Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art?

Posted filed under Discussions, USA.


Art can soothe, it can inspire, but it also stirs heated passions and outright protest. Why does that happen, and why in some cases but not others? That’s the subject of the new book, “Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America.” Its author is Steven Tepper, a sociologist and associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University.

Watch Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art? on PBS. See more from PBS NEWSHOUR.

From the transcript:

JEFFREY BROWN: Art can soothe, it can inspire, but it also at times stirs heated passions and outright protest. Why does that happen and why in some cases but not others? That’s the subject of the new book, “Not Here, Not Now, Not That!” Its author is Steven Tepper, a sociologist and associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. Welcome.

STEVEN TEPPER: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let’s define our terms. What do you mean by a protest over arts and culture?

STEVEN TEPPER: A protest involves any public protest, anytime a citizen complains about the contents of some form of cultural expression. This could include books in the library, books in schools, films, films in local cinema houses, plays, statutes, memorials, music on the radio, non-profit, for-profit, commercial, high, low. Pretty much time anytime that someone tries to creatively express themselves and someone else reacts to it and asks that something be done about it, that’s a public protest.

JEFFREY BROWN: And your inquiry was why in some cases and why not in others.

STEVEN TEPPER: Right. Typically when we think about arts conflicts, we think there’s two reasons why people might fight over this. One is that enterprising politicians or religious leaders are sort of like birds of prey that are looking around for something smoldering that they can pounce on, inflame passions, mobilize constituents, raise money, win elections

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the narratives of the culture war.

STEVEN TEPPER: That’s the narrative of the culture war. And the other one is that as John Ruskin once wrote about James Whistler in the 19th century, Artists just fling pots of paint in the public space. And so if artists are trying to be provocative, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see that people get upset, but more interestingly is the fact that the same piece of art or the same presentation gets a very different response and reaction in different places.

Read the whole transcript at PBS.

Image above from the Fine Arts Blog.