For a second time I was reported to Facebook by somebody who was offended by my work, and again Facebook rejected the objection. It made me think about censorship. The American disease is the eagerness to burn witches, Salem to McCarthyism, and now the culture of outrage.
I saw a friend’s post on Facebook from the New York Times about how Victor Arnautoff’s murals, ‘The Life of Washington’ at George Washington High School in San Francisco, were going to be obliterated because they offended a few, though most students in the school were not offended.
They were painted in the depression era under the patronage of WPA (Works Progress Administration) by a Russian émigré, he was a communist who painted his view of American history. Arnautoff had a critical view of the founding father; the murals show Washington prospering with black slaves and the white man stealing the land from the Indians. Arnautoff’s sin was that he painted beautiful murals, so his detractors in their anger with history saw his work as a glorification of the white man’s atrocities.
Destroying art because its truth offends and hurts is an argument that one can understand. But in this climate of outrage it has become a question of the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’; it’s no longer the art or an idea that offends, it’s the author, and when the author is condemned so is the work.
A work of art, like a child, should not be blamed for the sins of the parent. Jefferson was not without sin, should we question The Declaration of Independence? The painter Caravaggio and the poet and playwright Ben Jonson both killed men in duels or brawls, Richard Dadd killed his father. Genet was a thief, Rimbaud was a smuggler, Byron committed incest, Flaubert paid for sex with boys. These are reprehensible acts but should we eradicate the contributions they made to our culture? In this age of empowerment lets hope that injustices are corrected, the oppressed are empowered and there is generosity with the art.