Self-Censorship Karl Holmqvist

Everyone is an artist. Cut-ups are for everybody. Writer’s block. Stage fright. Analysis paralysis. Paranoia. Beating the floor, staring at a door. Wait-waiting to be inspired. The white sheet of paper. The first line followed by a second one, etc. Part of being able to express oneself as an artist surely involves being delusional. It seems a regular part of the creative process to go between euphoria and despair, genius pangs and self-doubt. But no artist would ever get a thing done unless they had, at least sometimes, an unlimited faith in their own talent—is this in fact what separates artists from other people? Or is it more of a social thing where things have been divided between consumers and products, between makers and inventors and those who are only there to, passively it seems, take in the results.

If we were to compare this with other types of tribal culture, for instance, that wouldn’t allow for anyone not being able to sing or dance or decorate their bodies with paint or feathers. Where the division between stage and audience in a European-style opera house would seem transgressive. Where artistic expression would be seen not as an outgrowth of childish occupations such as playing and making drawings etc. but rather as a continuous part of what being human involves. Or even fully human. Fulfilled.

Money seems to be an obstacle. People seem to say that if only they were financially independent they would take the time to express themselves artistically. Or is it symptomatic of a written-word culture? Where writing enables categorizing and criticism and a type of overview that in turn becomes limiting. Paralyzing. It would seem hard to think of somewhere to start when one has the examples of what are considered the achievements of geniuses to compare oneself to. A Michelangelo or a Shakespeare or an Edgar Allen Poe. What these people did however was articulate their life experience in a way that was relevant to their time.

Even if their achievements have somehow remained, while so many others have faded and disappeared, and they have even managed to find renewed relevance again and again, this is in itself not an argument never to attempt anything. It should, in fact, be inspirational. Each new time and each new moment would need to be expressed, influenced and formed by these expressions and then practice would make perfect. So what is it that makes it so hard then?

Process-oriented post-World War II expressions such as noise music or minimalist expression often defy hierarchies, seeking out more democratic materials and working models—only to establish genius modes in these areas as well. Take, for example, a sculptor such as Carl Andre—the controversy surrounding the Tate Gallery of London’s acquisition of his Equivalent in the early 1970s suggests that not all people, especially “common people,” share the Tate’s view of his genius—unless what is meant is the marketing genius involved in introducing an arrangement of bricks into a gallery’s sculpture collection.

Then again, controversy often surrounds great works. Indignant first reactions to a work give way to appreciation and wider understanding. With time, it seems, things may be viewed differently. Sex scandals seem to have changed how society views sex and the ways it can be expressed publicly—no doubt thanks to the way some of these works have expressed sexual themes. William S. Burroughs was tried and later acquitted in court for obscenity charges stemming from Naked Lunch. The sex scenes in Naked Lunch would no longer seem obscene enough to go to court over, whereas some of the drug use described in the book seems more shocking now than during the 1960s and 1970s, when views on drugs were more liberal.

Or maybe not. In relation to self-censorship anyway, drugs of course provide an excellent escape. Much of human romance, mating habits etc. seem dependent on drug use, cigarettes, and alcohol in clubs lowering inhibitions enabling people to meet and even fall in love. Let’s have coffee. Let’s dance! Let’s get naked!! Let’s get naked, sing and dance, and run naked in a field. Let’s go wild. Lose our minds. Let’s go crazy, go ape____. Ape crazy.

Self-censorship, by the way will not work in groups. Group behavior can be more or less permissive, but the moment you try to stop a person or a group of people from doing something it’s no longer about self-censorship. Likewise, group mentality can sometimes involve a suspension of judgment. A certain freedom in no longer being solely responsible for one’s own actions. Depending on the group, this can also be inhibiting, of course—a group of people may try to command or force you to do things you don’t normally do or feel like doing at that moment. No good art ever came out of such circumstances.

A healthy questioning of authority—or a plain refusal ever to let oneself be directed—is probably also a necessary artistic characteristic. There isn’t necessarily anything heroic or liberating or even practical in it; it’s just the way things are. But if we think of people alone or in groups again, self-censorship also happens in the company of people we’re not comfortable with. We hide. We’ve got to hide our love away. Some people can’t even bring themselves to admit simple things about themselves—not even to those close to them, to their own family. It would entail a need perhaps to express oneself differently, maybe artistically. Maybe artistic practices are not expressions of individual freedom at all, but ways of overcoming inhibitions and problems with more conventional forms of expression.