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September 05, 2008

Does This Photo Offend You?

Resist_censorship_2 Well, apparently, it does the folks at Every Woman Physical Therapy, one of the stops, at 208 Flynn Ave., along this weekend's South End Art Hop.

The photographer, Kimberley Hannaman Taylor, says that, after hanging her 24 postcard-sized photographs at Every Woman, she received a call from South End Arts & Business Association. She was told that Toby Richman, Every Woman's owner, had objected to this photo and two similar images. While the exhibit's content is, overall, pretty benign — landscapes, a ferry, fruits, vegetables — the baby-doll pix were such an affront to Richman that she demanded that Taylor remove the whole shebang before the patrons start arriving this evening.

"The photos do not depict nudity, they're not political, they're not violent," Taylor said. "They're photographs of an inanimate object lying in the snow."

Taylor had the mobile-style exhibit removed by noon Friday, but the photos will still be on view — on the photographer herself. Taylor plans to sew the pictures onto her clothing and, by Saturday morning, "be a walking gallery." She'll also be giving away 50 "wearable banners" of the offending images.

"I hope they'll be worn all over Art Hop and start a dialogue about this," she said.

No one answered the phone at Every Woman P.T., and when I went by the studio, Richman was with a client.

Bob Bolyard, Art Hop coordinator, said he offered to let Taylor hang her work in SEABA's gallery at 180 Flynn Ave. Although he wouldn't comment on Richman's specific objections to the baby-doll shots, putting the 'B' in SEABA, he said Art Hop has had to "shuffle" exhibits around in the past to accommodate the tastes of the business owners who help host the annual event. "We back our sites," he said.

For her part, Taylor doesn't hold it against Richman for failing to appreciate her work. Her gripe is with SEABA's willingness to allow businesses to exercise editorial control over Art Hop content.

"The business is in the program,the business gets the press, and traffic is being funneled to their site," she noted. "And now my name is in the program, and there is a blank gallery space there, which doesn't sit well with me, not for how it impacts me and my career and how it makes me look, but philosophically.

"Who has the creative license in these situations?"

What I find most amusing is that this business has such an inclusive name, "Every Woman." Yeah, unless you happen to be a woman who likes pictures of baby dolls in snow.

I hope to find one of these wearable banners. I'll be happy to wear it while I'm hopping.

Like I said earlier Kim, you aren't really an artist until some square tears down your show.

Why do these boorish businesses agree to be part of the Art Hop? Do they think "art" means only fluffy-wuffy Thomas Kinkade pastels and Anne Geddes portraits? Wake up, Philistines.

I'd like to clarify some things. Today, during the demonstration, I refused to name the business or business owner, even though it's a matter of public record. Also I added emphatically that I don't necessarily hold SEABA responsible for more than not setting up comprehensible contracts. Businesses sign on to host artists, after which they are obliged to display art. Artists are not decorators. You can fire a decorator, but should you be able to fire an artist you've invited to show?

I believe Art is sacred. If a business is not willing to risk being assigned something they personally don't care for, they shouldn't sign up to host.

As for Ms. Richman, again, I really don't have beef with her or anybody for that matter. As far as I'm concerned, her business represents all the businesses of SEABA and I represent all the participating artists. This could have happened to any of the artists and I've heard it's happened before.

So what we have here is philosophical and ethical debate. Yes, I was put out of my time and money. No, I did not feel humiliated. I'm proud that my image evoked such a strong reaction. Yay me! I'm doing something right. Sad for me I had to go to so much extra effort to accommodate someone who didn't read the fine print (that may or may not have been there but is implied) and that as a result there's a blank space where my show is supposed to be.

For anyone who's interested, Speaking Volumes has invited me to rehang the show there for the month of September. The actual show was ruined in the rain while I was wearing it today, so it's going to take me til the weekend to recreate it. I invite anyone who enjoys being shocked by photos of Scottish Highlands and baskets of vegetables with the random mannequin or baby doll image thrown in to stop by to check it out. I also have two other pieces in the juried shows: One in the coke bottle factory (immediately as you enter - also mannequins) and an outdoor piece hanging on Upstairs Antiques - ironically directly across from Every Woman PT. But you won't find that on the SEABA website...all references to my name have mysteriously vanished (since Friday).

Go figure!

OOOPS! Correction: I'm still listed as showing at 208 Flynn on the SEABA website. Apparently, the juried art and artists are not detailed. Why not, I wonder?

I'm glad that the Art Hop manages to stir up a little censorship controversy each year, and this one seems to be no exception. Art in fact should challenge, delight, and bump up against folks' comfort zones. But I'm really scratching my noggin here... A baby doll with snow on it? You mean it's not bloody, or mutilated? It doesn't have a political slogan painted on it's forehead? While people's varied tastes and opinions are valid and worth listening to, I very much agree that a business who agrees to be part of the Art Hop and agrees to be assigned an artist to show- agrees to just that. This culture makes it hard enough on artists already, without wasting their time, money and energy over nothing. Whew!

I agree with a lot of what Kimberly has to say, but I am wary of this:
"Businesses sign on to host artists, after which they are obliged to display art. Artists are not decorators. You can fire a decorator, but should you be able to fire an artist you've invited to show?"

The hosts always have final say as to what gets shown in their establishment, and art is no exception.

Now, I don't know what the process is for how artists and businesses are matched up, but I think this is the root of the problem. Did Every Woman invite Kimberly to show? Were they matched up randomly? Did they even see Kimberly's art? Were they misled as to its content?

What it comes down to is that Every Woman did not review or even attempt to find out more about the art being shown in their space until the day of the event. This is irresponsible, especially for owners who are seemingly quite sensitive to certain subject matter. A quick Google search finds Kimberly's blog at The content of the blog is not offensive, but it is also obviously not the fluffy bunnies and pretty flowers that Every Woman was expecting.

If I was a business owner offering my space to Art Hop, I'd be checking out the artists' works the minute I found out who would be showing. I would want to know what I was in for, to know what to expect, and, as a supporter of the arts, just be excited to find out more about who I would be hosting at my space.

Well said, Matt. I agree with you completely. There should be an opportunity for business owners to meet or at least review something of what they're expected to display. This was a bad situation that only turned worse, and I actually feel sorry for Ms. Richman that she's being vilified here. She clearly had no concept of what was expected of her, and neither did I. If there are any victims in this situation, it's both of us, and maybe even SEABA for taking on more than they were prepared to handle.

I have to say, I find the image quite compelling. It brings up a lot for me. Growing up in Vermont my boyfriend and I have found many abandoned objects in the snow while wandering in woods and fields in the winter - baby dolls among them. The experience is melancholy, amusing, haunting, disturbing, and somehow touching all at once. This photo evokes my memories of that experience, but it also makes me think of personally beloved objects, people, pets, and concepts which are now gone. You can't hold onto them forever and they're gone in every tangible sense, but they are still preserved always, frozen in snow drifts of nostalgia and memory.

That's the occasional silver lining of censorship, I guess. Sometimes the censored item or artist gets wider exposure as a result. I never would have seen this if Every Woman hadn't rejected it and 7d subsequently blogged about it (I was unable to attend the Art Hop).

Thank you Molly. The image and my others like it mean all that to me as well. You've tapped into exactly what I have tried to convey with those types of photos, and I'm touched that you shared your feelings about it.
Knowing that even one other person has had a positive reaction is enough to make this whole debacle worthwhile.
Peace to you,

It's a doll head. With some snow on it. Everybody and their mother takes pictures of baby dolls. In the snow/mud/garbage pile/bathtub/etc./etc. Who gives a hoot? Some people around here need to get out more.

A friend of mine is the former director of SEABA, and I remember that around Art Hop time she was always nearly destroyed. It's unbelievably complicated to organize these hundreds of people, locations, businesses, and events. Not even having a year to do it helps because so many people feel entitled to miss deadlines and make last minute changes and demands. I am inclined to think that SEABA is not at fault here... they are in a very delicate position having to try to placate and play nice with everyone because as we all know - Burlington is a small freakin' town.

I think businesses with a ridiculously low art tolerance should not sign up as locations. Maybe SEABA should ask them one interview question: What is art? If they answer, "That stuff I buy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond to match the upholstery" then they don't get to host.

I agree with Molly!

"I think businesses with a ridiculously low art tolerance should not sign up as locations."

It's the "Art Hop right? So that begs to answer the question "what is art?"

No single person can ever really define art within a set of guidelines. To quote Robert Redford, "Art, in all its forms, feeds and nurtures the soul of a society; provokes thought and debate; causes critical thinking; and fosters understanding of things foreign to our own immediate world. In the end, arts play a primary role in encouraging healthy tolerance of the diversity in any culture. And, in my opinion, that is something profoundly worthy of protecting. A culture or society that does not recognize arts as integral to its growth and well-being will not survive."

Art is whatever artist and audience perceive it to be, it is an expression, the artist's opinions, the viewers interpretation. Art IS imagination! Each work of art as a page in the story of mankind, and it's culture. Therefore, one person, or even a group of people cannot really decided what is or isn't art.

"I may not know art, but I know what I like"

We’ve all heard people say this and we tend to pass it off as harmless. However this statement is also at the core of most issues where "censorship" becomes the battle cry. This then asks the question - is censorship actually the codification of society’s taste?

Many artists take for granted the freedom to create art. Most do not appreciate this freedom until it is taken from them. Fortunately, this freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech" (1). The 14th Amendment makes the protections of the First Amendment applicable to state laws. Almost any attempt to regulate written or spoken word can be scrutinized by the courts to assure that it remains protected.

So I would (personally) revise the original statement to read:

"I may not know art, AND I may not like what he or she has created, but I’ll defend to the death his or her right to have a forum to create and display that art."

As far as I can tell SEABA does not have a set of guidelines for what a participating artist may or may not display at Art Hop. --feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I also could not find any mention of what rights SEABA grants to the hosting businesses to censor what is displayed in their space. As there appears to no existing instruments in place to manage artists and hosting businesses expectations with regard to "appropriate art" and censorship, it would seem reasonable to assume that (IMHO), participating artists would then have the expectation of having their work -whatever it mat be- displayed during the event.

If local businesses are TRULY in support of local artists and wish to participate in the Art Hop, then they should be willing to accept and display works of art which SEABA has deemed appropriate for participation in the Art Hop. SEABA and participating artists have enough to do in preparation for the Art Hop with out having to spend time rearranging art from location to location based on the personal "tastes" of the host business.

Personally I find the pieces in question so ridiculously benign in comparison to other controversial works of art, that I can't even begin to understand the business owners "issue" with them being displayed in their space.

~Clement Yonkers

That's one perspective Diane. But then again, if "everybody and their mother(s)" are capturing those types of images, then it stands to reason that many people are interested in them.
Some people need to be more tolerant and allow for different aesthetics. That's the point. Art is subjective.

I'm totally down with the tolerance, Kimberley. My door is wide open to any and all art. I'm just sayin' that if a photo of a doll head with some snow on it ruffles somebody's feathers... that's when they need to get out more and look around.

Ah...thanks for the clarification. I agree then. There is plenty of art out there that doesn't speak to my aesthetic, even and especially a great deal of that which is famous and or currently hot - but I doggedly support each artist's right to show the world what they've got and sell it if they can. Viva la difference!

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