Censoring "Portraits of Terror" at Penn State:

Penn State Digital Collegian:

For Penn State student Josh Stulman, years of hard work ended in disappointment yesterday when the university cancelled his upcoming art exhibit for violation of Penn State's policies on nondiscrimination, harassment and hate.

Three days before his 10-piece exhibit — Portraits of Terror — was scheduled to open at the Patterson Building, Stulman (senior-painting and anthropology) received an e-mail message from the School of Visual Arts that said his exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" and the display would be cancelled.

The exhibit, Stulman said, which is based mainly on the conflict in Palestinian territories, raises questions concerning the destruction of Jewish religious shrines, anti-Semitic propaganda and cartoons in Palestinian newspapers, the disregard for rules of engagement and treatment of prisoners, and the indoctrination of youth into terrorist acts.

"I'm being censored and the reason for censoring me doesn't make sense," Stulman said.

Charles Garoian, professor and director of the School of Visual Arts, said Stulman's controversial images did not mesh with the university's educational mission.

The decision to cancel the exhibit came after reviewing Penn State's Policy AD42 [the policy, which, in my educated opinion, is clearly unconstutionally overbroad even if it actually applies to Stulman's exhibit, can be found here]: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate, he wrote.


[Stulman] said he was shocked at the university's decision to cancel the exhibit and that he has tried to meet with Garoian on numerous occasions to discuss his artwork.

"It's not about hate. I don't hate Muslims. This is not about Islam," Stulman said. "This is about terrorism impacting the Palestinian way of life and Israel way of life.

Thanks to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East for the heads-up.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of one of the pieces from the censored exhibit. It depicts is titled "Our Greatest Hero" and depicts Palestinian Nazi (I mean that literally) Haj Amin Al-Husseini, whom Yasser Arafat called "Our Greatest Hero."

Correction, from Mr. Stulman: The name of the painting in the picture is "Ramallah" and discusses the brutal treatment of Israeli soldiers in that specific area on at least several occasions including in 2002.

Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
One would think that offering a view point that cuts against the orthodoxy of "cultural diversity," particularly by invoking palestinian terrorism, would be the very definition of an "opportunity for the democratic dialogue." Ugh.

The use of buzzwords to justify silencing dissent *really* reminds me of Soviet Russia. A traditionally effective way of responding to an uncomfortable statement would be to attack the speaker as "anti-Soviet." It's a completely meaningless word most of the time, but gets the job done. A lot like "diversity."
4.22.2006 3:15pm
Andy (mail) (www):

The use of buzzwords to justify silencing dissent *really* reminds me of Soviet Russia. A traditionally effective way of responding to an uncomfortable statement would be to attack the speaker as "anti-Soviet."

Or even better- accuse the artist of promoting "formalism".
4.22.2006 3:33pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
Whatever happened to the days of Norman Rockwell when art was used to promote a positive message? Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take my art with values, please.
4.22.2006 3:39pm
Old-fashioned might include scenes glorifying war. Solid values there. Probably okay to glorify bombers, just not ask people to think or interpret the many meanings behind good art.
4.22.2006 3:46pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
War can be a thing that should be glorified. Remember World War II? You're probably only opposed to wars that are started by presidents you don't like. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
4.22.2006 3:52pm
earlhushpuppy (mail):
Could you please define "values", because we might have different definitions. Who is to say that this art has no "value"?
4.22.2006 4:42pm
Whatever happened to the days of Norman Rockwell when art was used to promote a positive message? Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take my art with values, please.
Sometimes I think Smithy is a deliberate parody of a conservative.

Art as political provocation or critique is hardly irreconcilable with "values." Indeed, for me that's the only way art as political provocation or critique makes any kind of sense. Mr. Rockwell seems to have believed the same, judging from his most affecting work:
4.22.2006 4:46pm
frankcross (mail):
You may have been cut off Glade. Perhaps you were mentioning Rockwell illustrating for FDR, including "freedom from want." Or his civil rights paintings, such as "Southern Justice" about the murder of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.
He's not a bad example.
4.22.2006 4:52pm
Luke R.:
Like all campus speech codes (IIRC), this will be struck down if Stulman chooses to pursue this matter in the courts.

On the other hand, this art is pretty crappy. Maybe they can censor him based on that!
4.22.2006 4:58pm
"Did not promote cultural diversity" = "Did not criticize straight white guys."
4.22.2006 5:15pm
Yeah, frankcross, I was cut off. You're right though - I was thinking about his civil rights paintings, like Southern Justice and The Problem We All Live With. It really doesn't surprise me that Smithy's view of Rockwell is idealized and simplistic - that's pretty much par for the course when it comes to conservatives views about nearly anything mid-20th century American.
4.22.2006 5:15pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
On the plus side, Smithy's blog features a front-and-center photo of a .22 Ruger, "for the ladies." If nothing else, he is a consistent parody of a conservative.

As far as this poor kid is concerned, this doesn't appear to be anything that FIRE can't make go away with a well-drafted letter to the dean. Still, it's always disappointing to see such agendariffic close-mindedness in higher ed. I know I should be used to it, but it's disappointing.
4.22.2006 5:32pm
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
It's worth noting that this story would seem to run against the argument made in the Mearshimer and Walt paper that the dominant culture all over the US, including college campuses, is one that is biased toward Israel and against its enemies. Wonder what M&W and their supporters would say about who is responsible in this case for shutting off dialogue about issues involving Israel?
4.22.2006 5:43pm
Steven Horwitz,

It's clear that the banning of this exhibit is a legitimate backlash to the overreaching of the Israeli Lobby. Obvious to any casual observer.
4.22.2006 6:00pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):

Smithy's blog features a front-and-center photo of a .22 Ruger, "for the ladies."

That's not a bad target pistol for ladies - it is easily held/fired by smaller than average hands, has a pleasingly low recoil, is very accurate and fun - very well suited for someone with better than average hand/eye coordination.

But it isn't a reasonable self-defense/carry pistol - for many reasons. None of them relevant to a discussion of censorship of art.
4.22.2006 6:10pm
I'm not sure I understand the problem. The purpose of the Academy is to provide a safe haven for orthodoxy; Stulman is dumping on the current orthodoxy so he's getting dumped on back. Surely this is a case of "God's in His Heaven and all's right with the world."

Now, if the Academy was supposed to be relevant....
4.22.2006 6:29pm
In other news, dog bites man.
4.22.2006 6:44pm
On an tangential subject, Haj schmaj. It is no more necessary to constantly refer to the late mufti by that honorific than to speak of Rev. Louis Farrakhan or Dr. David Duke.
4.22.2006 7:27pm
Is it just me, or does "Policy AD42 on Nondiscrimination and Harassment" sound like something right out of an Orwell novel?
4.22.2006 10:18pm

Harassment may include, but is not limited to... any other conduct which has the purpose or effect of interfering unreasonably with an individual's work or academic performance or creates an offensive, hostile, or intimidating working or learning environment.

Jews' and Christians' appearing in public on the campus is offensive, hostile, and intimidating to homosexuals and is an insult to Islam, therefore, Jews and Christians must be banned from the campus.
4.23.2006 12:20am
Smithy (mail) (www):
Art should uplift and invigorate. And I believe that this art does. The Islamofascists are indeed the face of evil, the face of terror. We must never forget what they did on 911. That is what art should be about -- reminding us all of the realities, however terrififying, that we face as citizens of a free country. Only the looniest of left-wing academics would censort that.
4.23.2006 12:39am
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
This actually outrages me to an unusual degree. Not sure why, but part of it is that it was being censored because it did not promote "opportunities for democratic dialogue"

What a perversion of the word think that democratic dialogue requires that a higher power decide what is said? This is simply a display of the authoritarianism inherent in viewpoint-biased views of free speech, not matter what the context, and that they hide behind the mask of furthering "democratic dialogue" is appallingly Orwellian. Imagine a project showing the President as Hitler...can you imagine it being shown anything but reverence?

Smithy, can't agree with you about what art should be...some of my favorite 18th and 19th century painters are anything but uplifting. Either way though, arguing what art should be is a distraction unnecessary to the issue - this is a case of free speech values, not artistic values.
4.23.2006 5:17am
I started off college as a rather liberal art student and it only took me one year to be so tired of repetitive "screw american values" shock art that I switched majors to something worthwhile. These days the academy is mostly a laughable echo chamber used to give likeminded artists connections to various galleries. I know many artists who were immensly talented and independent before their 4 years of art schooling, and they remain talented, but their "innovations" or "provocative inquiries into the human spirit" all flow in the same, redudant (read: communist) direction.

I think most people who see the cariacature of modern artists as rabid anti-christians and proto-stalinists would still be surprised at just how hard the academy tries to indoctrinate that sort of view point. That said, I don't think all artists believe that viewpoint, and wouldn't be surprised if many successful artists slanted their work to get the recommendations from their professors that ultimately open the gallery doors and the wealthy donor base up.

If anyone wants to read an interesting book about the "merits" of the academy, then I really suggest Ben Shaw's The Shape of Content. And yah, I suppose I am a bit jaded about how close-minded my art school experience was, so adjust your perception of my opinion accordingly.
4.23.2006 6:31am
great unknown (mail):
I am not an attorney, so would someone please enlighten me. Penn State is a governmental institution. As such, is it not liable to sanctions for what appears to be an egregious violation of Mr. Stulman's constitutional rights?
4.23.2006 9:52am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Time to reread "God and Man at Yale."
4.23.2006 10:55am
Smithy (mail) (www):
Why have we let people who hate America take over our universities? And what can we do to change it? I realize that tenure is supposed to be forever, but surely, given abuses such as these, we can find a way to revoke it.

We are letting people who hate America poison the minds of the best and brightest of our children. No wonder we look weak to the rest of the world, no wonder Al Qaeda thinks they can attack with impunity, and the insurgent thugs think they can wait us out. They turn on the television and they see American professors -- supposedly the intelligentsia of the country -- embracing their cause of anti-Americanism. These people want to destroy America, they want to turn this into a Godless, socialist state. Surely they should have their tenure revoked for that.
4.23.2006 11:55am
Abdul (mail):
Great Unknown,

would someone please enlighten me. Penn State is a governmental institution. As such, is it not liable to sanctions for what appears to be an egregious violation of Mr. Stulman's constitutional rights?

I'm not an attorney either, but I won't let that stop me from giving you an answer. Under the Constitution, there are no criminal penalties for violating the First Amendment. You are correct that a government institution is liable to some legal action for violating the constitutional rights of an individual, namely an injunction (a court order requiring a party to refrain from some action). Violating an injunction could lead to court sanctions. In addition, if Stulman has suffered some monetary loss (wasted paint and canvas?), he may be able to recover those losses in court. There may be some state or federal laws allowing Stulman to recover punitive damages as well, but I'm not aware of any off the top of my head.
4.23.2006 12:44pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
The action by the U was unconscionable; their efforts to back-peddle embarrasing.

That said, I'm now convinced that "Smithy" is engaged in a Swiftian parody of far right media nonsense, of a quality that puts the "Colbert Report" to shame.

If not, do I understand him to be calling for the academic promotion of deliberately propagandist art, ala "Der Fuhrer's Face", as a condition of the continued tenure of university art faculty?

4.24.2006 2:41pm