Freedom of Expression and the Arts

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Arizona State University College of Law


Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 29, p. 549, 1997

In early 1996 the Phoenix Art Museum displayed the exhibit 'Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art.' This exhibit produced a truly astounding amount of public controversy - most of it quite shrill - and even led some members of the Phoenix City Council to consider withdrawing financial support from the museum. Kate Millett's 1970 'The American Dream Goes to Pot' (an American flag in a toilet bowl) and Dread Scott's 1988 'What is the Proper Way to Display the U. S. Flag?' (an American flag positioned on the floor so that people might walk on it) were the objects most under discussion. Thus did Kulturkampf (culture war) finally come to Arizona. Discouraging responses pulsated from both sides, with one proclaiming an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds and the other censorship. The academic response was equally disappointing, as scholars descend to discussing the art only as political expression without considering the artistic merits of the piece at all. Puritanism, imposing a moral dimension upon all facets of life, and misplaced egalitarianism fuel this fire.

This article addresses the balancing all of these concerns with freedom of expression. In our calmer and more reflective moments, however, it is important that we not allow our legitimate zeal to protect freedom of expression to tempt us into ways of conceptualizing art that distorts art, diminishes it or, falsely elevates it. If we can establish the legitimacy of using state funds in an attempt to support the development of art in America, then decisions about allocation of resources cannot be made simply by political bureaucrats. Also, society probably should support art museums and symphony orchestras and theatre and ballet companies, and somebody has to plan the exhibits and performances for them. Those educated in the arts and designated art experts can sometimes be an irritatingly elitist, pretentious and condescending bunch, but on the other hand, if these people do not run the show, somebody infinitely worse probably will.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 20

Keywords: 'Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art.,' Freedom of Expression, Kulturkampf

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Date posted: August 27, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jeffrie G., Freedom of Expression and the Arts (1997). Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 29, p. 549, 1997. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1462840

Contact Information

Jeffrie G. Murphy (Contact Author)
Arizona State University College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-5856 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)
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