by Christian Ohnimus Wednesday, November 13
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, stating that to censor art is an injustice. Why? Because art is tied to Man’s soul and to stifle art means stifling humanity. So, should we censor art? I believe that that depends on the definition of “art”. If we adhere to the modern definition of art as mere “self-expression” then absolutely, yes. Why? Because mere self-expression is quite often entirely inappropriate for public display and, at times, is even evil. Every action willfully committed by every person is an act that in some way expresses the self. Every act says something about the actor. This is true of good acts like giving to the less fortunate or loving a family member even when it’s hard but it is also true of evil acts as well. Arson is just as much an act of self-expression as is feeding the hungry. Destroying a life says just as much about the person as saving a life. However, this does not mean that we must tolerate the evil for the sake of the good, especially considering that such evil acts are usually a direct detriment to the good. The same holds true for less extreme acts of self-expression or “art”. There is no reason why the obscene must be tolerated or, worse, broadcasted, for the sake of the beautiful.
“Art” as mere self-expression is entirely meaningless because then it means anything. “Art” becomes a tool meant only to mean whatever the “artist” wants it to mean, no matter how obscene or cruel. Art actually means something quite different: it is the expression of Truth through beauty or emotional power and that is something that should never be censored.
What this means, however, is that censorship can actually play a very important role in promoting art. Namely, it is that tool which we must employ to weed out the anti-art, so to speak, from real art. That is, to separate that which is a lie from that which is truth and to suppress the lies and broadcast the truth. Note here that I am not saying that we should censor bad art. Even bad art, if it is truly art, seeks to express the truth through beauty but it may do so poorly. While bad art may contribute little to the beauty of our surroundings or our awareness of the truth neither does it undermine truth and the common good. Additionally, distinguishing between bad and good art can be difficult and somewhat subjective whereas the difference between art and anti-art is objective, distinct, and definitive. As such, censorship of bad art is inappropriate.
However, there should be no doubt that such anti-art as the controversial abortion “art” of a few years back, in which a Yale student artificially inseminated herself and subsequently took abortifacients over and over again to induce miscarriages, not only may but should be censored and, if at all possible, prevented in the first place. It is insanity that by merely labeling such acts as “art” that they should be transformed from disordered and deranged to challenging and avant-garde and, as a result, worthy of equal status on the public stage as real artistic accomplishments.
A painting is not made art by removing its frame and art is not made more free simply by releasing it of all constraints. True freedom of expression can only manifest when our orientation is directed towards Truth. Without the constraints of objective reality, of natural and divine law, we will only wander helplessly and expression becomes confused like the mindless babbling of a lunatic. However, art conformed to bend towards Truth may uplift us. It can inspire and set our hearts afire. It can pierce our souls and raise our spirits. After all, what is art but the splendor of the Truth?
Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.