film & video
censorship of the visual arts
This page considers the censorship of painting, sculpture
and other visual arts.
It covers -
is supplemented by the discussion of the print
elsewhere on this site.
Censorship of the visual arts has a long and inglorious
history, from defacement of stelae under the pharoahs
through imposition of breech-cloths on naked figures in
Michelangelo's Last Judgement to airbrushing
of Stalin or Mao's enemies, Rockefeller's defacement of
the Diego Rivera mural in New York and angst in Australia
and Sweden about provocations by Serrano and Davila.
Childs's Suspended License: Censorship & the Visual
Arts (Seattle: Uni of Washington Press 1998), Steven
Dubin's Arresting Images: Impolite Art & Uncivil
Actions (New York: Routledge 1992), Visual Shock:
A History of Art Controversies in American Culture
(New York: Knopf 2006) by Michael Kammen and Art Matters:
How the Culture Wars Changed America (Albany: New
York Uni Press 2000) edited by Julie Ault & Philip
Yenawine are academic studies of the US 'culture wars'.
Censorship & Silencing: Practices of Cultural
Regulation (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute
for the History of Art & the Humanities 1998) is a
po-mo collection edited by Robert Post.
For some readers there is more meat in Outlaw Representation:
Censorship & Homosexuality in 20th-Century American
Art (New York: Oxford Uni Press 2002) by Richard Meyer
and The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity & Sexuality
(London: Routledge 1992) by Lynda Nead.
Among the literature for Australia consult Alison Carroll's
A History of Moral Censorship & the Visual Arts
in Australia (Melbourne: ACCA 1989).
Destruction by the state or individual enthusiasts of
'iconic' paintings, sketches, engravings and sculptures
has been common throughout history and is not restricted
to the Taliban's 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan
Buddha sculptures and works in the Kabul museum.
It seeks to -
or defile objects that are believed to have power independent
of the viewer's belief
the environment by purging artefacts that lead people
astray or that merely represent a belief-system and
adherence to authority that the iconoclast wishes to
those who respect the artefact as an artistically/historically
significant object or possess the means to collect such
an artefact and by extension to remove the identity
of those people ("you are what you own or revere").
has thus encompassed protestant vandalism in early modern
Europe (the flip side of 'bonfires of the vanities' under
the auspices of Savonarola in renaissance Florence and
anti-image campaigns in the Byzantine empire c726-843).
It shares values with the Red Guards' destruction of "bourgeois
evils" such as pianos, books, tabby cats and pre-1949
bronzes during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the
the literature on iconoclasm see Dario Gamboni's The
Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm & Vandalism since the
French Revolution (London: Reaktion 1997), 'Between
cult and culture: Bamiyan, Islamic iconoclasm, and the
museum' by Finbarr Flood in 84(4) The Art Bulletin
(2002) 641-659, Alain Besancon's The Forbidden Image:
An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (Chicago: Uni
of Chicago Press 2001), Negating the Image: Case Studies
of Past Iconoclasms (Aldershot: Ashgate 2005) edited
by Anne McClanan & Jeffrey Johnson and Iconoclasm:
Contested Objects, Contested Terms (Aldershot: Ashgate
2007) edited by Stacy Boldrick & Richard Clay.
Studies on specific periods include Julie Spraggon's Puritan
Iconoclasm during the English Civil War (Woodbridge:
Boydell 2003) and Patrick Collinson's From Iconoclasm
to iconophobia: the cultural importance of the Second
English Reformation (Reading: Reading Uni Press 1986),
Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional
Religion in England, 1400–1580 (New Haven:
Yale Uni Press 1992), Charles Barber's Figure &
Likeness: On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine
Iconoclasm (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2002)
and Jaroslav Pelikan's Imago Dei: The Byzantine Apologia
for Icons (Washington: National Gallery of Art 1990),
Marc Blecher's China, politics, economics, and society:
iconoclasm and innovation in a revolutionary socialist
country (Boulder: Rienner 1986), 'Monkey kings make
havoc: iconoclasm and murder in the chinese cultural revolution'
by Eric Reinders in 34(3) Religion (2004) 191-209
and Anthony Julius' Idolizing Pictures: Idolatry,
Iconoclasm, and Jewish Art (New York: Thames &
of the Defence Act 1903 (Cth) provides that unauthorised
defacement or destruction, "by melting or otherwise",
of a service decoration - ie a military medal - attracts
a penalty of 60 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months.
The Section does not appear to have been used in the past
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