Picasso and the arrogance of the new censors

The cultural elite has no right to tell us what art we can enjoy.

Darragh McManus

Topics Culture Free Speech Identity Politics UK

Saturday 8 April marked half a century since Pablo Picasso’s death. These being such dismal times, this significant anniversary in the history of art was commemorated by people calling for him to be cancelled.

Of course, the campaign to cancel Picasso didn’t start this month. The legendary Spanish painter has been falling foul of our latter-day moral guardians for a number of years now. He was, we are told, misogynistic, cruel and sadistic in how he treated his many mistresses. And he was a ‘cultural appropriator’, too, for the African influence in some of his paintings.

Anyway, old Pablo seems to have been a weapons-grade asshole, in short. Therefore, by the remorselessly binary and simple-minded logic of today’s self-styled ‘progressives’, nobody should display or look at his work anymore.

The cancellation campaign ramped up around the anniversary, with (here’s a shock) the Guardian leading the charge, gathering a coven of ‘collectors, artists, critics and curators’ to sift through the evidence and deliver their inarguable verdict. Picasso: death or glory? Press the red button to cancel NOW!

In fairness – and this really is a shock – the piece is balanced and nuanced, as these things go. While some writers slate Picasso as a misogynist, others defend him from the charge of cultural appropriation.

Obviously, there are a million valid arguments against this kind of pompous shite-hawkery. That we should separate the art from the artist. The importance of freedom of expression. That there’s no such thing as cultural appropriation. You know the list. But scanning this stuff over the weekend, another, far more fundamental thought occurred to me: who the hell are these people, to dictate to me what art I can and cannot look at?

It’s telling that the Guardian piece is titled ‘Should we cancel Picasso?’. But who is this ‘we’ of whom the Guardian speaks? It sure as hell ain’t me, or anyone I know, or the general public.

Take the introduction, which rather laughably parps: ‘Picasso is more often talked about as a misogynist and cultural appropriator, the ultimate example of problematic white guys clogging up the artistic canon.’ I have literally never heard someone, in real life, talk like this about Picasso.

The ‘we’ is not us, therefore, it’s people like them. This is a self-appointed little cabal declaring, ‘We will decide what’s right and good for you. We will decide what the proles should be exposed to. We will lay down the terms and set the boundaries of what’s acceptable.’

Or, to look at it another way, ‘We will build the prison yard, you will live in it and get no choice in the matter’. The sheer arrogance of it makes my blood boil. It’s effectively saying, ‘You drones can’t be trusted to make the right choice, so we’ll make it for you’.

We don’t have to accept this. I’m a big boy and I can make up my own mind. I can also be trusted not to turn into some slavering, blood-soaked, racist sexual predator, just because I spent five minutes gazing at Picasso’s Guernica. If anything, staring into that powerful abyss of horror, war and murderous inhumanity may even make me a better person.

But that’s irrelevant. The impact or theme of the art is irrelevant, and indeed, so is the quality. There’s a tendency in these matters for otherwise censorious prats to make allowances for genius.

They shouldn’t have to. It doesn’t matter that Picasso is one of the greatest painters of all time – art is art, and people can decide for themselves if they like it. That’s all there is to it and it’s the only argument you need. Be it Picasso or Kid Rock, Caravaggio or Plan 9 From Outer Space, the same rule should apply. Censorship is always wrong.

There are anti-cultural idiots on all political sides, of course. Just recently, some Mensa candidates in Florida kicked up a ruckus because pupils at a Christian school were shown a photo of Michelangelo’s David, where ‘Little David’ hadn’t been blurred out. It was an embarrassing, childish reaction.

But these ignoramuses don’t really hold the reins of cultural and political power, certainly not this side of the Atlantic. They can, in general, be safely ignored. The regressive-progressives, on the other hand, definitely do. And they are hell-bent on inflicting their weird and narrow-minded worldview on the rest of us.

I always disliked censorious people, and never trusted them. Even as a kid, on some partly unconscious level, I think I understood that censorship was unnecessary and paternalistic, riven with agendas, often little more than a grubby power-trip.

And it’s self-contradictory, too. I used to wonder about the official film censors, if these movies are guaranteed to warp people’s morals – how corrupted must the censors’ be by now?

I guess the argument would be that the self-appointed censors aren’t weak-willed, stupid cattle like the great unwashed masses – they are experts and curators and academics. They’re better than you – they can take it. And like Jesus, they’re willing to give of themselves, to save your soul.

Well, don’t bother. Save yourselves, and let the rest of us do as we see fit.

Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. Visit his website here

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Free Speech Identity Politics UK


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