NOTE: Given the number of heated arguments about art that end in accusations of censorship and prudishness, I thought I would provide a public service: a brief investigation into how far a critic can go before he or she is actually censoring an artist. Save this handy guide for future reference!
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR?
Scenario: You find François Boucher’s Are They Thinking About the Grape? (Pensent-ils au raisin?) morally objectionable.
Your action: Ignoring the grape, you think silently about how much you loathe the artwork.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No. Unless you have incredible psionic powers, there is no way your thoughts can prevent the Art Institute of Chicago from displaying this painting.
Scenario: You’re disgusted by the disrespect for tailored clothing displayed by Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece.
Your action: You mention your dislike of Ono’s anti-consumer agenda to a friend.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No, your critical reaction won’t affect the display of this piece, even if you scream it 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky
Scenario: You find Fantagraphics’ decision to publish reprints of Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics reprehensible. They should google “black plague death toll.”
Your action: You write a scathing article on your personal blog.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No, your critical opinion is welcomed by the good people at Fantagraphics, whose entire company was founded out of more vicious personal opinions than yours.
Scenario: You heard John Cage’s 4’33” for the first time (maybe you’re listening to it right now?) and you’re horrified that it’s occupying space on the shelf that could have been given to harder-working music.
Your action: You hold a furious critical roundtable, and your contributors are warned not to overuse the spacebar.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No. How would you censor 4’33” anyway? It’s the soundtrack of your life, man.
Scenario: It’s a beautiful winter’s day in Petrograd, 1915, and you decide to visit the Dobychina Art Bureau. You hate everything you see (you’re a fan of the futurists, personally), but the worst piece by far is Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square.
Your action: You threaten Tatlin into giving you Malevich’s address. As you prepare to knock on his door, he rounds the corner, and you have a heated conversation. You tell him to read Marinetti, he tells you to fuck off.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No, you’re being an asshole. But do you know what Malevich will end up calling his new movement? Suprematism. He’s an asshole too.
Scenario: Kids in your neighborhood keep flying kites too close to power lines, and you know what’s to blame: Giotto’s Stigmata of Saint Francis.
Your action: You launch a boycott of Giotto’s work, and hand out fliers urging responsible parents to do the same.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? No, nobody in the neighborhood is obligated to stop looking at Giotto’s paintings, even though they pose such a risk to public safety. All you’re doing is warning the kids that if they follow Giotto’s example, they won’t get a chance at renaissance.
Scenario: John R. Rose comics are too frickin’ funny (excuse my language!) If he doesn’t stop making them, someone’s liable to laugh themselves right into the ol’ pine tuxedo!
Your action: You buy the AAEC and institute an anti-Rose policy.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? You are! You’re using a position of power to silence John R. Rose, but you’re probably saving lives in the process.
Scenario: After working your way up to the top of the Qualite Excelsior company, Europe’s foremost manufacturer of metronomes, you are disgusted to learn that so-called Dadaist “artist” Man Ray has defaced one of your products by gluing a photograph of an eye on it and calling it Object to be Destroyed.
Your action: You convince an impressionable young Jariviste poet to storm the Exhibition Dada and shoot the object to pieces.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? Yeah, you are. I’d even say that this is a readymade example of censorship! Sorry. Sorry. It backfires anyway: Man Ray makes 100 more, titling them Indestructible Object. You hate him so much.
Scenario: You are a high-ranking official in the Arstotzkan Ministry of Information. You’ve caught wind of a highly subversive game called Papers Please that seems to portray the glorious fatherland in an unflattering manner.
Your action: You pass a law banning all electronic games that are not explicitly approved by the newly created Ministry of Entertainment.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? Of course! That’s pretty much your stated intention, sir.
Scenario: You’re reading an idiotic list that’s infuriating you.
Your action: You begin by thinking murderous thoughts, and then, eyes flashing in the low light, you advance menacingly toward the list’s author.
ARE YOU BEING A CENSOR? HELP!