The History of the Censorship of my painting “Butterfly”
In August of 2000, the director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture decided to have my painting “Butterfly” removed from an exhibition on Cuban Art at the Illinois State Fair. On March 16, 2001, a letter went to Governor George Ryan from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) asking him to create a Statement of Artistic Freedom that the State would adopt as a resolution for the exhibition of art in government supported spaces that respects artistic freedom and curatorial discretion. It was endorsed by representatives from local and national arts organizations as well as artists and gallery directors and owners. We got a letter back from Joe Hampton, director of the Department of Agriculture, informally asserting respect for artistic freedom, but with no mention of creating a statement. I am extremely grateful for the support of the many individuals who also believe in the First Amendment’s right of free expression and supported me and the NCAC.
For more information on this incident, please see my personal testimony and the Chicago Tribune article “Act of Censorship or Matter of Taste?” and the Chicago Artists’ News story “A Censored ‘Butterfly’”.
My Personal Views on Freedom of Expression and the Censorship of Art
The censorship of my painting “Butterfly” marked the first and only time that my work has ever been removed from an exhibition. Since this incident, my conviction for the importance of freedom of expression has grown even stronger and I am determined to try to lessen this from happening to other artists. I believe that art is a reflection of our society. If artists are inhibited from creating what truly comes from our hearts we will be less inclined to share our ideas with the world. We cannot allow this to happen. Our society is so much richer because we can all experience artistic creations firsthand. Even when we don’t like the art that we see, someone else might. Since the viewing of art is so subjective, how can we allow people from government entities to take down art just because they personally find it inappropriate? I understand the need to protect children from seeing certain subject matters. However, I feel that parents should be given the opportunity to choose what their children can see rather than the government deciding what is best for them.
We are never going to all agree on art, politics, religion and many other topics. So instead of taking art down, let us learn from the differing points of view that it can stimulate. A dialogue where we can express our views about a work of art is much more interesting than having nothing to speak about. This is why I believe that a statement for the exhibition of art in public spaces that recognizes artistic expression and curatorial discretion should be adopted by State legislatures around the country as well as City Councils in cities throughout the United States to show that the creation of art is respected and valued.