"Butterfly," oil on canvas, 77 x 77"
August of 2000, the director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture decided
to have my painting "Butterfly" removed from an exhibition on Cuban Art at
the Illinois State Fair. My personal testimony
explains the events that took place surrounding its removal. Please see the
Chicago Tribune article "Act of Censorship or Matter
of Taste?" and the Chicago Artists' News
story "A Censored 'Butterfly'" for more details. Since January of 2001,
I have been working with Svetlana Mintcheva from the National
Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) to try to prevent this from happening
to other artists. On March 16, 2001, a letter
went to Governor Ryan from the NCAC asking him to create a statement for
the exhibition of art in public spaces that respects artistic freedom and
curatorial discretion. It was endorsed by many representatives of local and
national arts organizations as well as artists and gallery directors and owners.
We got a letter back from Joe Hampton, director of the Department of Agriculture,
informally asserting respect for artistic freedom, but with no mention of
creating a statement. Presently, I am still working with representatives from
the State of Illinois and have submitted a draft of a statement
of artistic freedom in government supported spaces developed by the NCAC
for the State to adopt as a resolution.
I am hopeful that
a statement will be in place in the near future.
I am extremely grateful for the support of the many individuals who also believe in the First Amendment's right of free expression and supported me and the NCAC as we urged Governor Ryan of Illinois to adopt a statement of artistic freedom. I would like to thank Svetlana Mintcheva from the NCAC who has been my partner in my mission to create an environment where artists can express themselves more freely. I am also very grateful to Arlene Rakoncay, former executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition and Katie Copenhaver, editor of the Chicago Artists' News for their support in getting the word out about the censorship of "Butterfly" and for reinforcing the need for Governor Ryan to adopt a statement of artistic freedom. I would also like to express my appreciation to Professor Rodney Blackman from DePaul College of Law, Bill Rattner, executive director of Lawyers for the Creative Arts, attorney Scott Hodes and Raquel Yossiffon for their honest and expert advice and for going out of their way to support me.
My Personal Views on Freedom of Expression and the Censorship of Art
The censorship of my painting "Butterfly" marked the first time that my work has ever been removed from an exhibition. Since this incident, my conviction for the importance of freedom of expression has grown even stronger and I am determined to try to lessen this from happening to other artists. I believe that art is a reflection of our society. If artists are inhibited from creating what truly comes from our hearts we will be less inclined to share our ideas with the world. We cannot allow this to happen. Our society is so much richer because we can all experience artistic creations firsthand. Even when we don't like the art that we see, someone else might. Since the viewing of art is so subjective, how can we allow people from government entities and individuals in general to take down art just because they personally find it inappropriate? I understand the need to protect children from seeing certain subject matters. However, I would like to be given the opportunity to choose what my children can see rather than have the government decide what is best for them.
We are never going to all agree on art, politics, religion and many other topics. So instead of taking art down, let us learn from the differing points of view that it can stimulate. A dialogue where we can express our views about a work of art is much more interesting than having nothing to speak about. This is why a statement for the exhibition of art in public spaces that recognizes artistic expression and curatorial discretion should be adopted by the Illinois legislature and other state legislatures around the country as well as the city councils in cities throughout the United States. This will show all the citizens of America and countries around the world that the creation of art is respected and valued.
For more information on other censorship cases, please click on the box below.
© 2011 Michele Tuohey. All rights reserved.