Sunday, April 25, 2010

Freedom of expression – wasted?

One work at a recent art exhibition was an image of a sheep lying in a corner of a stall. A person’s shadow ran diagonally across the image space – obviously, someone was nearby, probably approaching the sheep. The title was “Time’s Up.”

Put those three elements together: chilling. And gratuitous too. Why did the artist choose to make this “High Noon”-ish image of coming slaughter? Who or what purpose was it created to serve? Was it meant to shock? to induce human guilt? to convey a message about killing animals for food? Was it approving or disapproving?

Why make it? Should it have been displayed? Who needs more reminders of “man’s inhumanity to . . . animals”? In distressing me, as it did, it was only “singing to the choir.” It seems unlikely that a hunter or a livestock breeder would be disturbed by it.

Realizing I was thinking, “Such pictures shouldn’t be shown; what good do they do?” I thought about the 8-1 Supreme Court ruling earlier this week (United States v. Stevens) protecting freedom of expression -- in this case, the right to sell videos showing animal cruelty.

(As the NYTimes editorialized afterwards, better to stop animal cruelty through laws against the cruelty itself than through laws against images of it.)

As upsetting, disgusting or illegal some behaviors may be, those who film them are protected by the First Amendment from being stifled. By extension, the artist behind “Time’s Up” is also be free to make whatever images she wants. But I still wish she had spent her time and effort instead demonstrating against factory farming or eating meat.

No comments: