Should art and culture be censored

Art is not free, but we are

The art scene also needs its scandals. The same sparse examples are always used to show that the freedom of art is in danger. Art was never free.

Everything is shouting always and everywhere that the freedom of art is in danger. And the debate is kept going with the same few examples. First: Balthus. In its beautiful overview show from last year, the Fondation Beyeler did not remove the controversial loan from the Metropolitan Museum - yes, that picture of an adolescent girl with a skirted skirt - from the program, but showed it in spite of everything. “In spite of everything,” that is, to remind us, despite the petition that was sent to the Metropolitan in New York because 12,000 signatories expressed concern that the work could serve pedophile inclinations.

The poem “Avenidas” by Eugen Gomringer on the facade of a Berlin university also has to serve, which at the request of the student body was classified as no longer up-to-date and was painted over. This inscription is also repeatedly cited as an example of how much the freedom of art has come under attack today. Then there are a handful of other cases. For example the case of Sam Durant, whose installation “Scaffold” bothered Indians because it addresses the genocide of the indigenous peoples of America. Or the little scandal about the temporary removal of a nymph painting by Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse from the rooms of the Manchester Art Gallery.

These cases are presented as censorship. And as one from below. But what is so unusual about it? The only difference is the direction from which the censorship takes place here. It used to come from above, now it comes from below. Actually, everything stays the same: Art has never been free. Rather, it has always been a coveted bone of contention for those in whose service it is supposed to enter.

Everything goes

Not so long ago, Brancusi's bronze head of the "Princess X" (1916), an obscene phallic symbol, heated people's hearts and was removed from a Paris exhibition in 1920. At that time, art was still in the service of a middle class characterized by double standards. At times it was the Nazis and the Communists who used art as an effective means of propaganda. Anyone who did not take part or did not fit into the picture was ostracized and persecuted. This is how dictatorial states control art production today.

But actually it was never really any different. Art had the power of princes and church fathers to represent. They took high cultures like ancient Egypt into the service of divine pharaohs. And not even among the Lascaux cave dwellers was it free. In any case, the animal paintings on the walls were certainly not the result of some exuberant self-realization workshop, but were made for the shamanistic hunting magic.

What we consider freedom of art is a young phenomenon. By artistic freedom we mean above all the freedom of an anti-bourgeois art. This art, however, was by no means freer than that of other epochs. It was simply at the service of a newly established cultural power, namely that of the left.

Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing - that also applies to art. Today every voice that can make itself heard will soon also have its art. Feminists have them, so do homosexuals and blacks. What would art be without Louise Bourgeois or Valie Export, without Robert Mapplethorpe or Keith Haring, without Kara Walker or Chris Ofili?

And so today no hypocritical bourgeoisie is angry with Jeff Koons' copulation images with Cicciolina; Thomas Ruff's porn close-ups have long been socially acceptable. Because the 68ers brought us the sexual revolution and with it, so to speak, the free pornographic art pass. Thomas Hirschhorn's unsavory attack on Blocher 15 years ago was also barely able to make waves, because such blows against the conservatives are ultimately part of the artistic freedom of the left.

Today, however, art is no longer the sole mouthpiece of the left. It is also no longer dominated by the Occident, but as colorful as a Benetton advertisement. As soon as the hype about contemporary Chinese art has passed, the next one from India or Indonesia is already reporting. The alleged artistic freedom of today consists in its sheer pluralism. Contemporary art production is a reflection of our multicultural societies: Anything goes. One could think so.

In doing so, she has long been in favor of the powerful and the rich, yes, she has offered herself to them. In any case, the excesses on the art market make it clear who the new master is. What is produced has to be marketed, and what can be marketed is considered good art. And that can be pretty much anything for the globalized, polyphonic choir of art consumers. Art has never been as diverse as it is today. Never before has it had such a wide audience. Museums and art institutions are springing up like mushrooms around the world. The free market of the cultural industry prevails, the masses pour into the temples of the Muses, and works of art circulate millions of times on the Internet.

So it is not surprising that in this polyphony it is no longer so clear in whose service - apart from the donors - art actually still stands. Or rather should stand. As many forms of artistic expression there are, there are also so many voices who like to claim art for themselves and believe they have a right to it.

In the service of freedom

And so today there are more and more of those who are bothered by all those works of art that do not represent their cause. Blacks are bothered by art that has not been authenticated by themselves. Feminists are bothered by the art of men. Relevant traumatized people suddenly see supposed “pedophile art” everywhere. The list could be extended indefinitely. The fact that art does not suit some groups is nothing new. What is new, at most, is the seemingly diffuse diversity of those willing to censor. But this is symptomatic of the digital age. And it is symptomatic of something else: freedom itself. Because this so-called censorship comes from below.

But is this kind of censorship from below somehow worse than that from above? It may be more unpredictable because you don't know exactly who you're dealing with. But isn't it rather the freedom that censorship from below makes possible at all? If any people get upset about any kind of art, it happens because they have the freedom to do so, and above all be that of the Internet. The individual of whatever color speaks up and expresses his displeasure. Because those who can speak up are free. And all the most varied forms of expression in art today are at the service of this freedom.

When exhibition organizers and festival organizers - it happens - give in to the sensitivities of some groups and practice so-called censorship under the sign of encouragement, then this happens because of the freedom of a cultural capitalism that is optimally marketed. Real censorship, however, is something else. Because it comes from above.