October 23 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 30  

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Censor Visual Arts 293

Why is it that in Western's Visual Arts program, which is full of students who should have a personal interest in the value of free expression, no one is capable of making a relevant statement on censorship?

The Visual Arts 293 class was recently given an assignment to create an art exhibit commenting on censorship, which seemingly left the doors wide open for Western artists to say something meaningful about the topic. Here was their chance to create provocative videos, audio sequences, paintings and other pieces of artwork that could show the destructive nature of censorship and all the restrictions on freedom of speech it entails.

It soon became clear, however, that students saw this assignment as little more than an opportunity to exploit shock value and the uber-grotesque. In fact, the focus of the show was changed to reflect the lack of relevant, censorship-related art work students produced: because none of the students had turned in anything other than vulgar, pseudoshocking works, it was no longer possible for the exhibit to stick to its original mandate.

Indeed, the show turned into a seemingly random exploitation of pointless offensiveness. Shit coming in and out of an anus; a disembodied mouth spitting on glass; the word "fuck" scrawled in black ink on a wall. As such, we are forced to ask ourselves: is this all an honours-level university class can come up with to investigate the topic of censorship?

Obviously, the exhibit is attempting to show us things we don't usually see. But if we think for a moment and ask ourselves why we don't see these things in normal society or even on television, we likely won't come to the conclusion censorship is to blame.

Rather, shitting anuses and spitting mouths don't appear on TV or in the media for the simple reason your average human being is not interested in looking at these things - and why should we be? The works by the VA 293 class lack artistic relevance; sure, the exhibit is a departure from the mainstream, but at the same time it reeks of being shock for shock's sake.

Art is definitely a very difficult realm to define. What some people define as art, others define as garbage. Censorship should never be able to reign free, but combating censorship by blasting feces and masturbation at the audience is clearly, as George Santayana said, "art interested in itself and not its subject."

The Visual Arts department is one of the few faculties on campus where it's possible for students to express themselves creatively, without all the binding influences of academic routine. The students in the 293 class were given an opportunity to show the rest of the school just why censorship is wrong, but they let it float by them in - pardon the pun - a sea of fecal matter and spit. The end result is an exhibit that doesn't say anything about censorship, but rather provides a juvenile attempt at shocking the Western community, with no clear purpose and no redeeming message.




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