“Eating cheese is frowned upon”. Artistic responsibility and censorship

27 de July de 2023

By À. Salas

Censorship has been on everyone’s lips for years, the other day in the metro a person complained aloud that we live in a sphere in which “even eating cheese is frowned upon”. It immediately made me think of the conversation we shared with Benito Padilla about a month ago. Censorship is everywhere. Whether it is to be constitutionally avoided or excessive. It affects all the elements on the social spheres. There is political censorship, censorship of education, moral censorship, censorship hidden in the media, in art and also in public swimming pools. I find it curious that, despite being so present in the everyday life of society, it is still delicate to talk and write about censorship. My fingers tap on eggshells the introduction of this article on the keyboard.

From a philosophical perspective, it is difficult to take a position in favour of extreme freedom of expression: not everything that happens in the world is morally acceptable. At the same time, saying that there are things that are forbidden raises the problem of who and where the line should be drawn. But we’ll leave these debates for the after-dinner conversation behind everybody’s hause doors. At this point, with the increasing temperatures in Catalonia, this subject is too hot to handle. Instead, we will concentrate on such suggestive issues as self-censorship, the rebelliousness of art, and the responsibility of the artist.

To begin with, I propose to outline one of the multiple definitions of art. Accepting that in the world of art there are infinite themes, and that each individual creator has a universe of his or her own, we will say that both the subject matter and the singular perspective emerge from the creators as a response to their context. Therefore, art is the boundary that heals between human sensitivity and the harshness of the environment. The artist may feel wounds that he or she does not wish to expose to the public eye. At other times, the scars emerge with pride and optimism, wanting to show the public that which is shameful and sensitive. Both attitudes fit into the figure of the artist who intervenes between the desire to conceal and the desire to undress impulses of vulnerability and denunciation. 

Because, beyond the adequacy of the hegemonic cultural discourse and social canons, censorship also preserves the boundary between the artist’s intimacy and social identity. After all, to make public a photograph, a text, a painting, a dance, also and in the first instance is to expose your vulnerability and identity to the gaze of people like me – hopefully followers of your work – prepared to point the finger and judge an object, your scar, the result of your effort.

To be more specific, I will exemplify with two artists who have marked my journey as a thinker. I remember the first time I saw Sally Mann‘s photographs. The series of images that portray her family have always been my favourites. From the beginning they confused two sensations in me. On the one hand, the tenderness of witnessing the work of a mother who admires her daughters. On the other, the uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism, the feeling of knowing that you are in front of treasured intimacy. And I ask myself, as a mother, would I exploit family images? As an artist, am I willing to share that which touches my core? The photographer does, she exposes her most precious love. She takes the power of the one who shows herself fragile, without fear of being reprimanded.

Equally important, but very different, is the kind of power that motivates Núria Güell’s work. Her content revolves explicitly around censorship and social issues. I imagine her figure of a woman empowering herself, tired with being abused and ignored, when it appeared in 2018, her documentary called “De putas. An essay on masculinity”. I see her scar flapping in the wind of social criticism and reprisal. As there is no guarantee that all art is personal, we have to look beyond Núria’s personality, and I can assume that many other women appreciated her role as a vindicative artist.

Precisely for that reason, to protect herself from self-censorship. That which would limit artistic and fictional creation, in the process, Julio Cortázar forgot the presence of the public. In an interview that I share with you in this link, the writer talks about the relationship between the author and the reader, as if the link were a footbridge that both cross at the moment of reading. Between the two figures there is a bridge that unites them, but at the moment of writing the path has to be broken, the author has to be alone, he says. Alone and without the gaze of otherness, only in this way are we capable of communicating and revolutionising pre-established paradigms. To express our own creation, without shame, the most human corners of feeling, which are also, sometimes, the most oppressed. Only without thinking about the public’s ovation, creation is undertaken without fear. Of course, then, if art is a scar, the artist is a fighter and, for this reason, they are the first to be punished by exile. Because no matter how hard we’ll try, politics, art, society and personal spheres are always intertwined.

And so, after serving you a few tapas of “censorship battered with artistic responsibility”, I’m going to dip my feet in the pool and wish you a good dive into the month of August.