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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Finding The Line Between Artistic Freedom & Artistic Integrity


adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

Several news articles over the past few months have really struck home to me the balance between artistic freedom and artistic integrity. Here are two examples. The first is a photographer in New York City who photographed people from the balcony of his high rise condo who were going about their own business in their own homes in the high rise next to his own. These intimate portraits while never showing nudity showed folks going about their daily lives with their curtains open. Several residents sued the artist but lost the case. It was ruled that the artist did nothing wrong and that no violations of privacy had occurred.

The second is the artist who took personal photographs of people from the social network Instagram and framed the images in blown up forms with often strange and inexplicable words from text messages at the bottom. The pieces were then sold in gallery for immense sums of money.

Both of these artists claimed artistic freedom for creating the work and the laws of the United States support that expression, as they should. Whether you like or dislike the concepts both artists used there is an argument to be made for allowing art in almost any form to speak. As an artist myself, part of me agrees wholeheartedly with this. But the other part of me says that both of these artists crossed a line that should never be crossed by the creative. The line of integrity. In doing so, both of these artists not only dirtied themselves, but dirtied every other artist on the planet.

The line between artistic freedom and artistic integrity is blurry. It is up to each of us to determine where that boundary exists. I would go further and say that it is an obligation that artists have to always watch for boundary if we question whether something goes over the line, then we have the common sense and wisdom to say "its not worth it to cross it".

Both of the artists shown above crossed over that line. Whatever their reasons they stopped representing the freedom of the artist and lost their integrity.

Recently there was a story about the woman who sponsored the "Mohammad Cartoon" show in Texas. Some have said "Whats wrong with drawing Mohammad? That's artistic freedom!" I have very mixed feelings about this one because I do not think that freedom of expression should halt at Mohammad's doorstep. I think the reason that this crossed the line of integrity was because it was sponsored specifically to bate Muslims.

Speaking as an artist who created a 6 foot sculpture depicting Jesus Christ dead with a stiff dick and surrounded by the ghoulish faces of the the 12 apostles in hell, I can't blame an artist who depicts Mohammad in any form. I do not create a piece of art such as this to bate Christians. I do it because it speaks a particular message to me that I feel needs to be said.

I do not think in the case of the Mohammad cartoon show that the sponsors said "create what is in your heart". Instead the integrity was lost because the sponsors said "Go get em!". That crossed a line. But I admit its a blurry line.

I am an art activist. This means I tackle hard subjects when I feel there is a message to be said within the art. I would not hesitate to paint Mohammad if I felt that it was message worth telling. I am unsure that there was any reason though in the cartoon contest other than animosity. And THAT is where the line was crossed and integrity was lost.

There are several artists though that understand artistic freedom and they are paying the price for it. Dai Jianyong is a Chinese artist recently detained for comparing China's president to Hitler. There is Iranian exiled artist Shirin Neshat who has a fatwah out against her for her amazing artistic portraits of Iranian faces with Farsi poetry over them.

These artists, while dealing with extremely controversial subjects have found the balance between artistic freedom and artistic integrity. They represent what art should truly be.

I am not sure there is ever a clear cut way for us as artists to know when we are crossing the line. But what is truly important is that we are aware there IS a line. We determine that line individually with our own personal integrity. In the end art is truly about self expression but that should always be tempered by our own personal moral codes and care and love for the world around us.


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