Spotlight Artist: Robert Mapplethorpe
Political Art Topic: Censorship
Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer, known for his sensitive yet blunt treatment of controversial subject-matter in the large-scale, highly stylized black and white medium of photography. (excerpt from Wikipedia)
Mapplethorpe was interested in universal values like symmetry and beauty, and approached all of his subjects with the same discerning eye through sublime composition, use of color contrasts, and cinematic lighting. He is considered a formalist for his sculptural use of photography and often listed Michelangelo as a primary influence.
For him, photography was a means to an end in a search for original self-expression. His utilitarian use of the medium resulted in a revolution for art photography. During Mapplethorpe's lifetime, photography wasn't a respected means of art making as it is today. He was able to bring photography into major museums during the course of his career, most notably one of his final shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1989, and many museums posthumously.
Some of his work was considered too edgy, on the verge of being pornographic or racist. Specifically, his work from the early 1980s, which featured graphic depictions of homoerotic or S&M based imagery, and his fascination with black nude male bodies. This work was not made with the intent of having political or ideological framework, rather he simply photographed what he thought was beautiful and otherwise treated all subjects with the same treatment, whether they were penises or flowers.
Mapplethorpe will be remembered historically as a traditional black and white photographer, but he also worked in sculpture, combines, films, and was hired to photograph celebrities for magazines. It is now considered common for artists to dabble across mediums and find one that best suits their message. For Mapplethorpe, photography was an immediate means to producing a sculptural work. He often said that he would work in marble if it weren't so time consuming.
Mapplethorpe's tragic end enacts the allegory of artist as cultural hero. He is remembered as one of the first celebrity victims of AIDS, and because of this, his legacy is often used to symbolize the struggle for gay liberation.
What exactly is it that makes a photograph art?
What makes some art 'offensive'? Are there public standards that can be established?
Should the government fund artists directly? Who should decide who recieves funding?
Is threatening to arrest art directors for obsenity a form of censorship on the artist?
Should tax dollars support the arts?
Who decides what is "obscene" or "offensive" in public exhibitions?
If art can be considered a form of free speech, is it a violation of the First Amendment to revoke federal funding on grounds of obscenity?
<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/96609085" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href="https://vimeo.com/96609085">Arena – Robert Mapplethorpe (1988)</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/user20315632">Let's Panic</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>