You Can’t Say That!


Last week I was told to lose the screenplay format for my blogs. It turns out that they were “too different” and that no one was “getting” them. So much for writing in a distinctively film-related style. No one had told me that I was supposed to write prose. Frankly I felt (and still do) quite censored by the whole thing so for my first “normal” blog is on the subject of CENSORSHIP.

Censorship, like gravity, exists as a natural law and will eventually try to pull you down. It is fair to say that every single person will deal with censorship at some point in their life and that creatives will deal with it slightly more often than average because of the subjective nature of art. There are two conflicting facts about censorship which make it so tricky: on one hand, censorship is necessary for the maintenence of society and without it society would not exist. On the other hand, censorship at it’s most basic level prevents innovation, creativity, or variant thinking and prevents society from  evolving. As an Artist (used here to include anyone whose work is creative in nature) how does one find balance between thinking outside the box and respecting the needs of society?

It is easy, but incorrect, to say that censorship comes from external sources. Censorship takes place naturally and subconsciously in the part of the brain called the corpus striatum. When you get an impulse to do something it goes to the striatum which evaluates whether the impulse is  worth pursuing. If it is, then the striatum allows the impulse to travel through to be turned into motor function. This is called “executive function” and if too many impulses are allowed past the striatum a person may develop compulsive behaviors like  kleptomania. Censorship also plays a basic role in society when the individual censors his or her own needs or wants in an effort to conform to a societal norm and to be accepted as part of that society. This happens on the individual level (choosing not to swear in front of children) on the economical level ( forgoing a luxury vacation for themselves in favor of getting health insurance for the family) and on the moral level (choosing not to kill someone because it is “wrong”). Self censorship is the expression of an individual making an effort to be aware of and cater to the needs  of others. In a perfect society, all individuals would behave selflessly in order to meet the needs of all others.

Fortunately, we do not live in a perfect society. Perfection only exists when forces are in balance and when forces are in balance, there is nothing dynamic to cause change. The nature of creativity is to be dynamic- to express what has not already been expressed and to do it in a way that has never been done before. Very often, artists will find that their creativity is encouraged only so far as it fits within the existing status quo and that anything that genuinely breaks the norm is repressed. A good example of this might be the Impressionists- classically trained artists painting classically acceptable scenes but doing it in a wholly innovative way to express the fleeting “impression” of the moment. In their own time, the Impressionists were ridiculed and their paintings were considered “unfinished”, but they opened up the fine art world to the possibility of alternative styles of expression and touched off the expressionists, the futurists, the surrealists, and so on allowing art to evolve into unexplored areas of style.  In their own time, society did not know how to incorporate the Impressionists and so they were rejected in an effort to maintain the status quo but the very fact that the Impressionists did not succumb to this censorship allowed the modern art movement to evolve and forced society to find new ways to understand what “art” meant.

So how does the Artist know when it is best to stand tall in the face of censorship and when it is best to bend to the will of society? This is a question for the individual Artist, so I pose the question to you: If you were told that your work was being done “wrong” because it was different, that the style was ineffective and that “no one would get it”, what would you do? Where would you draw the line between accomodating the needs of others and staying true to your own beliefs?

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on April 24, 2009.

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