Art, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. That means that to an artist creating it, it is art and to the purchaser purchasing it, it is art. Today’s blog is about this because of two recent events: The censoring of Huckleberry Finn and Etsy’s Banning of a card maker.
The Etsy banning was a huge topic for my Etsy team and many members made good points. I think the most important point is that when one piece of art is censored, then all art can be censored. Where is the line that distinguishes art that is offensive from non-offensive?
Believe me, I don’t think that I would ever be inclined to purchase a card that congratulates rape, mental health issues, or anything else, but the reality is that there are some and many that would. Therefore there is a market for that kind of material, whether I agree, or don’t. I can, however, choose not to purchase the cards and give the artist additional attention. (I will not post the artist’s name, etc. You can clearly find it if you are looking for it via the internet and even the article I’ve posted courtesy of The Observer.)
The reason I compare this to the censoring of Huck Finn is that Huck Finn is one of the best pieces of American Literature. I was an English Literature major in college and therefore stand firm in my opinion on the censoring of any form of literature. As has been argued by many on the topic of Huck Finn, the minute you censor or make a change to a piece of art that the author/artist can not contest, you are doing a great disservice to the mind and talent of the author/artist.
I remember the first time I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was in high school and more than likely it was the 10th grade. It may have been the 11th grade, but either way, I remember reading it and loving it. Loving the flow of the story and the character development most definitely, but loving more than that the representation of America in a time period when this was fact. Blacks in America at the time, had no rights and were call “Nigger.” (Note, I despise the word immensely and wish that even in the black and latin communities it does not flow as freely as it does).
What I find most audacious is that someone thinks it’s okay to change the word. Changing the word changes the message, not to mention the validity of the book. I understand that the word is difficult to use and that many find it offensive (I do!), but to remove it is to deny a part of American history. It’s a blatant attempt to clean the dark spot off the wall; remove the taint of what is an extreme sore spot on American history and culture. Mark Twain has a reason for using the word and individuals 126 years later should not have the power to decide that a change is necessary.
I also understand that it’s difficult to explain the word to children, but I don’t think I’ve ever considered either “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” as children’s literature. In fact, the themes and characters, aside from the main ones being small children/pre-teen, have nothing to do with children. They are about expansion, freedom, race, politics, inequality, development, and friendship. Yes, yes, I can see how this is something that teenagers can and should be exposed to, but small children, I don’t think so. I recently read on The Atlantic online an article by Michael Chabon (one of my favorite authors, by the way), about how he censored the word for the benefit of reading the story to his children at night. I commend his desire to share amazing literature with his children and for allowing them to question wrong and right and develop early analysis skills, but the fact remains that if the content of the book is too mature for the children, then do not expose them.
I would prefer allowing my children at an older age read the material and discuss with them the implications and history of the word than change the word. To me this is nothing more than a racial placation. The word makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but none more so than white people. I’ve had plenty of conversations with white friends about using and understanding the word and it always ends with, “the word is offensive, but blacks use it amongst each other.” Yep. It’s a word created by a white culture and therefore it is wrong for white culture to use it. African-Americans simply took a horrible word and developed it into something that isn’t offensive amongst themselves. While I don’t necessarily agree with it, I can see the logic behind it.
Ultimately, art is representative of something–a time period, a mental state, a thought, an emotion- love, death, pain, happiness. Every piece of art is deliberate and worthy of expression. Whether its offensive to some or not. Every individual is different and therefore will react to things in different ways and at different times. While I do agree that sometimes things need to not be said, telling someone that they can not make something, or forcing them to change their perspective is not the way to go about the matter.
Back to the issue of the card maker and Etsy, I do entirely understand where Etsy is coming from. As a business, their top priority is making money and protecting themselves and their company from any negative impact that may come from potential business. Whether Etsy is a small-corporation, a large corporate, a non-profit, it still needs to maintain business best practices (we all do as entrepreneurs). No company wants to end up with a bad reputation. In this case, Etsy can only act based on what they think is best to protect their business.
As a vendor on Etsy, I would love to think that Etsy would support me and not censor me, but as we’ve learned when the public speaks up and demands change, corporates do listen and react. In a society where transparency and action are important to customers who are spending their hard-earned money and time. While I don’t agree with Etsy’s censorship/policy change, I do understand where they are coming from. I just wish that more people understood that censorship hurts everyone not just the artist.
The artist of the cards is not going to disappear. If anything, he/she will have their own website created and will continue to sell their cards. The attention of the censorship issue will only help to increase the amount of traffic and attention received by the artist. While that may be a good thing for him/her in the present, in the future it may not. Further more, it means that artists in the future have to be careful of what they create out of a fear of public outrage and backlash and that ultimately is the worst thing that an artist can endure–it’s a stifling of artist perception and no one should be forced to experience that.