real problem is this: The perspective of the female victim is never mentioned, neither by Parlin nor the Gallery director Sapp nor AP. I.e. the girl victim is inconsequential. Now imagine being a student at Bowling Green who has been the victim of a pedophile (there are MANY MANY female victims of pedo and other sexual abuse). Or imagine you are a female young adult student currently being sexually harrassed by an instructor (this happens A LOT at universities). How does the fact that a MALE INSTRUCTOR spent hours creating and is now exhibiting an image of your suffering as a "work of art" at the very place where you may be suffering the abuse, using the same power configuration (teacher/student)?

Oh, but who cares about girls, women or how their freedoms may be affected by reinforcing the idea that pedophilia is "entertainment" and "art" for display?