Debbie Smith’s painting, “See It Go” was selected for inclusion in the year end student art show at Shasta Community College in Redding, CA. Styled on the mid-20th century-era “Dick and Jane” books, it depicts two children playing outdoors and a man wearing an open blue bathrobe exposing his sexual arousal.
According to press reports, “in response to complaints, officials duct-taped white poster board over the painting, … and attached a note that reads, “Advisory: Provocative Content.” Near the bottom is an arrow with the directions, “Lift to view.”
To the college’s credit they did not remove the work (as happened at BGSU Firelands when similar subject matter was featured), but just covered it up. Anybody can lift the poster board.
By covering the image, however, the college became an uninvited collaborator – transforming the work into a more complicated piece bringing up issues of taboo and censorship. It has endowed the piece with the additional frisson of the forbidden. For an image whose original effect was a degree of shock (how many erect penises do we see in conjunction with children?) this is not such a bad thing. Adding a cover can only enhance the shock effect of the content.
Yet I doubt an artistic collaboration was what Shasta College administrators intended – nor are college officials expected to appear as collaborators in student art shows. The goal was to avoid a censorship scandal while keeping the “offending” image out of view. So, here is my modest suggestion – why not cover all art so that no one can possibly be confronted with what they don’t want to see? After all some find a woman’s bare ankle or exposed nipple objectionable, others hate depictions of violence, and a more than a few don’t like their political views challenged. An art exhibit consisting of blank duck taped panels may just be Shasta College’s contribution to art.