Censorship in Art: When Is it Appropriate?

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Painting | Comments

Art inspires, provokes and even offends, but should it ever be censored?

Censored Painting of Nude WomanFigurative Painting for 007 Event via Craftsy member Karl Andrews

History is replete with instances of censorship in the art world, from the debaucherous statue Bacchante and Infant Faun by Frederick William MacMonnies being banned from Boston’s Copley Square in the 1880s (the work now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) to the Chinese artist Liu Xia being put under house arrest for her provocative photographs. Around the globe, artists and their creations have had to face censorship for centuries.

So, are there ever instances when censorship of art is beneficial? Should art ever be censored?

We posed this question on several of our Fine Art Facebook clubs, including the Oil Painting Club, the Acrylic Painting Club,  the Drawing Club and the Watercolor Club. We received a number of impassioned responses! Check them out below, and then weigh in on the debate yourself in the comments.

Should art ever be censored?

“If it’s censored it’s not art.”

“Censorship has no place in art. It just exposes the mentalities of the censors bereft of a any intelligence and creativity.” 

Nude Study - Censored“Absolutely nev-ver!”

“No censorship in art!! As in free speech…this is freedom of expression!!” 

“It’s not art if it’s censored.”

“Never, if it’s art. Vandalism is not art.” 

“Unless it’s downright vulgar, I think it should be left alone. The naked body is a beautiful piece of art. Why censor something that artists create to show their appreciation of what GOD created first?”

“Art should not be censored. Vulgarity should. Despite dilatory arguments, most recognize the difference immediately.” 

“I think when it becomes totally distasteful to many people, instead of soft, discreet and beautiful…I think many artists try to add a shock factor to gain infamy, to get noticed.”

“A naked body is nature. Censorship of nature and art reflecting nature is crazy. However, if it is a naked body in a suggestive pose intended for arousal, then some form of censorship is important I believe.” 

“Like everything, art can also be used as a tool to raise or debase society. If art raises the spirit it is good. If it vexes the spirit it is not so good.”

Painting of Couple's Embrace - Censored “Why are censorship topics always centered on sex? The beauty and value of the human body is not about sex. Basically, it is about the body draped or undraped. There is no art without body form be it man or animal.” 

“History proves art has been censored. We need to face it some people do not like looking at certain things. They have that right. In the past, the National Endowment of the Arts sponsored an exhibit that made quite an uproar. Where do we draw the line? Does anything go? Our art makes a statement about our society, and the world today. I wonder what people in the future will think of how we lived? I have been an artist forty years, I personally want to leave the world with something beautiful. There is to much ugliness! I have seen art that should have been censored.”

“Old art is fine; new art is sometimes exaggerated or too explicit. Should be moderated or shown in a more private manner. Violence is not pretty or inspiring…should be in areas that you can choose to see it or not.”

“Art should be placed appropriately for the audience that may view it; it wouldn’t be wise to show nudity like Rubens in a children’s museum, but it becomes a problem when we censor art. We take away its value and meaning. Some artists aim to make us uncomfortable because that sometimes is art. Censorship dilutes its historical value much like similiar problems in literature with banned books. Twain, Donatello….no one should have their voice silenced.”

“I believe the law is when it’s considered ‘obscene’ so it’s based on social opinion. Obscenity is determined by whether it has artistic value and then it’s potential to cause offense is then rated (the film/porn industry anyway). So should art come with a similar classification system like films or should it all be censored to be suitable for viewing by a minor? And what’s appropriate censoring? Is covering nipples with little black dots effective or stupid? So many questions.” Mock Art: Titanic with Cats

“What’s the difference between erotica and pornography? But censorship covers more then just sex. Graphic violence, bad language, gore, ‘sensitive’ material concerning race, religion etc are all handled under censorship.”

“I’m generally against it, though certain situations do require common sense (e.g., if the “art” depicts extreme violence, torture, etc., and it is displayed in an area where viewers can’t exercise their choice of whether they want to see it).”

Above images courtesy of Craftsy members David BennettArtist (figure study), thegratit2208910 (embracing couple) and Emily Spengler (Titanic cats).

So, what do you think about censorship in art? When is it appropriate?


  1. I remember a few years ago where our government sponsored a man who stood before a crowd and threw his Aids infected blood over the audience with his government art funding-should we censor art? After this incident, I would say absolutely!

  2. I remember a few years ago where our government sponsored a man who stood before a crowd and threw his Aids infected blood over the audience with his government art funding-should we censor art? After this incident, I would say absolutely!