On Friday, The William Benton Museum of Art held a forum on the topic of dangerous art and censorship, directly tying into the museum’s latest exhibit, “What’s the Alternative? Art and Outrage of the 1960s Underground Press.” The panel showcased Dwayne Booth (also known as Mr. Fish), cartoonist and curator of the aforementioned exhibit, Molly Land, professor of law and associate director of UConn’s Human Rights Institute and Christopher Vials, associate professor of English and director of American studies. The forum was moderated by Brendan Kane, associate professor of history and assistant director of public humanities. The conversation lasted just over an hour and a half.
The conversation broached a wide array of art and culture-related topics, from the changing nature of satire to how art begets humanity.
“There’s something about the art in the next room [the exhibit] that’s about continuing what it means to be human,” Vials explained. “There’s a saying that if you’re preaching to the converted, you’re doing something that’s politically ineffective. However, if you use that analogy, you find that most preaching isn’t done to the converted on the basis of creating new faith, it’s on the basis of sustaining an old faith.”
“The art in the next room falls into that category. It’s not necessarily meant to create new shocks, it was and is meant to keep the current flowing,” Vials said on the exhibit.
The panel also touched on the difficulty of having meaningful discourse in the current political climate with social media looming.
“Try to have hard conversations,” Land said. “With that, I don’t mean ‘try to convince people on social media’ – it just won’t work, and is a recipe for disaster. In my findings, small spaces offer the best atmosphere for actual dialogue to bloom; comment sections aren’t designed for talking like that. I try to have conversations with people I know that have slightly different views, even if those conversations can be hard.”
“I thought it was interesting that there was such a focus on the way that art can actually help people build empathy and to put themself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand their perspective,” remarked Amanda Douberley, assistant curator at the Benton. “I think that’s something that, when we think of the relationship between art and politics, is easy to forget how important it is to build these empathetic skills in having political discussions.
The packed Benton audience was enthralled by the back-and-forth conversation, myself included.
“So many people around the world think of art as decorative or something to enjoy, or something to hold monetary value, such as a rare painting,” said Bill Dingfelder of Philadelphia. “However, some of the most interesting art is meant to be satirical, and is meant to stir social change. This is certainly true in 1960s publications, and it is still the case today when it is particularly needed the most. This panel discussion emphasized the social change aspect of art in the 1960s and today, as well as the polarization in our society – something that art often intends to do.”
The Benton’s opening reception for their upcoming exhibition on Ellen Emmet Rand is next Thursday, Oct. 25, from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.