Censorship promotes intolerance to the creation of potentially offensive and harmful artworks. It ensures that artists abide by governmental and moral laws as they draw, write, paint, or sculpt. However, some may argue against censorship since it creates limitations in making art. Many artists believe that artworks are expressions of the artists and that censoring them takes away the value of art crafts. This can lead to various debates regarding the significance of censorship and its effects on the artistic industry. This sample cause and effect essay will discuss the causes of art censorship; such as intolerance to obscene art, protection of human rights, and government control; as well as its effects; such as promotion of activism, utility as a marketing tool, and the punishment of crimes.
Causes of Art Censorship
Intolerance to Obscene Art
Obscene art includes paintings, drawings, films, and other artworks that portray themes that may be disturbing for the audience. This type of art may have explicit sexual, violent, and immoral themes. To avoid spreading and promoting these types of artworks, museums and governments may create rules to ban them. According to Teninbaum (2017), obscene art that does not possess “serious artistic value” is more likely to be the subject of censorship. An obscene art with no serious artistic value is artwork that an artist creates for commercial use. These can include a pornographic film that only contains explicit scenes with no artistic message, a film that highlights violence with no deeper meaning, or a painting that portrays innuendoes that have no significant value. One example of this is Balhus’ “Thérèse Dreaming” (1938) which is a painting that shows a young girl in a position that partially reveals her undergarments. While some may argue that the depiction has a message, many individuals petitioned to censor the art to avoid sexualizing children.
Human Rights Protection
Aside from banning obscene art that possesses no artistic value, museums and governments censor art to protect individuals’ human rights. Certain artworks may contain offensive messages that discriminate or defame an individual or a group (Teninbaum, 2017). Since art is an artist’s expression, a racist may create a painting that promotes discrimination or a pedophile may write a novel justifying their crimes. Without censorship, these types of art and artists may develop a following that supports their criminal and offensive acts. Books like Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies” are examples of artwork that became subject to censorship due to their potential negative effects on children. While the authors are not criminals, they created novels that contain graphic scenes and messages that may not be fit for children and teens. They include sexual scenes, profanities, children’s death, abuse, and violence. Additionally, authorities can censor artworks that are subject to copyright laws. This can help in addressing the issues of counterfeiting which is a violation of the original artist’s rights.
Government control is a major cause of art censorship as certain types of leadership may want to avoid the promotion of anti-government ideas. Countries like China, Turkey, and Russia passed counterterror laws against local artists to prevent the creation of such artworks (Hencz, n.d.). Ignoring these laws can lead artists to spend time in jail, experience harassment, and become terrorists. This cause, unlike the previous two, focuses more on the suppression of artistic expression than the welfare of the public. Most countries that legislate similar laws tend to be authoritarian since they rely on public conformity to retain their status. An example of this is the Chinese government’s treatment of the artist Ai Wei Wei. Ai Wei Wei actively fights and speaks out against the Chinese government through his art pieces. Due to his actions, he experienced imprisonment and the demolishment of his art studio. Government control as a cause for censorship showcases the significance of art in establishing ideologies.
Effects of Art Censorship
Artists turn to Activism
Censorship causes, specifically government control, can lead artists to become activists. As mentioned earlier, The artist Ai Wei Wei actively spoke against the Chinese government through his artworks. The topics of his art tend to focus on the gentrification of the art market, censorship, and critique of the government. Similar to this, the artist Zehra Dogan spoke out against the Turking military by painting a town that the army destroyed. She painted destroyed buildings, smoke, and a handful of upside-down Turkish flags. These artists garnered popularity and support as activists due to art censorship. Censorship promoted the anti-government ideologies of the artists and led to the creation of censored art. However, the actions of these artists led to their imprisonment which indicates the consequences of ignoring censorship.
Punishment for Crimes
Aside from governments’ imprisonment of artist-activists, censorship can lead to punishing artists that create human rights-violating art. Censorship promotes punishing individuals that convey negative and offensive messages through their artwork (Malita, 2019). Censorship laws demotivate the creation of sexist, racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, and pedophilic messages. In some cases, censorship can be a tool to catch criminals that violate human rights. For example, an adult film creator may be an associate of human traffickers and uses victims in their work. Under certain censorship laws, an investigation may occur that reveals and captures the human traffickers. Censorship can be a tool for public protection and eliminate inhumane practices in the arts.
Promotion of the Censored Material
While censorship aims to ban and limit the public display of certain artworks, it tends to cause a counterproductivity towards its goal. According to Malita (2019), censorship can act as an advertising machine due to its ability to promote banned or censored materials. Censoring artwork can lead to publicity that benefits the art and the artist. News of an institution banning a piece of art can spark public interest which will increase the demand for the art. A good example of this is the popularity of banned books, such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird”, William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”, and George Orwell’s “1984”. These banned books became popular works that every Literature class studies due to their history and message. Similar to this, movies that have “red-band” tags like Deadpool 2 tend to develop a following due to public curiosity. While these movies do not become mainstream, their censorship acts as an advertising tool that attracts the interest of viewers.
Intolerance to obscene art, human rights protection, and government control lead to art censorship which then results in artists turning to activism, crime punishment, and promotion of censored materials. The causes of art censorship indicate that the practice is necessary to protect the public, however, an institution may also utilize it to suppress ideas. Similarly, the effects of censorship promote intolerance to offensive artworks while also becoming a reason for activism and promotion of censored materials. Art censorship act as a quality standard to regulate artistic creation but can become a tool for suppressing ideologies.
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Ala.org. (2013). Banned & Challenged Classics. American Library Association. Available at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics. Accessed January 5, 2022.
Arteducators.org. (2019). Censorship and the Arts [Online]. National Art Education Association. Available at https://www.arteducators.org/advocacy-policy/articles/502-naea-position-statement-on-censorship-and-the-arts. Accessed January 4, 2022.
Hencz, A. (n.d.). The Fear of Art: Contemporary Art Censorship [Online]. Artland. Available at https://magazine.artland.com/the-fear-of-art-contemporary-art-censorship/. Accessed January 4, 2022.
Malita, L. (2019). Arguing for Art, Debating Censorship. Metacritic Journal for Comparative Studies and Theory 5.1. Available at https://doi.org/10.24193/mjcst.2019.7.01. Accessed January 4, 2022.
Teninbaum, G. (2017). Art Censorship [Online]. The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Available at https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/978/art-censorship. Accessed January 4, 2022.