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Art Censorship in America

The control of the ideas and information and circulated within a society is referred as censorship. Censorship has been a hallmark of many countries throughout history, especially United States. Censorship is achieved through the examination of art, books, films, music, literature, radio and television programs and news reports for the purpose of suppressing or altering ideas found to be offensive or objectionable. Normally, art is just viewed as sculpture or paintings, but, on a broader scale, art is also music and literature. The combination of all four of these things should not be censored or controlled by government (Mary, 1999). Censorship in art is a burning issue in the United States.

How did the arts censorship issues in the United States arise? It is very important to note this censorship battle had nothing to do with esthetics. Rather it was a religious, class, social, ideological and political clash. The basic issue was whether government funds should be allowed for works of art that some people find offensive or objectionable. Quite obviously, if one gives a veto right to every different view in a mixed society like ours, any federal program will end up with the lowest common denominator test for public support. It is very hard to imagine anything that would not offend someone.

If the United States government is going to support art by allowing funds, it should fund it all, not just selected art. Government should not simply cut an entire museum from the rolls because one political leader does not like an exhibit. Artists should be free to make whatever things they want, and display them to the public. The censorship should not come directly from the government. It should come from the society, viewers or art community itself. “The democratic philosophy is based on man’s presumed ability to reason, to decide for himself in his own best interest. It relies on man’s educability and his free exercise of conscience in moral issues. Censorship represents the complete denial of all of these, and is, therefore, both anti-democratic and pro-totalitarian” (Oboler, 1974).

Art is about feelings, both bad and good ones, so art can not be censored, it will restrict the feelings of artists. Censorship in art never works. One way or another, in a society of instant communication like ours, people are always ready to see controversial and objectionable works. Censorship is an infectious disease. Allowing restraints on any expression sets the stage for attacks on all expression that is politically and artistically objectionable. The creative art must be free and when it is not, society suffers badly. It is very important for the images in the mirror to continuously changing so they may accurately reflect us.

Art Censorship can be viewed as an illegal act by United States government to control what people view and how people express themselves. Art can be taken as any anything that is made for the general purpose or for enjoyment of others, or as a personal expression of feeling. The constitution of our country gives the citizens explicit rights of “Freedom of Expression”.

Art Censorship is wrong because all artists have rights to express, publish or distribute whatever they feel. That can be considered as the Freedom of the Press or media, and also Freedom of Expression. Anytime when an artist’s work is modified or censored; their personal rights are being clearly violated. That is illegal and should be stopped, but for some unknown reason the United States government keeps doing it. Censoring art is also wrong in the fact that politicians and lawyers are telling how and in what way people should be allowed to express their concepts and feelings. Removing a form of expression, may cause more problems in other aggressive ways. When someone does not have a creative or right way to express their ideas and feelings, you are jut ordering them to express themselves in a dangerous and violent way.

Art Censorship also falls under the category of fascist and authoritarian forms of government. Like elitism, government assumes that people are not able think for themselves or behave appropriately. Government thinks people need to be controlled by others and should be forced to behave properly. However, it needs to be acknowledged that our society only benefits from the freedom and privilege of free speech.

Another reason why I am against art censorship is that although some forms of speech or art are clearly and destructive abusive, there might be a time in one’s life when one needs to breech and exercise the censors standard to transmit or receive information without government restrictions. However, society only benefits from this if people exercise this discretion honestly and wisely, and destructive and abusive speech is the rare exception, rather than the standard.

An additional problem with art censorship in the United States is that it places the entire responsibility for change in the hands of lawyers, politicians, and judges, which has proven constantly throughout time to achieve very little. The main reason of negative art is a reflection of what is in the hearts and souls of people living in the United States. The current situation can only change with more knowledge, explanation, and a new desire and wish to do the right thing for ourselves, for our families and children, and for our future. Art censorship may also allow for human error, abuse and bias because all material is subjective in understanding. Then there is the issue who regulates and decides and. Resentment may build up by those who disagree with implementation and interpretations. By censoring art material it allows those who create it to divert discussion and attention away from the main problems. By playing off of the divided social and political beliefs of the public, it gives the generators a shield to hide behind. Art censor not only harms the artist economically, but also professionally and mentally, because the artist cannot share his or her best work as he or she feels the need. Laurie Anderson, an influential singer and songwriter, summed up her feelings on the subject: “What’s this morality play about? Mostly about fear, I’m an artist because it’s one of the few things you can do in this country that has no rules, and the idea of someone writing rules for that makes me crazy. Ideas can be crushed, artists can be crushed, and I think this is an emergency” (Flanagan 1990).

Music also constitutes an art form. Musicians are artists who develop something new using a great amount of creativity and thinking. The result displays an artistic quality, though it may also have other analytical and emotional attributes. Censorship of music is also wrong. How can our government think that they can easily silence what people believe and feel? How can our government ignore the emotions that the musician is expressing through music and other art? I agree that lyrics can be shocking and violent, but they describe the reality of our culture and lives. Frank Zappa, a musician of noted that: “…if one wants to be a real artist in the United States today and comment on our culture, one would be very far off the track if one did something delicate or sublime. This is not a noble, delicate, sublime country” (Zappa 1988).

Censorship is clearly violating the political philosophy on which our country, the United States was founded. The Bill of Rights ensures that all people are free to express their feelings by any means. The use of this freedom of expression to criticize the government agrees with the Constitutional conviction that there should be some checks on government. Democracy assigns each person the task of selecting the most appropriate and practical manner of life. Art Censorship restricts these choices completely, and is therefore in conflict and against democracy.

Art is important to for every single person of the United States. Art and music lets us see the world in new and different ways, and gives us pleasure and enjoyment. It is a unique language in which we can express our ideas or we can say any things that cannot be said in other languages, regardless of quality. Music lyrics are of great value for us because they are form of an art and because they comment on reality. The specific issues and problems that music comments on are of special value to youth, the age group whose access to the music is most restricted. For an artist, the sharing of his artwork is a matter of self-worth and pride and; it is an individual’s contribution to the society. It is also one’s profession, an important mean of self-support.

The only appropriate solution to the issue of censorship in the arts is that the United States government should get out of the art business altogether, and allow citizens acting under free market environment and conditions to support any kind of art they want. I am against every type of censorship, as a lot of citizens of United States are. But censorship is a part of government in our country, there is a lot of censorship in our country.

Independently of the censorship in art, we should decide for ourselves whether or not art or music lyrics are beneficial or appropriate for us. There is no solid proof and evidence that they are harmful in any way, so it would be completely wrong to censor them. If we cannot avoid censorship in art, or if we are forced by our government to accept it as an unfortunate by-product of a good capitalist system, then government should at least let the citizens decide what is appropriate and what is not. Censorship of any kind should be last resort to handle specific issues. I will conclude the report with Charles Bradlaugh’s quote: “Without free speech no search for truth is possible; without free speech, no discovery of truth is useful.”


Broch, Timothy C., 1971: “Erotic Materials.” Technical Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography

Flanagan, Bill, 1990: “Radio moo-ves to Ban Anti-beef Lang are Un-American.” Billboard Magazine Vol. 102

Goldberg, Michael, 1990: “At a Loss for Words”, Rolling Stone

Jansen, Sue Curry, 1991: Censorship: The Knot That Binds Power and Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Johnny Clegg, 1998: Artists on Music Censorship (November 7, 2002)

Mary E. Hull, 1999: Censorship in America: A Reference Handbook

Michelson, Peter, 1971: The Aesthetics of Pornography New York: Herder and Herder

Marcuse, Herbert, 1978: The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics. Boston: Beacon

Oboler, Eli M., 1974: The Fear of the Word: Censorship and Sex. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Zappa, Frank, 1998: “On Junk Food for the Soul” New Perspectives Quarterly Vol. 4, Winter