I recently was asked to participate in an Art in the Chambers exhibition featuring the work of instructors from the community college where I teach. The paintings, sculptures and photographs would be displayed in the Orange County Commission in downtown Orlando. I submitted slides for the promotion of the show and for review by a public arts board. My work (shown in this blog) was excluded from the show a few days before its opening. I was told by my contact that my work had been deemed “too provocative”. I found this odd as I had selected my least provocative work for this show.
My work has been censored once before, but I understood why in that instance. I was asked to display my narrative figure paintings in the lobby of a theater on campus, and some of them featured nudes. Theater goers protested, and I was asked to remove the work. I wasn’t happy, but could understand the objections.
But this latest act of censorship leaves me confused. How innocuous and/or content free must my work be before it is deemed safe for public consumption? I know that these four paintings would be deemed aesthetically naive and inoffensive in the northeast. Most people in central Florida who look at my recent work understand its humorous intent and are amused. Some are bored and dismissive. I haven’t been accosted yet by an outraged arts patron at an opening. So what’s the big deal?
Perhaps my next move, if I want a public exhibition in central Florida, will be a new series in which I paint geometric abstractions. Maybe I could go the Robert Ryman route and make white on white paintings. I’ll have to be careful, however. Who knows how inventive my censors will be as they stare at a surface with minimal tones, colors, and flat brushwork? Maybe they’ll find a nude or two lurking within a cloud of white paint. Maybe they’ll find political content in the impasto. As I never know how people will react to my work, so I’ll never fully understand how far some folks will go to find offense.
At the end of the day I know that none of this really matters, and the folks who have just excluded my work aren’t worth the effort to please or persuade. I make my work for my amusement and for the pleasure of a few friends. As the old song goes, “No, no, they can’t take that away from me.” At least not yet.