CMU School of Drama

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Can Art Legally Threaten the President?

www.artsy.net: The right-wing blogosphere wasn’t exactly tickled when an Alaskan assistant professor decided to decapitate President Trump last month. To be fair, the violence was only virtual—the teacher, artist Thomas Chung, had painted an image of the Captain America actor Chris Evans, naked, holding Trump’s severed, bloody bust by a lock of his infamous hair.

9 comments:

Tahirah K. Agbamuche said...

Wow...I have really been thinking about this a lot lately. It would be easier for me to list the things I did agree with President Trump on, because my composition of matters I disagree with him on are so vast. However, he is in fact, our President at this current time, regardless of how we choose to feel about it. Reading this article brings to mind a conversation I had with my Mother about the election. I had a lot of raging emotions, and many of my statements addressed the President simply as “Trump.” My Mother scolded me, and said that I was perfectly free to express my opinion, but regardless of my feelings I owed the President of the United States some respect. I did not think much of it at the time, but last week I attended an art exhibition and around every corner there were violent depictions of President Trump. At first it was comical, then relatable, but after some time I grew uncomfortable with the visual representations. We have grown incredibly bold, not that is wrong, but I feel like we are breaching a level of respect and installing fear, hatred and terror. I do not think this is what our world needs at this point at all. The article talks about Political Hyperbole, and how many statements are not meant to be taken at face value, but the problem is people DO take things at face value. Shakespere’s King Lear states that “Many a true word hath been said in jest.” Sometimes we do not even realize how we truly feel, as well as how what we say inspires other. I ask that art inspires love, not violence.

Emily Lawrence said...

This is a very difficult article to comment on because it asks the question of legality. Technically, yes art can make a statement about the president of the United States and it can say whatever it wants. But there is also a thin line of whether it becomes a safety issue for someone else. To me, this is the same question of whether it legal to yell bomb in an airport or not. And while that does seem like a rather drastic statement, if someone says they are going to kill the president of the United States and show how they will do it, I do think there is some action that can be taken to make sure that it does not happen. I do fully believe in our freedom of speech as Americans, but I also think that it should not be misused and abused. Morally, I do not think that things like that should be created or shown, but I also try to be a peaceful person, so that may not work for everyone. I do think there is a line that can be crossed on this subject, but it is fuzzy since it is difficult to take what could happen and what could not happen and keep people safe.

nick waddington said...

I personally think there is a reason that the first amendment to the constitution is that which protects our right to freedom of speech and expression, and in times like this, i believe it is incredibly important that we exercise that right. i understand the sentiment of Political Hyperbole becoming mistaken for actual threat, but i also understand that if you take everything at face value, then you are missing a larger point to many things.

In this painting, it is true that the main focus is Chris Evans naked holding Trump's decapitated head, however if you take that as the full message and true intent of the artist, then i believe you are missing the entirety of the artist's true expression in this piece. In the original statue of Perseus and Medusa, the statue holds Medusa's head in one hand, and holds a sword in the other. however in the painting, Chris Evans holds a protest sign that says: "Man did not weave the web of life/ he is merely a string in it:/ whatever he does to the web/ he does to himself" Also, i believe Chris Evans is meant to be a representation of America. My interpretation of this is that while Perseus fought Medusa with a sword, it is up to America to fight the misogyny and hate that Trump purports with peaceful protest, and logic. This is what i took from just looking at the main focus of the painting.

However a painting is built up of more than just the main focus. Chris Evans stands upon a pedestal that has "EVERYTHING" inscribed on it, and it seems as if a younger Hillary Clinton is holding on to him as two eagles fight behind him. finally there is a dead bison laying beside this entire scene. If the eagles are representative of the government, and the cloth draped over Chris's Shoulder is representative of the toga that the statue of liberty wears, then i would posit that the artist is trying to depict the deep divisions in our government and the danger to democracy this poses. Finally, i believe that by placing Chris upon a pedestal labeled "Everything" and having Hillary Clinton Cling to him, the artist is attempting to demonstrate the gravity of the challenge we face, that we will have to fight a hard fight in order to protect everything we have built as a country and all the progress we have made in the past couple decades.

Personally, addressing the idea of this being similar to yelling bomb in a theater. when one incites a public panic in an enclosed space which could lead to the injury of others, it is illegal because of the potential harm to others. however when a well educated artist feels turmoil because o the current political climate and wishes to peacefully display that, he should not feel threatened if he wishes to do so especially because his freedom to express his political thoughts peacefully were the first thing our forebears wanted to protect at the inception of our country.

Julian Goldman said...

I think the core of this issue comes down to the fact that the violence depicted in the painting doesn’t reveal intent to actually attack Trump. The imagery is simply making a statement (though I would argue that the artist’s claim that it isn’t really about Trump at all in inaccurate, even if that really wasn’t his intention). I think a big part of the reason why depicting politicians in a seemingly threatening way isn’t the same as depicting your neighbors that way is the power dynamic. Politicians have power over the lives of their constituents, and Thomas Chung is unlikely to ever be able to do anything to physically harm Trump. This painting isn’t a real threat, whereas someone doing a similar painting with their neighbor’s head and then say, leaving it at their neighbor’s house, would clearly be a very different story. The image of politicians also has a fair amount of symbolic significance. Trump represents a set of values, ideals, and policies, which many many people vehemently disagree with. This depiction of Trump is pushing against those ideas, not Trump as a person, which is I suppose why Chung said it really isn’t about Trump in the end.

Alex Talbot said...

This is quite an interesting concept and discussion, and after reading it I'm not sure how I feel. I see this a little bit like the fire in the crowded theatre simile, or the idea that incitement of violence is not protected under the first amendment. While I don't think that either of these showed an intent to cause violence, at the same time I can see how that could potentially be perceived.

That said, limiting art because of violent imagery is something that absolutely should not happen, and limiting art at all is an incredibly slippery slope for a governing body to go down, setting a precedent like that. To me, this is a really complex challenge in terms of law--personally, I think that there should be no restriction on art, despite pieces like this that some may see as suggesting violence. That said, I wonder how an argument like that would hold up in court, if imagery like this did end up causing real tangible harm. My point is that there isn't a right answer to this, but I think in general restriction of art and creativity is not beneficial to society.

Helena Hewitt said...

I agree with Julian’s comment that the key difference between a painting like this of a figure like Trump and a painting like this of your neighbor is A) the power dynamic in which the likelihood of Chung being able to successfully carry out a real violent threat against the President is much less likely and B) that as a political figure and cultural icon Trump is not just a person but rather he stands for a certain set of ideals and political viewpoints. Unlike the viewpoints your neighbor may or may not stand for, those of President Trump are well-known enough that the minute we think of him or see his face, we also think of all those opinions. Which is why the violence in a painting like this may be interpreted as not a direct personal threat but rather an abstract statement of violent disagreement with those opinions. Furthermore, To those who disagree with the opinions currently in power, it can feel like art is the only outlet for such fervent and violent dissent. Because, as the mainstream news media is forced to engage with President Trump's agenda in a way that takes it seriously and lends legitimacy to his opinions, art is the only place in which we can dismiss them entirely and refuse to engage with them in as total and complete a rejection as (metaphorically) cutting off the head of the person who represents them.

Madeleine Wester said...

I am a firm believer that art should never be able to be limited or restricted by others. UNLESS that artwork directly causes harm to a person/group of people. Even then, and this must be my mildly anarchical self talking, I don't think the government should be involved at all in this limiting of artwork. So when it comes to paintings of a deceased President Trump, I don't think there should be any legal consequences or restrictions involved. Morally, I think the idea of limiting people in any sense is repulsive, and the fact that we live in a world where governing bodies could potentially govern our own ARTWORK is atrocious. I agree with Tahirah's statement of asking that "art inspire love, not hate" but I believe people need to succumb to their true feelings more than most people do currently. Therefore, if you hate Trump and want to paint a picture of Chris Evans holding his cut-off head, DO IT. Trump is so highly protected that there is no way you'll actually get to behead him someday, so whatever. Paint what you want. Restricting artists and their work is the antithesis of what art is supposed to do; express true emotion and thought.

David Kelley said...

Art is protected under the first amendment plain and simple. Well at least at first glance, the article makes a god point in clarifying the distinction between what is truely provoking violence and making art the has violence in it. Unless the painting had a subscript that said "this needs to happen" I would not put it anywhere near the realm of inciting violence. And here in seems to be the distinction that the current administration can't seem to wrap it head around, just because the medium may have violence in it does not mean it is a direct threat. As Julian and Helena both pointed out with the example above it really is not until to leave that painting on your neighbors door step does that go to being a threat. The reason is now you are using the medium of art to deliver you threatening "letter." Add into this the fact that many public officials represent something large than just themselves and just about all merit for curtailing art that shows violence and the administration is lost, no matter who is president.

Sasha Schwartz said...

I never thought that I would read an article about a painting of naked Chris Evans holding a decapitated Trump head for school, but here we are. What a hilarious and timely work of art. To be honest, normally I think I would be a little more wary of showing violence against a well-known political/ celebrity figure through art, but I think in the case of Trump all rules go out the window. He is already taking away the health care that millions of Americans need to survive. He has used country borders to break apart families and separate parents from their children. His unabashedness at threatening the use of nuclear warfare puts into question the value of life of millions of people here and overseas. There are literally people who are dying, and Trump is receiving sympathy for his tweets against an Alaskan assistant professor and Snoop Dog? Maybe he should be taking less time to reply to these “threats” and more time actually doing the job he signed up for. In addition, in this dark time in political history, the least we should have the freedom to do is express our frustrations through our art.