Controversial Art and Freedom of Expression

September 11, 2023 - September 12, 2023
MANCEPT, University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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This event is available both online and in-person


Czech Academy of Sciences
University of Bern

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In 2017, Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” was exhibited at the prestigious Whitney Biennial in New York. It is a portrait based on a photograph of Emett Till, a black boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The painting, which was intended to express the author’s solidarity with the suffering of the boy’s mother, became the target of criticism. Representatives of the black community decried the use of the iconic image by a non-black person in the context of the art-world and called for the removal of the painting.

The affair raises questions about freedom of expression in art that have not yet been discussed in theoretical debates, although they are pressing for artists, audiences and art institutions. A common debate concerns the extent to which an artist’s freedom of speech should be respected when their work expresses controversial ideas. But there is also a question about the extent to which freedom of speech may be respected when the context of the work’s creation is controversial. This includes cases where the work has transformed the landscape in a way that is unacceptable to some (e.g., in land art), where the artist has committed significant offences in relation to their collaborators (e.g., the cases of sexual harassment), or where the work appropriates another artefact to which someone has an intimate, if not proprietary, relationship (e.g., the case of Dana Schutz’s painting).

The workshop will be an opportunity to bring together disciplines that surprisingly meet very little and where there has been so far little discussion of these issues: free speech scholarship and aesthetics/philosophy of art.

Researchers in these fields will address this topic through the following questions:

·       Under what conditions can the controversial creation of artworks be a reason to restrict the artist’s freedom of expression?

·       Under what conditions is it possible to respect the artist’s interest in expressing themselves regardless of the controversial way in which the work was created?

·       If we have to balance between the freedom of speech and the counter-arguments concerning the way a work was created, what approach to freedom of speech is best suited to make an appropriate choice between the two? An autonomy-based, truth-based, or democracy-based approach?

·       Can the questions about freedom of speech and the controversial ways of creating art be addressed in similar ways as in the case of works that are controversial because of their content? Or are they different issues?

·       When the context of creation is problematic, can a specific form of counter-speech be used as a measure, or is this tool reserved only for polemics against content?

·       What important controversies can be raised by limiting freedom of speech for works that we remove because of the problematic way they were created? And what important controversies can be caused if we do not intervene?

·       Is it also appropriate to consider legislative adjustments in this type of cases?

We are inviting submissions for talks which should be 35 minutes in length. A limited number of talks may also be held online.

Guidelines for abstract submission:

Max. 600 words (excluding references)

Deadline: June 1, 2023

Notification of Acceptance: June 14, 2023

The abstract should include your name and the name of your institution. It should also mention whether you are considering only online participation.

Please submit abstracts to:[email protected]

MANCEPT Workshops registration information:

Online attendance:
Academics: £ 45.00
PG: £ 20.00
Non-speaker: £ 15.00

In Person attendance:
Academics: £ 230.00
PG: £ 135.00
Dinner: £ 30

MANCEPT organisers will offer a small number of fee waiver bursaries. The deadline for bursary applications (available to current graduate students only) will be the 27th June, and successful applicants will be informed by 11th July. Only people accepted to present on a panel should apply for bursaries. In order to apply for a bursary please send MANCEPT organisers ([email protected]) a few lines outlining your financial situation. Unfortunately, they cannot accept late bursary applications.

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