Monday, January 3, 2011

The Censor

Hannah Miller invited a small group of her friends to a birthday dinner at Little Saigon. The dinner conversations were lively and animated. Then the conversation turned to an unexpected topic, namely art censorship in Orlando. Jessica Earley had a painting of hers on exhibit at Pom Poms Tea house as part of a group show called "The Happy Glitter Show." It is believed that a costumer at the tea house took it upon themselves to censor Jessica's painting by placing a round bright yellow sticker on the piece. The painting depicts a group of women and written across the chest of one was, "Do the dishes. Feed the cat. Don't be a C*nt." Ironically Jessica had already censored herself by placing an * in place of the vowel. The management of Pom Pom's was very apologetic and they removed the sticker once it was discovered.

As an artist I find the willingness of people in our community to deface and censor artwork very disturbing. Jessica was soft spoken and sincere as she expressed her concerns, "Someone in the community put the sticker on my painting. And business owners are afraid of what the people in our community might think of provocative or questionable art, so they ask that you don't hang it in their business. We as a community are censoring ourselves and keeping our minds closed." Her work deals with and respects woman's issues. "It really is interesting to me, because there are a lot of artists who will portray women in very objectified ways through their art (pin up style art, etc..), and people most often will find this to be OK, because it has sort of seeped into being the norm. But if I make a painting dealing with some real things that women go through, for example, menstruation, then my painting won't get hung."

The options for exhibiting artwork in this town are limited to say the least. Artists must face the risk of exhibiting in bustling, sometimes smoke filled restaurants and bars just to get their work seen. The chances of work being damaged escalates in these crowded insecure settings. Now it seems people feel the need to censor and deface art that they do not understand or appreciate. "This blows my mind because I find my work to be quite innocent and respectful to the female. It's very frustrating, because the work I do is very personal to me, but I'm not trying to be purposefully shocking in any sort of way. I've had a few different instances where I've felt cheated or censored." Jessica said.

19 comments:

Hannah said...

It's interesting that every time the subject of Jessica's painting getting stickered came up over the period of time it was relevant, everyone, including Jessica, referred to it as "censorship".

I think the appropriate word is "vandalism".

We should describe the act, without coloring it with our possibly misguided interpretations. Also, I mean, dang, it WAS vandalism, and that crappy point I think was kinda overshadowed by the whole "censorship" thing.

In the wake of Gabrielle Giffords shooting, I caught myself making assumptions about the shooter's political ideals before anything could possibly be known about him or his reasons. I realized how easy it is to attribute motives to actions without anything to guide us but our own ideals (or prejudices). More importantly, I realized how unconscious and acceptable this attribution was becoming throughout our culture.

And though your post has only a tangental connection to this thought, I just wanted to put it out into the universe... This year, I will be more careful of bias, in all of my deeds, words, and to the best of my ability, thoughts.

Thanks, as always Thor, for provoking thought.

MAN it's almost 3ayem, I should probably go to sleep!

Tracy said...

Vandalism is right. Censorship is also an appropriate word, although as Thor addressed, it was already self-censored by the artist, so was censorship already OK with the artist? Was there a line in the sand?

Showing art in a restaurant is a privilege, not a right. The restaurant's primary intent is to service customers, not further feminine dialogue in post-millennial visual art. If the artwork on the wall somehow hinders the dining experience, this works against the restaurant's intent.

I understand the artist has a message. Perhaps a venue furthering feminine dialogue in post-millennial visual art would be more forward-thinking and less likely to censor the work.

I remember the call to artist for this show. It reminded the perspective artists that this is a family establishment.

I respect Jessica's work in the fullest. Many artists, myself included, safe with couch art. She has a voice and should be recognized for pushing the envelope. I just have to play devil's advocate and ask-- what if the rolls were reversed and your livelihood depended on reaching the largest possible sampling of the public, getting them through the door, serving them memorable food in hopes that they'll tell 2 friends and return?

Respect goes both ways. If you demand respect for your art, you in turn should respect the venue displaying it.

Anonymous said...

Thor,
Thanks for the post but the idea of this being censorship is ludicrous. It is closer to vandalism but I think it's actually someone making a serious comment that should not be ignored.
Far too often artists feel they should be able to express themselves however they see fit just because it's art. If the defacement of Jessica's work had been done in a gallery and the gallery owners had decided to add that sticker then maybe it could be called censorship. The piece in question was hanging in a restaurant and if Jessica doesn't have the common sense to realize that her work may be offensive to some then she is either seriously naive or just not being truthful.
I could say that I want to exhibit work that portrays some natural human functions but if the subject dealt with masturbation I doubt many restaurants would be offering me a chance to show my work.
Quite simply, if you know your work might not be appropriate for a certain venue then find one that is but don't cry "censorship" when you have used bad judgment.

Jessica said...

Hello.
I just wanted to say as the artist, that in all complete honesty, I felt the painting was "safe" for a family establishment. I didn't actually spell out any curse words, and really the words were done in a very fine print, so they you would have to get close to the painting to read them. There was no nudity, or suggestiveness of any sort in this particular piece.

I am always very grateful and happy when establishments allow me to show my work. And I wasn't disappointed with the establishment in any way for this. They were completely respectful toward me and my work.

If anything, I was just trying to say that I wish our community itself as a whole was more progressive about certain things.

It's funny a little bit, because I really, really hate conflict. It makes me very uncomfortable. So really, it is never in any honest attempt to cause some kind of ruckus.

Hannah said...

To those arguing that Jessica displayed poor judgement when choosing the piece in question to hang in a public, "family-friendly" restaurant:

The curators at the restaurant had every right to refuse to hang her piece, asking either for a replacement or just, y'know, not hanging her work. Instead, they chose to hang it. They invited the piece into their establishment, essentially, endorsing it in its entirety, as is, and taking responsibility for its well-being while under their roof.

The argument that she made a poor choice in selecting that painting to hang in that restaurant could be compared to the victim-blaming classic of a rape victim asking for it by wearing that skirt in that neighborhood. Thankfully, we don't have to be so melodramatic, since Jessica's decision to offer the painting to hang when invited to show work at Pom's is rendered completely irrelevant by the fact that the curators and workers at Pom's saw the piece and decided to hang it.

Get it?

The only decision Jessica made was the valid and to-be-celebrated choice to MAKE her painting the way she determined it should be made.

The only person who should be castigated in this entire scenario is the person who vandalized Jessica's work... certainly not Jessica, who should be commended for consistently making art that is so nakedly personal and beautiful.

brian said...

I think the main idea that's being missed by some here is not one concerning an artist's judgement, the primary intents of business owners who choose to display art, or personal views on what is considered "inappropriate".

The point is that if you're a customer somewhere and you see something you don't like, contact the owner of the establishment and, in the interest of keeping customers, they will most likely remove it or try to compromise with you in some way. This is what a reasonable person does.

Possibly ruining an object that someone probably cares deeply about and has spent a lot of time producing is the action of a childish, impatient person that, for whatever selfish reason, feels the need to force their sensibilities on others.

Max said...

Hannah,
I don't think you get it.
It's not quite true that Jessica bares no responsibilty because Pom Pom's accepted her work & decided to hang it. The people at Pom's are very open minded and should not be put in the position of denying inappropriate work. Tracy pointed out that the call for artists reminded people that it is a family establishment. Clearly they wanted to make sure the artists considered that when choosing work to show. Hanging Jessica'a piece does not mean they fully endorse the work. It just means that the curators at Pom's are trying to be as accepting to local artists as possible.
Jessica herself mentioned that there have been other venues that had issues with her work. If she is aware of that then maybe she should be a little more considerate of her hosts and not put them in an awkward situation. Or as the anonymous poster stated, find a venue that is more appropriate.
Being an artist doesn't excuse you from using a little common sense and showing some respect for the opportunity you have been given.

Thor said...

The day after talking with Jessica, I went to Pom Poms to see the show for myself and sketch. Ironically I thought the show must have changed since I didn' notice any offensive work. I was sitting right under the work in question never realizing anyone might find anything offensive about it. That someone would vandalize the work is astonishing. Jessica's work has a childlike innocence about it that is endearing.

This incident and others makes me wonder if it is safe to exhibit any work in a town where people feel they have the right to deface work they consider "not family friendly." I was recently asked why my work is not exhibited more often in town. I am honestly not prepared to exhibit it if I feel it might be vandalized or stolen.

Hannah said...

@Max:

I'm not trying to say that Pom's is responsible for the vandalism, though I see how my post could have been taken that way. I enjoy the art hung at Pom's a lot-what hangs there almost always appeals to me, and when it doesn't, it's still of recognizable quality. I respect the establishment for their support of local artists and the variety of styles and subjects which they display.

I was trying to point out the absurdity in accusing Jessica of bad judgement for submitting her piece to a hang that was curated when the decision for what hangs lies not in the hands of the artist, but rather someone who works for the restaurant.

To say that an artist is responsible for what they create is obvious. To say that a restaurant is not responsible for what they choose to display is ridiculous.

Perhaps it would make someone at Pom's feel awkward to say "hey, we don't want to hang this piece"; but that's their responsibility to say if that's the case. It's not like Jessica went in with a gun and was like, "HANG IT NOOOOOOOOOOW CHUMPS!"

At any rate, that's a moot point; as I said originally and as Brian eloquently explained further, the fault lies with whomever it was that actually vandalized her work. If they had an objection, they should have voiced it to the restaurant (who, after all, would be the agent to complain to; though I suppose they could have called Jessica at home and called her a bad, bad girl too if they wanted to be thorough).

An artist will make what they will make. If you don't like it, you have the right to say that to anyone you like; but you don't have the right to deface it. If a public establishment chooses to display something on their walls, offer it for sale, and further take a commission on that sale, then as far as I'm concerned they're endorsing it as a product they're willing to represent and it should be cared for as if it were a piece of merchandise originated from the establishment.

If you don't like Pom's Lowrider sandwich, you don't have to buy it; but you can't just get up and spit in every one they make before they serve it.

If you can't "get" that, then there is a large divide between our points of view, and one that is never likely to be resolved. I appreciate you taking time to write a response, and I don't mean to discount your opinion, but I just can't agree with your position.

RV said...

I've been fortunate enough to have my work hanging at Poms as well as other venues that are not traditional gallery environments. I think the idea of holding art events in restaurants and bars is a great idea and has been very helpful in promoting many artists that may not get the chance to have their work shown in public. That being said, I do think artists need to be aware that this is a unique situation and select their work according to the venue.
A bar environment is probably going to be a little more lenient with the type of work they show. A family restaurant doesn't need to be making their patrons uncomfortable with the choice of artwork they hang. Although the final say is up to the venue, I tend to agree with Max when he said that the artist should be aware of the environment and not put the curators in a position of refusing artwork. When you are given the chance to show anywhere, it is an opportunity that should be appreciated. We have to understand that restaurants and bars are not making money from hanging our art. They are generously allowing us to use their space and in return, if we have played our part right, we have given them some interesting art to decorate their walls.

hearsayu said...

Hannah. You definitely get it.

Jessica said...

I think there is something to be said about words and ideas being lost in translation via internet discussions.

At no point was I ragging on any venue.

I was simply saying what a shame about whoever decided it was ok to deface someone else's work.

Who knows, maybe whoever did it, didn't even care that the painting quietly said "C*nt" . Maybe they were just drunk as hell.

I don't find that I was being disrespectful to any venue , even if it could be said that I chose an inappropriate piece (which I still do not believe it was). I find the people who curate art in Orlando to be very open minded. I find people who observer the art, sometimes less so.
It isn't up to me to try to figure out every single possibility that might upset a sensitive person when I decide to make a piece of art that is personal to me.

That being said, if my art doesn't ever get shown in another venue again, I would be ok with that. As long as I was still making what I believe in.

Max said...

Jessica,
You absolutely have every right and freedom to create art that is personal to you but when you decide to show in a place that survives by serving the general public including families with possibly young children, it is absolutely your responsibility to figure out what is appropriate and what isn't. It doesn't take a genius to know what isn't well suited for a family restaurant. Your status of "artist" does not excuse you from trying to do what is in the best interest of the venue.

Jeremy said...

I just want to chime in as a curator who has shown Jessica's work twice in Dandelion. The first time, her style and content were whimsical but definitely thought-provoking. When she showed again, her style had developed, and the content had evolved into more focused themes. Now, did I relate to these themes? No. Don't have to. Did I even agree with everything she was saying? No. Don't have to. That's politics, not art.
However, I chose not to hang one piece in particular because of the setting being a cafe. Jessica's work is frank. Some people can't deal with frankness. Some people can't deal with bodily fluids either. And since this was a business whose primary focus was selling food that people would consume while observing the art on the walls, I made the decision to not hang a piece of hers dealing with menstruation and, more specifically, a tampon. Did it offend me? No. That wasn't the point. I wanted to avoid any conflict by simply not showing the piece. Do I think it should be seen elsewhere? Absolutely. Would I show it again at a gallery if I had the chance? Absolutely.
Now, I'm not saying that Pom Poms should or shouldn't have shown that piece. Personally, I find nothing offensive about it, and I don't think it deals with any topics that would cause one to become nauseous while eating. In fact, I hear more vulgar language coming from the mouths of some of Pom's patrons than what appeared in that painting.

hearsayu said...

I think the most frustrating part of reading these comments, and the whole situation is, that this was vandalism. Hannah addressed this. If the situation were reversed, that is if someone would have placed a swear word over a non-swear word, nobody would have called this anything other than vandalism. I personally wouldn't feel comfortable being described as a vandal or a censor. I think both have pretty negative connotations. The major difference, might be that a vandal can be brought up on charges. The other disturbing part of the reaction to this is, the self righteous responses that I've read, that seem to be unfocused. I keep reading that Jessica needs to accept responsibility for her actions. A. Pom didn't censor her B. Someone damaged her property. I booked all the shows at The Peacock Room for almost three years. I assure you that, they, like most business owners looked at what is hanging on the wall, before they open for business. The next frustrating part of this, is the inability to understand context or irony in art. Before you take everything literally, maybe try to figure out if there is more to it. I realize we live in a town that lacks a point of reference for visual art, but I urge some of you to expand your minds, and find out what is going on in the world, or what has gone on. The only reaction to Jessica and her art should be encouragement. She is very talented, and a very compassionate human being.I'm sick of people beating each other down, scolding them or using a patronizing tone. Maybe I'm taking that tone, now towards the some of the people that have commented here, but I think this was necessary.

hearsayu said...

Also. If you really respect Pom and the other restaurant/bar owners as much as you say you do, you should be upset with somebody that messes with anything that's in her place. I know that during my experience with the Peacock, you would get kicked out if you messed with the artwork, and possibly have to pay for it.

Hannah said...

@Pat: smooches.

Brian said...

Pat for Mayor.

Jessica said...

There is now a painting hanging at Pom's with the word "shit" in it.
Clearly, Pom's is ok with this sort of thing.

I didn't really mean for my words in the article to sound so much like I was looking for a pity party. But if you feel very passionate about something, and people criticize you and/or seem disgusted by it, you can imagine it could be very frustrating.

But I'm glad that everyone was able to have such a heated discussion about the whole thing. I'm glad everyone feels strongly about things, instead of feeling nothing at all.