The Year Art Censorship Came Back in Style

By Fry, Madeline | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, December 16, 2019 | Go to article overview

The Year Art Censorship Came Back in Style


Fry, Madeline, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


In late June, the San Francisco Board of Education gathered to resolve a problem that had recently been brought its attention. An 83-year-old, Depression-era mural on the walls of one San Francisco high school had started to bother some people. Painted by left-leaning artist Victor Arnautoff, the 13-panel artwork in George Washington High School had been created through a New Deal art program. Arnautoff had the task of painting Life of Washington, which spanned a whopping 1,600 square feet.

So as not to lionize the first president excessively, Arnautoff painted Washington standing near the body of a dead Native American man, and he also depicts enslaved African Americans. Today, after almost a century, the mural is not as liberal as it once was in the eyes of the public.

“It’s always an issue when anyone wants to remove or cover or displace art,” Board Vice President Mark Sanchez said. “But there are countervailing issues we had to look at as well. We believe students shouldn’t be exposed to violent imagery — that it’s degrading.”

The school board voted unanimously to destroy the mural, though not everyone agreed with its post-woke interpretation. When one teacher asked her freshman English class to write either in favor of or against the mural, 45 out of 49 students supported it. “The fresco shows us exactly how brutal colonization and genocide really were and are," one student wrote. "The fresco is a warning and reminder of the fallibility of our hallowed leaders.”

Two months later, the opposing sides reached a compromise: The mural would be covered up but not painted over. Still, it will no longer be seen.

But why stop there? Art censors of the world, why not also hide Francisco Goya's The Third of May 1808 or Picasso's Guernica, both startling images of conflict? In fact, a reproduction of Guernica was briefly covered up at the United Nations more than 15 years ago during a speech about the war in Iraq. It used to be that if you censored art, you had something to hide. Now, it means you're not ready to face reality.

After decades of railing against censorship in the arts, some liberals have now fully embraced it. Statues of Southern generals and Christopher Columbus are already passé. There’s a disturbing new development in art criticism among the elites, and it has nothing to do with whether Renoir was sexist in his personal life. Now, it’s not enough to critique unethical artists or their "problematic" subjects. …

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