Freedom of artistic expression: what is it?

The History of Art is marked by freedoms and tensions. On one hand, human creativity and the desire to express itself. On the other hand, the concern that the expression does not overflow socially accepted limits. Between these two extremes, a countless number of principles: autonomy of will, access to culture, respect for religious sentiment, non-discrimination, protection of minors, parents’ responsibility for their children’s education, duty to inform, and others.

Historical contingencies and personal inclinations have dictated different combinations of these ingredients and the following articulations of interests. For example, when Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, his conceptions were considered heresies (for the nakedness of the characters, and other factors), the artist was invited to cover them, refused (because he wanted to keep the purposes that moved him), but a disciple later answered the complaints of censorship.

For if nudity can continue to hurt the sensibilities of some, what not to say of sex scenes, acts of violence, appropriation of religious images, or other situations that cross the paths of morality, ethics, sexual, political, ideological or other options?

Lately we have seen the exacerbation of radicalism of beliefs and opinions and the stimulus to confront extremes, leaving aside intermediate principles or overvaluing some at the expense of the depreciation of others.

In this atmosphere, in which there is a debate especially regarding exhibitions in cultural institutions whether or not recognized liberality to art is confused with licentiousness, there is a broad avenue towards adaptations. This article aims to examine conflicts that have been observed in this field and point out possible perspectives.

Subjective agendas: relationships among artists, public, curators, museums and sponsors, and motivations of freedom of expression, religious, moral and other feelings.

Freedom of expression is an assumption of human dignity (in the aspiration of people to express their personality) and of democracy (in the freedom of citizens to express their thoughts). For one of its facets, artistic freedom, a greater degree of tolerance is usually admitted, given the social recognition that the artist.

Museums and cultural centers, in turn, have the possibility of exhibiting new artistic conceptions instead of just storing collections of already known works. If “the museum is the world” it is about the interest of bringing the museum-world into the museum-institutional space, and giving voice to the artists, instead of seeking visions or average sensibilities of an idealized audience.

One of the greatest difficulties in putting such objectives into practice is the eminently subjective nature of some of these concepts. The state that it is impossible to define it, and others differ on how to do it.

In the absence of a possible or peaceful conceptualization, the indicators of legitimacy of the classification of something as artistic or someone as an artist are always in incessant debate and transformation, because they are always in relation (they depend, at the very least, on the look of the artist and that of the observer).

Thus, the relational agendas with artists, public, museums or cultural centers and sponsors (besides curators, critics, collectors, insurance companies, marchands, auction houses, and several other actors) carry strong content of values and principles, personal and collective, imbued with emotions and interests.

For example, political currents that identify themselves with greater moral conservatism tend to postulate the control of access not only to pornographic works but also to erotic works (or even nude images).

Sponsors are divided between projecting the image and culture of individualities (favoring the expression of diversity) or opting for social common denominators (going backwards when sectors of society trigger protests). Some artists, aware of the freedom that is their driving force, reaffirm, at each respective threat, their personal commitment to the transgression of beliefs and attitudes that tolerate it.

With so many crossed feelings, and so varied in content, the relational content, if not contemplated with appropriate mapping and discussion (especially weighing the general principles in the light of the circumstances of each concrete case), can obfuscate or even make the objective debate impossible.

Objective guidelines: legal framework, specific regulatory scope, indicative classification, criteria, prior information, and self-regulation.

The current legal framework imposes the following limits on freedom of expression: prohibition of anonymity; prohibition of offending the honor or image of others; right of children and adolescents to entertainment and public shows appropriate to their age group, prohibited from censorship of a political.

Ideological and artistic nature; right of individuals and families to defend themselves from radio and television programs or programming contrary to ethical and social values of the person and the family, and advertising of products, practices and services that may be harmful to health and the environment; and manifestations of a racist nature or directed to the spread of hatred.

Under such premises, art exhibitions should not bar minors from entering when exhibiting works featuring erotic scenes, but should inform about the nature of what they exhibit, so that those responsible for minors are in a position to exercise their judgment, in the prerogative that the law gives them to direct their education.

On the other hand, situations that escape this framework should deserve special treatment, such as those presenting minors in scenes of explicit sex or pornography.

Suddenly, the opposition between artistic freedom and public exhibition was turned around, simultaneously with the wave of strengthening of extreme right wing political groups and their dispute for the conquest of expressive sectors of the population for their causes.