Should Artists have Total Freedom of Expression?
Laws about obscenity, libel, slander and official secrets restrict
freedom of expression, yet society’s understanding of what is
offensive often needs to be clarified by the courts. Personal freedom
requires the exercise of judgement even if law limits it.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights states, “Everyone
has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include
freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and
ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of
frontiers” and “ The exercise of these freedoms may be subject to such
…restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law…for the protection
of the health or morals…or reputation or rights of others….” Morally
this issue raises several questions:
* Should artists have total freedom of expression? If they should,
should they use it?
* What, if any, self-imposed restrictions should there be?
* Who should decide restrictions on artistic freedom?
* Should great artists and works of art face the same restrictions
that apply to lesser ones?
Conflict inevitably exists between what the creative artist needs to
say and what an audience wants to hear. Artistically and culturally,
many people are conservative and easily offended by what is different
or new. Moral judgements may simply disguise lack of artistic taste
and poor judgement. Artists, by definition creative, look for new
things to say and new ways in which to say them. However, not all
innovations are great art or improve society. Do demands for artistic
freedom simply seek to justify inferior work and disguise lack of
Those making ethical rather than cultural judgements about artistic
freedom should consider: -
* How will society benefit?
* What are the artist’s underlying motives? Does he/she seek to
challenge, offend or explore?
* What are the motives of the audience? Does it seek to appreciate,
judge or find fault?
* Would restrictions remove an artist’s right to choose?
“In New York at the Brooklyn Museum an exhibition called the
Sensations erupted a mushroom cloud of criticism and controversy that
made Serranno look like a staff photographer for Boys' Life. The
tabloid press whipped the knee-jerk, ignorant Catholic populace into a
Jihad-like frenzy with reports of a shit-smeared Madonna, and for the
first opening weeks the museum surrounded with thousands of protesters
fighting in defence of the Virgin Mother over an inanimate image that
they had never bothered to see. The People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals stepped over the homeless population, the drug addicts, the
welfare mothers, and passed by dozens and dozens of McDonalds and
Burger Kings to let their voice sing out on behalf of the animal
carcasses in the show. Concern over this particular right-wing segment
of society, who contribute to the abortion debate with firearms...