On Freedom of the Press

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

If you asked me what I remember most fondly from my art history classes, I could tell you in a heartbeat that it was the roundtable discussions in the more advanced classes. These classes were small (only about 5-12 people each) and their success was contingent on a diversity of beliefs to fuel a robust 3-hour conversation.

Munch_320px.jpgArt history sometimes gets a “soft” reputation due to the lack of one empirical truth. In science, we try to search for the one capital-T Truth and use facts and figures to chip away at that huge and abstract concept. While you can not really argue what year the Eiffel Tower was built or the materials used, each person that views it brings a different perspective based around their own personal experiences. But I believe that the fact that we can have so many different truths is something to be celebrated, rather than derided. Having everyone agree on every talking point would make for a one-sided and stagnant discussion. So to would have people not even entertain the idea that someone has a different viewpoint. A difference in opinion makes us question the arguments we make and being challenged increases the richness of the discussion as a whole. Someone who is struggling with mental health will have a different perspective on Munch’s “The Scream” (right). POC will have an intrinsically different response to “The Slave Ship” by Turner. The beauty of art is that it can move different people in different and equally correct ways. I always felt that having conversations like these were not only necessary to widen my own perspective on a given object, but also a really interesting way to learn more about my fellow students.

As the new administration has ascended to power, they have declared the press an “enemy of the American people“. Quite frankly, this is an incredibly dangerous idea and antithetical to the very premises of this endeavour.

Simply put, we as writers try to be analytical about the visual arts and by extension, the society and culture that produced it as well as our own society and culture. A lot of this involves looking back to the past with measured empathy and critiques in hand. It allows us to be truly honest about objects, issues and narratives that are problematic. It is why I could write my very first post about how Art Deco as a whole appropriated of African and Latin American aesthetics. It is how I could argue that “we” romanticize the 1950s today when we really only look back on a very particular narrative with nostalgia.   A free press allows us to say, in no uncertain terms, the ways in which those objects, societies and culture have disappointed us. It allows us to articulate how and why we are disappointed and how to improve, without fear of repercussion.

Take that security away and that all comes crashing down and all of us with it.



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