Freedom of Speech in Art

In May of 2000 the New York 2nd District Court made a decision in the case of Tunick v. Giuliani that Art was protected under the first amendment as part of the freedom of speech. This case concerned the issue of artist Spencer Tunick being able to photograph tasteful nude work on the streets in the city of New York.

The courts decision was made by Judge Guido Calabresi who stated, "We would be ostriches if we failed to take judicial notice of the heavy stream of First Amendment litigation generated by New York City in recent years . . . As a result of this relentless onslaught of First Amendment litigation, the federal courts have, to a considerable extent, been drafted into the role of local licens

ers for the city of New York.”

So if Art is protected by the first amendment which allegedly grants us freedom of speech then why are so many artists tormented, ridiculed and blackballed for photographing a nude work whether in public or private. Have we become so ashamed of our bodies and who we are that we have to keep hidden the beauty that lies within? Have we become so politically correct that we can not express ourselves without worrying if it is going to offend someone? Why do we violate someone's right to free speech just to protect someone else?

This issue is a very difficult one for an artist to face in society today. We constantly fight for our right to speak and be heard. We fight for our message to reach the public. Some even want to make a difference and better our society. Even though we have good intentions all people see is what they want to. They have closed theirs eyes and mind to what is being said by the artist. Some artist deal with topics that are so controversial no one wants to acknowledge them. If we do not address such controversial topics then we fail to realize the existence of the problem, and therefore fail to better our fellow men and women. Such issues that have been put into this category are AIDS, domestic violence, gay rights and even acceptance of others.

Even though artists are criticized for their work it seems to still make a small change in society. A good example is the message of my current project titled "I Am Me". This project deals with the acceptance of people based on their personality and who they are instead of their appearance. When a friend of mine read something I had written it made her step back and look at how she treated others. I received an e-mail later that day stating that she has realized that she has been guilty of this mistreatment and even though she teaches her kids fairness and sticking up for the little guy but yet looks at people and prejudges. Taking such an intent look at herself and realizing how hypocritical she has been and that she has decided to make an effort to correct herself.

One other piece of Art that had a profound effect is the musical RENT. I know of the effect it had because it caused me to analyze my life and how I dealt with my issues. While growing up in northern Maine with a very diverse cultural background I was mistreated by others for having both white and black ancestors. This lead to very hard childhood that even followed me to the military, when the soundtrack to the Broadway production was released I was in the Navy and going through a very hard divorce. While visiting my friend who ran a record store in the Lake Forrest mall just outside of Chicago he was listening to the track La Vie Boehm. This caught my attention and he told me the story behind the musical. I decided to buy the soundtrack and headed back to the barracks to listen to my new found Art piece.

I found something new and exciting as I intently listened to each and every track. I found people with AIDS from all different walks of life who were living day to day and still holding it together. I then realized that my problems were minimal compared to theirs and that if they could make it then so could I. I then decided to make an honest change in my life and immersed my self in music and culture. My eyes were opened to all sorts of wonderful things that lead me to be the person and artist that I am today.

Even though society tries to squelch an artist freedom of speech I am just glad that those that keep struggling on can have their voices heard and make a difference in even just one person's life. A difference that I know I won't soon forget.

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