Censored by SCAD

Censored by SCAD
This image was censored by SCAD administration; Photograph by Nicole Craine

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Pretty Police and the SCAD Atlanta Open Studio Protest

Posters announcing the censorship of images during 
Open Studio were confiscated by SCAD authorities.
This past Thursday night, during Open Studio, a group of students and community members wore posters pinned or taped to their clothing. Each of the posters espoused one of SCAD's 8 official values: Being a student-centered institution, going the "extra mile," being innovative and results-oriented, sustaining a respectful and honest college environment, among others. Below was an image of a male nude, with a white CENSORED bar over the genitals (one of the works censored from the Open Studio show). There was then an invitation to this website to continue the discussion.

Protestors were able to make a few rounds of the floor before SCAD administration asked "kindly" to remove the messages from our clothing or leave the premises. When administration was asked for a reason, we were told he didn't have to give a reason because SCAD was private property, though he would be happy to speak with any of the artists whose work was removed from the show. We complied with his request by either leaving or removing the posters from our bodies. Some of us chose to stay to continue to discuss and raise awareness of the censorship issue. Later in the evening we were confronted by an angry woman in a red SCAD shirt, seen in the image below. She demanded that we either give her our papers, or be escorted out by security. In the image, you can see her with our confiscated property, explaining to a bystander in the yellow shirt why she was taking the flyers. I couldn't hear her reason. She wouldn't give us one. 

A SCAD representative explains to a visitor why she has confiscated her flyer.

Open Studio is SCAD Atlanta's biggest event of the year. The following is a description of the event, quoted directly from SCAD's press release, with emphasis added to a key sentence:
"ATLANTA—The annual SCAD Open Studio Night will take place 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11, at SCAD Atlanta, 1600 Peachtree St. The event features more than 200 original works by SCAD students, faculty and alumni. The evening showcases the best of SCAD painting, photography, illustration, printmaking and sculpture. All work exhibited is available for sale. Guests also are invited to visit the university’s studio spaces and experience hands-on demonstrations by students.
Open Studio Night is free and open to the public, with complimentary on-site parking provided."
There is a colloquial expression frequently associated with SCAD-sponsored events or exhibitions: The Pretty Police.

The Pretty Police are SCAD's censorship arm. Their job is to patrol artwork in exhibits that have already been juried and accepted by either faculty or a selection panel, and remove anything they don't like. Anything that won't look good on a press release. Anything not "pretty." This is all very hush-hush of course, and no one dares to speak about it. Faculty are contractually obligated not to, and students feel pressured not to speak out for fear of reprisal by the mighty SCAD Administration.

A community member
spreading the word
The truth is, unless it's happened to you or someone you know, you probably aren't even aware of the Pretty Police's existence. Though, if you're a student at SCAD, it's very possible you've encountered them and not even known it. Consider the following: Are you an excellent student? Do you make work that faculty considers exemplary? Is your work challenging? Perhaps a bit (or a lot) edgy? Are you then sometimes confused when your work is passed over for selection? It's not unlikely that a seasoned faculty member has tried to spare you some pain by beating the Pretty Police to the punch.

Among the SCAD community, there seems to be a prevalent attitude of, "yeah, it sucks that it happens, but what can you do?" Indeed, what can you do? Faculty are sympathetic, but bound contractually to not speak out against SCAD. Students are afraid of being blacklisted or suspended. If they speak up or make trouble, SCAD might not allow any of their work into SCAD shows. That's an enormous amount of potential exposure lost. If they play nice, or make work that couldn't be considered offensive to anyone, then exposure through SCAD's promotional system could be a huge boost to a budding artist's career.
"Through censorship, the message that SCAD is sending to students is, 'To be successful, you must mitigate your work.'"
The danger then lies in the message that SCAD is sending to students, "To be successful, you must mitigate your work." In the business of art, be it fine or commercial, all we have to separate us from our competition is our ideas. Anyone can buy a camera, download software, follow some online tutorials and then be able to compete in the global marketplace. The same is true for just about any creative discipline. When access to the tools of the trade no longer separate the professional from the amateur, we must rely on the strength and creativity of our ideas. This is why we pay exorbitant tuition to attend an art school like SCAD. To foster, hone and enhance our ideas.

SCAD's mission statement is, "The Savannah College of Art and Design exists to prepare talented students for professional careers, emphasizing learning through individual attention in a positively oriented university environment." How then do we, as students, reconcile the disparity between promised service and provided service? When, to prepare for a professional career, we must strengthen, innovate and push our ideas so that we can stand out and be successful in our chosen field. Yet through action we are told that we shouldn't strengthen and sharpen our ideas, we should instead soften our message to better fit within the majority hump of the bell curve. The bell curve does not innovate. The bell curve does not progress our country to continue to be a global leader. Outliers do. Those on the outside, who are not afraid to speak truth, no matter how tender the nerve nor inconvenient the message. Those like the student body at SCAD.
We must speak up, no matter how inconvenient. Send us your censored images and stories: censoredartists@gmail.com
We cannot remain silent any longer. We must speak up, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Send your censored images and stories so that we may post them. There is strength in numbers. They can't silence everyone. Through precedent, SCAD has shown that it values it's reputation and appearance above all else. If only one or two speak up, they can continue to swat at the annoying flies, ignore the issue and carry on, business as usual. If we all speak up, they must make amends. Punishing students for speaking the truth? It's a valid concern. Many of us rely on our scholarships to be able to afford SCAD. Will they take them away? Will they suspend us? Will they blacklist us from shows?

A flyer depicting a censored image taped to a work that was not censored.
In response to arguments that as SCAD property, they can show or not show whatever they darn well please: yes, it's true. It is their property. They can censor all they want. But they shouldn't. This is an art school, and censorship goes against the promise of service to which we mutually and contractually agree by paying and receiving tuition. SCAD is a service provider, no different than a paid cable company. If cable companies started arbitrarily blocking whole channels, that they promised to air when you paid the fee to gain access to their service, because they objected to the content shown there would be uproar. Why is there none here, when the stakes are so much higher?

In response to the oft-given explanation, "High schoolers walk through the halls, they shouldn't see anything objectionable." Seriously? High schoolers can have access to anything they want on the internet. They can walk through any museum in the world and see challenging content. Including penises. But SCAD will not allow any penises to be seen by the public in any officially-sanctioned distribution channel. No matter the work's artistic value. Is there something wrong with the public knowing that men have a penis between their legs?
We are calling for the Pretty Police and SCAD's policy on administrative censorship to be suspended.
Rather than promoting innovation, SCAD is stifling it trough this policy. We are calling for the Pretty Police and SCAD's policy on administrative censorship to be suspended. If a work of art is exemplary enough to be selected by faculty or a juried review board for inclusion in an exhibition, then that work shall be included in said exhibition unaltered.

As a, "student-centered institution," SCAD art exhibits should not be glossy brochures for SCAD investors, filled with student-created content. They should hold fast to SCAD's own sales pitch, and foster true innovation and honesty by showcasing all exemplary work, not just the pretty ones.

SAC #2

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