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Freedom And Artistic Expression


What is freedom? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants". This definition basically sums up all the descriptions I came across. I believe that Henri Matisse tried to convey this idea in his painting of the “Dance”.


As an artist, I see freedom as having the ability to communicate ones self through their artwork. It demonstrates artistic expression and having creative independence. To my husband who was not an artist, freedom meant the ability to decide his daily schedule without it being dictated by anyone else. I think we can all agree that in either case this is called -"making your own choices".


Artist Liberty


Most artists create artwork with the belief that they have the liberty to make mistakes and not conform to societies standards. I believe that is what the artist Henri Matisse meant when he said “creativity takes courage”. Way to often I have seen artists pushed to make successful work for a monetary purpose. That means they are essentially creating artwork for corporate interest. Artists like these are not demonstrating artistic expression. They are not using their creative independence to its fullest potential. Is it for fear of failure? Is it the lack of understanding creative independence? Maybe they lack the courage? It could be that they live in a country that restricts their freedom to act, speak or have creative liberty if it criticizes or does not benefit the regime.


The contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei, is one of China’s biggest critics. He speaks out about human rights and brings out the social concerns related to freedom through artistic expression. Weiwei was arrested by Chinese authorities and held incommunicado for 81 days on charges for tax evasion. Hmmmm.

Not every artist chooses to make artwork that is controversial by their own accord. Not all artists are trying to make a statement with their artwork. Making something beautiful is their goal and that is fine. It is still demonstrating artistic expression but without the backlash.


I believe every artist has taken into consideration how offensive their art might be. Afterwards, possibly making a decision to not show it. This is the freedom of choice by the artist. What if the artist decides to show it and its rejected over and over because of it being controversial? We live in a society that likes to advertise that you should be able to express yourself without being restricted. Lets face it, there are restrictions but is it restrictions or is it rational censorship.


My daughter told me a story that got me thinking about the idea of rational censorship. A senior in her grade school had created an amazing art piece which he was very proud of and hung it in the hallway at school. The artwork was a true likeness of zombies portrayed in movies. A kindergartener walked down the hallway and literally passed out at the site of it. The school principal took down the artwork and reprimanded the artist. Was that action fair? The artist was 14 years old, was that the right way to go about it? Wouldn’t a more liberal approach be to have a discussion about where to display this artwork. The artist would not be restricted for expressing their creative independence if there were guidelines or alternative choices available. As a mom or the mother of that child I would not think the same way. My parental instincts would override the rights for artistic freedom!


First Image - Henri Matisse. "Dance" (1909).

Second Image - Ai Weiwei imitating the lifeless body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi on the Greek Island of Lesbos. (Rohit Chawla for India Today)