What to do with "offensive" artworks?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by WarEaglemtn, Apr 13, 2006.

  1. WarEaglemtn

    WarEaglemtn Member

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    The article below is from the Idaho Statesman newspaper dated 11 April, 2006. While not referencing a photograph it does hit a topic that has and will have an effect on us all in the future. Changing political, moral and social climates often have people pushing to destroy artwork from the past or censoring what we do now and may well put a chilling effect on what one is willing to photograph, print and/or publish. Prior censorship and social pressure are two powerful tools used in some areas of photography and in the art world in general. This is a work that has been part of the building for years and now some who are offended want it destroyed. What is to stop these folks from going after your photos next week or next year?

    Read the article and what conclusion do you come up with?

    Legislature's move to Ada's courthouse could force decision on Indian murals

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    John Miller
    The Associated Press
    Edition Date: 04-11-2006

    For 66 years, two murals depicting the lynching of an American Indian have hung in a now-abandoned county courthouse in Idaho's capital, monuments to attitudes that once dominated the West but today have become reminders of America's checkered expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

    Starting in 2008, the Idaho Legislature plans to meet in the courthouse as its century-old Statehouse undergoes a $115 million revamp.

    Historic preservationists say they'll fight attempts to remove the murals, products of the Works Progress Administration Artists Project, a federal program that employed jobless artists during the Depression. They consider the 1940 works a part of the building.

    Still, Indian leaders and many lawmakers say turning the old Ada County Courthouse into Idaho's most public building, even temporarily, will force to state to confront the future of the murals, which one local judge in the 1990s found so offensive he draped an American flag over them. Race relations in Idaho, once home to the white supremacist Aryan Nations group, are a sore spot.

    "It's a perfect opportunity to educate the state of Idaho and its citizens on the kind of biases that native people endured," said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe in northern Idaho. "If we could sit down with the historical society, and have a sit-down with them, we could help make sure this won't happen again in the future."

    Some Shoshone-Bannock tribe members, whose traditional territory included Ada County, say the murals make many Indians uncomfortable.

    "As an individual member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, those murals do impact people and their feelings," said Claudeo Broncho, of Fort Hall. "They should be painted over."

    A week ago, the Legislature approved $5.9 million to begin moving its offices to the Ada County Courthouse, which the state bought five years ago after a new courthouse was built. The 2008 and 2009 sessions will be conducted there while an additional 100,000 square feet of space is added to the existing Capitol. It will be completed by 2010.

    Arthur Hart, director emeritus of the Idaho State Historical Society and author of a 2005 book on the courthouse, says removing the murals would detract from their historical significance. They're among 26 separate paintings that were painted in southern California, then shipped to Boise to be mounted in the courthouse in 1940.

    While the lynching murals don't represent a known event in Ada County, they're representative of what might have occurred in Idaho and the rest of the West as settlers descended on the region, Hart said.

    For instance, Qualchan, a Palouse Indian, was hanged by Col. George Wright near the Idaho-Washington border along a tributary of the Spokane River at the conclusion of the Coeur d'Alene War of 1858. And as many as 400 Shoshone Indians were killed by the U.S. Army Cavalry along the Bear River near present-day Preston in 1863.

    "I can understand it's not politically correct anymore," Hart said of the paintings, which for eight years were covered by an American flag at the order of District Judge Gerald Schroeder, now the Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. "But the murals are an integral part of the building."

    Tim Mason, who oversees the Ada County Courthouse as administrator of Idaho's public works, says pulling them from the staircase wall would be costly and time-consuming.

    Nonetheless, some lawmakers say removal to a local museum might be best, since everybody entering the courthouse would be forced to walk past the murals as they climb steps to where the House and Senate will meet. This year, leaders from Idaho's five American Indian tribes spent much of February inside the Capitol, campaigning on sovereignty issues including gas taxes and tribal gaming rights.

    "All of the murals need to be evaluated, both for their appropriateness and their artistic value. I find those offensive," said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, whose district includes the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.
     
  2. Kino

    Kino Member

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    What is to stop these folks? Nothing.

    The Egyptians defaced the monuments of predecessors, all societies have rewritten history to suit their desired outlook on life; it happens all the time. It is happening right now all over the World; don't like what you hear? Ignore it and make up "facts". Certain US leaders excel in that...

    Not that I like that it does happen, but I know that it does.

    Working for an archive, I have found that the best chance anyone has of having their work survive is to have it valued by someone who will fight for it and save it regardless of your political leaning or bent.

    You gotta have fans...

    Frank
     
  3. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    The problem is pretty simple...
    They are not appropriate for a public courthouse.(i dont think a painting of anyone getting hanged would be appropriate).

    They are murals so it will be expensive to move them. Do they have enough artistic/historical valual to justify the expense?

    This would be a non-issue if they were regular paintings.
     
  4. 127

    127 Member

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    I think with the right "spin" these could be very approriate for a courthouse - they show how terrible things have been done in the name of law and/or justice. They show how our judgement can be swayed be our peers and that the way we judge things now will in time be judged by others.

    I don't think anyone is endorsing the behaviour depicted - so why the problem? They show something that happened, and reflect a past time with (relative) accuracy. Does removing them make it have not happened, or does it simply allow us to not have to remember? Would these paintings be OK if they'd been produced by and American Indian artist?

    Ian
     
  5. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    Agreed. One of the main reasons I am studying to become an archivist to is try to protect history (as much as possible) from the hoards of barbarians roaming around trying to do things just like this. Part of being civilized is understanding that your opinions are no more or less valid that those that you disagree with and that differing viewpoints allow the existence of freedom. If there is only one point of view, what are you left with?

    Fear and ignorance drive people to destroy anything that does not fit cleanly into their fantasy view of reality. The only thing that stands between the destruction of our freedom is the willingness of people to preserve that which they do not necessarily understand or agree with and the education of people in the value of differing viewpoints. Allowing the existence of opposing views does not, despite popular belief, mean that you share those views. Intelligent people are quite able to recognize dissenting points of view without compromising their own position the process.

    Thomas Jefferson once said that Virtue was the willing sacrifice of the individual for the betterment of the whole. How much individual sacrifice is really needed to allow the preservation of a piece of art that a few people find distasteful? Futher, how do you think the people who feel that anything representing opposing viewpoints should be repressed feel if theirs were the works under the gun?

    - Randy
     
  6. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    "This would be a non-issue if they were regular paintings."

    This IS a non-issue. It gives people a chance to show off their sensitivities. Don't like it? Don't look. Think it's art? Die while trying to protect it.

    Hire a team of lawyers at public and private expense and cost everyone a fortune, that's what should be done. That way the lawyers can get richer, the preservationists can be heard, the native people can be represented and politicians can blow hot air up everyone's asses after licking their fingers to see which way the wind is blowing. There is a much simpler solution, but it is too obvious. tim
     
  7. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Leave them up and hope that we gain a fuller knowledge about ourselves, and history by their existence.

    Paint over them and try to hide from our past.

    I was in Minsk in 2000 there was debate amongst the people I was working with about whether or not the road signs and squares should be renamed back to the pre soviet labels. 80% of the city was built post WWII, so any 'return' to the old names was a bit farcical, but it could also be argued that the soviet era names were just as illegitimate.

    I see this as being far more clear cut. We did it freely, we celebrated it openly, therefore we should live with it.
     
  8. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    This is a building where people work. How would you like it if your boss painted a mural of someone getting hanged in the foyer? Would you enjoy walking by it every day? Should they preserve every leaflet or poster that has been displayed in the building for historical purposes?
    Sorry it is a 'working building' hang the historical shit in a museum.
     
  9. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    as a historic preservation consultant, i see why the preservation organization wants to keep the mural in the courthouse. it was painted by the wpa and is part of the building, and moving it to another location would remove it from its "historic context" and remove part of the building's "history" mr callow said a mouthful when he suggested they leave the painting where it is, so the people can learn from their mistakes and "never again" ...

    the problem is that the wpa artists were commissioned to paint such a painting. its unfortunate that there are people who heald and still hold those ideals close to their hearts. i was a a dunkin donuts this morning and there was a guy with the "stars and the bars" proudly displayed on his car. kind of made me sick.

    i meant murals, not paintings ...
    sorry ...
     
  10. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    As i said before this would be a non-issue if they were paintings.
    They would of been removed and donated to a local museum in the 50s.
     
  11. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    That is a good point. I would agree wholeheartedly if it was a private building. It is not a private building it is a public building. It was built with public funds to do the people's business. I would assume that it was not haphazardly adorned, but adorned to reflect the people it was built to serve and to reflect the purpose of the building.

    How is it different today for a worker to walk by the murals than it was 60 years ago?

    This thing has such great value in its current context.

    What do we learn when we whitewash every unsavory event? If ever there should be a lesson on justice it is in a courthouse and this thing sounds like a masters thesis.
     
  12. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    "What do we learn when we whitewash every unsavory event? If ever there should be a lesson on justice it is in a courthouse and this thing sounds like a masters thesis."

    You mean like removing the Ten Commandments from court buildings? tim
     
  13. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Exactly! My only problems with the Ten Commandments being on display are that 1) it is often done at the exclusion of other items of equal and greater significance. Our laws are not built upon the Ten Commandments, and this is the distinction that seems to be lost in the debate 2) The intent of those promoting the display.
     
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  15. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Public buildings are refurbished every 20 years or so. Why are the standards for what a worker is supposed to expect in the decor any different for public employees? Maybe they should keep the original furniture and toilets too.

    It has no value in the current context. It is a place of business with certain goals. Educating people about hangings (in a partial sense) is not one of them. I expect a large amount of taxpayer dollars are going to be spent debating this artwork. For all we know it maybe amaturish and ugly too.

    Do you think that every parent that has to drag a kid down that hallway really wants to explain what is going on to their five-year-old?

    If you know any Native American Indians you will find that they are tired of being defined by their history instead of who they are now.
     
  16. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    I have seen the mural in question, it is not ugly, but it does depict an ugly part of the past in America, I think it should be preserved and placed in a Museum, it is not appropriate for a Public Building, but don't take me wrong, I am not advocating hiding our past, but I think there are appropriate places to display things of this nature, just as there is appropriate places to remember the past concerning the Holocoust, the depiction of native american and US events of the past, have a tendancy to generate quite a stir here in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming...

    Dave
     
  17. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Toilets and art are two very distinct objects. A better example would be if I think we should change the sculptures and art every 20 years. The answer would be maybe.

    It has great value. It is a public building that deals in justice. Its business is justice. The depiction of a lynching is all about justice.


    That might be hoping for too much, but yes!

    I do not see this as defining Native Americans. It in fact defines the non natives.
     
  18. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    You can't have one without the other. Try reading 'The Golden Bough' and maybe you will understand indigenous cultures better.

     
  19. André E.C.

    André E.C. Member

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    This makes some sense, but then I ask, isn`t the courthouse the symbol of a more tolerant law system? Isn`t lynching a barbaric concept, maybe lawless even?
    But again, mrcallow has a point, can be also interpreted as an evolution from a barbarian phase to a more civilized one.

    Tricky, all the points presented here are indeed very valid.

    Cheers

    André
     
  20. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    lynchings by definition are lawless acts. It was lawless in 1940 and it is today. It was an incredible choice for a courthouse.
     
  21. WarEaglemtn

    WarEaglemtn Member

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    So if it showed the hanging of a white horse thief, that would be OK?

    Idaho did hang people in the prisons awhile back so that method of execution was legal.
     
  22. Max Power

    Max Power Member

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    I visited Budapest a couple of years back with some mates when we were on leave from duties in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Budapest seemed to be in the middle of a boom of sorts, and there was lots of renovation/construction going on. A point of pride for the citizens we spoke to was the complete overhaul of a massive urban park, in the middle of which stood a huge monument to the Soviet Union. I was fascinated that a people who so utterly detested the Soviet yoke would take up the renovation of this monument, as opposed to trashing it. The response to my queries as to the why was always, invariably, that like it or not, the Soviets are a part of the past of Hungary and Budapest and that the monument must stand.

    Just a thought,
    Kent
     
  23. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    That is not the point in this mural, yes, hanging was legal, and if I remember right it may still be in a couple of states...this is not a censorship issue, in the context of the current society, it is more offensive, given the history of America and it should be preserved and perhaps put into a display such as crimminal muesums are now a days, I can't see how it would further the relationships between the Native American Nations and the US, and the Native American Nations are unto themselves in America, it would be another step in the healing process between the communities, that if you live here, you would understand a whole lot better..I don't think the graphical depiction of capital punishment is acceptable in any public building..

    Dave
     
  24. Wyno

    Wyno Member

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    wyno

    Remember what the Taliban did to the giant statues of Buddha.....and the public outcry from the rest of the world.
    Mike
     
  25. BruceN

    BruceN Member

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    Bear in mind that they come right out and say that these murals don't depict any ACTUAL event in Idaho's history. Only what possibly could have happened given that particular artist's understanding of the attitudes of that earlier time. Perhaps I'm overly skeptical, but I doubt that an out of work artist in Southern California during the depression had an intimate knowledge of Idaho history. Anything is possible, but I think it extremely unlikely. It seems to me to be more of a "Hollywood" treatment of the subject. That, in turn, suggests to me that the only historical value of the murals is the simple fact that they hung in the building for 50 or 60 years. Other than that, they are certainly not "icons of Idaho history." Give them to a museum.

    Just my 2 lux.

    Bruce
     
  26. jd callow

    jd callow Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Bruce,
    You may be correct, but trained artists generally have a pretty thorough history background. The historical importance may not be that the event happened as depicted, but that what was depicted was allowed -- or chosen -- to be painted on the courthouse walls.

    An out of work artist is a bit of a redundancy :wink: