A controversial painting will not be removed from a community college’s exhibit despite numerous complaints. The painting is based on a famous sculpture by Michelangelo. In the sculpture, the recently crucified Jesus is craddled by his mother Mary. In the painting by Hugo Bastidas entitled “Mary Magdalene Mourning Her Lover,” Jesus is craddled by his supposed lover Mary Magdalene.
This is nothing extremely new or shocking (anyone remember the Virgin Mary smeared with cow dung or the small statue of Jesus placed in a jar of urine), but I think the respone given by the college bears examination.
Now personally, I do not like the painter’s image – the implication that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene attacks the very root of my faith.
Having said that, I could care less if some college wants to have an exhibit that displays a piece of art I disagree with. I do not have trump rights over what they place in their gallery. (One unclear area is that the college is funded with tax dollars. Why can you mention Jesus in a mocking way, but not in a sacred way?)
However, I do find their immediate fall back position, while extremely popular, to be troubling. When asked if they would take down the painting, college spokesperson Ann Winfield said:
As an academic institution, while we may not agree with the portrayal, while we may not even like it, we can’t censor it and we won’t censor it.
Why is the automatic response to a question of decency is to wrap the questionable material in the First Amendment and scream censorship? No one in this situation wanted to “censor” the artist. Some asked for it to be removed from the college’s art gallery. Some questioned the use of federal dollars. But no one said the painting should never be displayed or censored.
Removing one avenue of publicity is not censoring anyone or anything. Is it censorship if the local newspaper does not print my op-ed? Is it censorship if the local radio station does not play my song? Is it censorship if the local art gallery does not display my photographs?
I agree that we should protect free speech, particularly unpopular, minority opinion speech, but that does not mean that they are entitled to every taxpayer funded avenue they like.
In this day and age it is very hard, if not impossible, for someone to be completely censored. The painter could have displayed his painting at numerous other galleries. If all else failed he could have set up his own blog and posted his painting for all the online world to see. His scope of influence may or may not have been limited, but unless it was added recently the First Amendment never guarenteed a large (taxpayer funded) audience for my protected speech.