Last week I bought this book and it is exactly what I hoped it would be. The book by Goldstein published in 1989 gives a historical overview of censorship-practices and cases. It also provides me with a lot of information and reference material on the role of the media and the way opinions are formed and influenced then and in my own time. My artistic work will benefit from it. I will certainly use information gained from this book in future blog texts.
After 1822 the printed word was not subject to prior censorship anymore, but the possibility of postpublication prosecution loomed over the press, and could lead to fines and prohibitions. The creators and the publishers of caricatures however were subjected to prior censorship. Every change in leadership and political system created its own version of press-liberty or restriction. Thus prior censorship of caricatures was eliminated in 1814, restored in 1820, abandoned again in 1830, re-established in 1835, ended once more in 1848, reimposed in 1852, abolished again in 1870, decreed once more in 1871, and finally ended permanently in 1881.
Between 1830 and 1914 some 350 caricature magazines and newspapers were published in France. This amount shows that the most wellknown caricaturist of his days, Daumier was one of many.
A distinction between written and drawn agitation could be found , according to contemporaneous comments, in the difference between intellect and feeling, the slow process of reading , considerations made and options weighed during the process was incomparable to the immediate response to inflammable imagery. Images were immediately understood by the, mostly, illiterate majority of the population, a group the authorities feared was easy to manipulate and called into action. As a longtime user of Facebook I am familiar with the sudden emotions some images with a short accompanying text can trigger. Scrolling and swiping creates a dynamic that has an uneasy relationship with the reading of long texts. How much sympathy you may feel for the person who wrote it. At times a fast ‘like’ to suppress a feeling of guilt is the most attainable reward for my active ‘friend’s’ labours.
The continuous attention of the censors must have had a great impact on the artists who drew the caricatures. In defence they often referred to their artistic freedom, the ‘liberty de crayon’. The authorities also made similar distinctions. In 1829 the interior minister told his prefects, concerning the circulation of Napoleonic images, "In general, that which can be permitted without difficulty when it is a question of expensive engravings, or lithographs intended only to illustrate an important [i.e., expensive] work, would be dangerous and must be forbidden when these same subjects are reproduced in engravings and lithographs at a cheap price."
One can argue that works that are functioning in the realm of the arts are viewed as more neutral than works that aim for mass-communication and call for direct emotional response.
Philip Guston went from figuration to abstract expressionism, a route a lot of his colleagues followed but his decision to turn back to figuration was heavily criticized. About his motives for this switch he said; . “The war, what was happening in America, the brutality of the world. What kind of a man am I sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything – and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue? I thought there must be some way I could do something about it.” At the beginning of the 70’s he made a series of drawings in which he dealt with, then, president Richard Nixon, the ‘Poor Richard-series”.
Initially he wanted to publish the drawings as comic books, but decided to keep them in the studio. A reason for this decision may have been the storm of critique that followed his move away from abstraction. It was a big thing in the artworld and former colleagues and critics blamed of treason. Maybe Guston didn’t need yet another complication as this kind of work could be seen as being too anecdotic and functional.
The conflicts between abstraction and figuration in the artworld seem to have disappeared in time, whole generations of artists cannot imagine that it was ever an issue.
In her artistic response to the Vietnam War Judith Bernstein took a feminist perspective. Her imagery derives from ( men’s ) bathroom-graffity , the screw as a symbol for phallic repression and violence in general. In her career she engaged herself with organisations like “the Guerilla Girls” and the “Fight Censorship Group”. At the age of 75 she showed a group of drawings (at New York’s Drawing Center) that she had made as a reaction on Donald Trump’s nomination as a candidate and the following victory in the election to become America’s president. She must have been shocked to the core of her being in the realization that all she had fought for all her life seemed to have made no difference. In het drawings she chooses to represent DT as ‘Schlongface’. In an article for elephant.art she says; “My work is crude, but it’s not obscene. It’s not sexually arousing, it’s done for a political reason.”
Scatology is a regularly occurring theme in caricature and folk art. A well known example is the Gargantua print by Daumier, in it you can see King Louis Philippe sitting on a large throne or toilet, being fed money and defacating laws and favours on paper. Another print by Traviès shows the same King in the form of a barrel in which the collective shit of a neighborhood was collected. The pearshaped barrel stands on small elegant feet.
Bernstein operates mainly in the artworld. Ward Sutton positions himself as a maker of caricatures explicitly in the public domain. His drawings are published in a wide range of magazines and newspapers, such as ‘The New York Times ,Rolling Stone, Time, The Nation, Entertainment Weekly and New Yorker. Under the pseudonym ‘Kelly’ , published in the ‘Onion’ he poses as a cartoonist from the ‘other side’ of the political spectrum, a strategy that can leave one with akward uneasy feelings. On his website ‘Sutton Impact’ he shown his continuing engagement with political and social actuality. In preparation for the midterm elections he offered free election posters to download and print , he writes; Please feel free to share these images and links! A wonderful gesture and I’m sure one that contributed to the positive result for the Democratic Party.
Sources: Photo Judith Bernstein by Donald Stahl.
Judith Bernstein, Drawing Center exhibition catalogue; https://issuu.com/drawingcenter/docs/drawingpapers133_judithbernstein
Ward Sutton’s website; http://www.suttonimpactstudio.com/