Public Censorship of Art

An editorial by James William Pattison concerning the censorship of of September Morn.

All censors are obnoxious, as hated as the public headsmen. In England there is a censor of plays. He would not make the playwrights sore, but for his arbitrary and narrow point of view. Whatever else he is an educated man. In America we have men on the police force who have the oversight of pictures and are given absolute authority to act in any way their judgment dictates; that is, if they have any judgment at all. It is difficult to believe that the officer who descended upon poor little "A September Morning," and ordered her taken out of the photographer's window, for retirement to obscurity, acted thus purely from sense of duty. To be sure, we hear of policemen seeking notoreity, but, of course, nothing of this sort could possibly influence a Chicago policeman, whatever might happen in some other benighted city.

What then, is the picture, "A September Morning?" As we know it, it is a photographic reproduction of Paul Chabas' painting fromt he last Paris Salon. We see a charming young girl, still in her teens, who has ventured into the lake for an early dip. Not having quite considered the morning chill of the season, she stands in shallowed water and tries to protect herself from the air by folding hands and arms about her body. The attitude she takes almost precludes the possibility of calling the figure "nude," because so much covered and concealed. So coy and modest, so absolutely pure, so devoid of coquetry; why find fault with that which is faultless? Scarcely more than a child why accuse her of evil intentions? There is hardly a boy in the country who might not easily see his sister in a similar state, nor think evil of it.

His Honor, the Mayor, rules, that his support of the policeman's action was not because the picture is a nude, that he had no objections to its sale, but he did not think it should be displayed in a store window for children to see. While we comprehend His Honor's point of view, it may be that he is mistaken. All boys are alert to make merry over an unusual situation, and the assembled youngsters doubtless had their jokes. There certainly is nothing about the figure to excite merriment or any other feeling, so absolutely unconscious is the little lady. In a lifelong experience with boys and girls in the presence of nude figures, I have never known any harm coming to them because of familiarity with clean pictures, nude or other. A host of boys and girls, many of them young, have grown up in life classes, and gone out into the wide world. Many of them I knew well. Have these proved themselves to be good citizens? They are they salt of the earth and are doing magnificent educational work. I believe that boys and girls "find themselves" much more quickly when made familiar with the nude in art, and my own girls are destined to pass through this experience.

The noteworthy fact is that this little September Morn girl is so unconscious; not a suggestive movement about her. If the censors wish to arrest men who show designedly suggestive pictures, secretly, in a backroom, good can be done. The secret showing of these things is, in itself, a vulgarity, rotten and harmful. But this gem of art; who wants to banish this to the background? To this painting was given, this year, the great Medal of Honor, the highest rank in the gift of the Paris Salon. For years Chabas has climbed up step by step and now has reached the top. Only one higher rank can come to him and that is not a Salon Honor, but a National position, gained through the votes of the exclusive members of the Institute of France. It is a reproduction of this honored picture which a policeman persecutes. Some one may say, "But it is probable that our police censor knew nothing about Chabas or his standing in the world." Oh, shame! He should know. What business has this good, but misguided man, to flash his star over a fine picture of which he knows nothing at all? Censorship of such works should be handled carefully and prayerfully, and only by those who know. Are Chicagoans to be disgraced, in the eyes of the world, by such an ignoramus? And, how far is he going with his meddling? If such an one carries out this project once, what may he not do on a second provocation? Nude or draped, the evil in any picture lies in the intention to make it evil and to awaken lewd thoughts. This may be on the part of the artist or some person who may have the handling of the picture.

The nudity of itself is not suggestive. A wicked suggestion may be designedly attached to a picture by any vulgar person. But our little girl furnishes no such suggestion. She is as unconscious as a bathing bird which seeks refreshment in the rain water left by a passing shower.

One question is uppermost in our minds; are the various men who move against the picture embarrassed by any rumors of their own misdeeds? Are they entirely pure? Are they doing this work because their office demands this line of activity, or because they feel in their hearts the necessity of it? Far be it from me to make accusation; but there are disturbing rumors afloat. Are we to trust art censorship to any but the most unsullied souls? Probably it were well not to dig too deep, seeking the mire: but this performance already stinks.

Dublin Core

Title

Public Censorship of Art

Subject

censorship

Description

An editorial by James William Pattison concerning the censorship of of September Morn.

Creator

James William Pattison

Source

Fine Arts Journal,

Date

1913-04-28

Rights

Text of editorial is now in the Public Domain.

Language

en

Contribution Form

Online Submission

No

Document Item Type Metadata

Text

All censors are obnoxious, as hated as the public headsmen. In England there is a censor of plays. He would not make the playwrights sore, but for his arbitrary and narrow point of view. Whatever else he is an educated man. In America we have men on the police force who have the oversight of pictures and are given absolute authority to act in any way their judgment dictates; that is, if they have any judgment at all. It is difficult to believe that the officer who descended upon poor little "A September Morning," and ordered her taken out of the photographer's window, for retirement to obscurity, acted thus purely from sense of duty. To be sure, we hear of policemen seeking notoreity, but, of course, nothing of this sort could possibly influence a Chicago policeman, whatever might happen in some other benighted city.

What then, is the picture, "A September Morning?" As we know it, it is a photographic reproduction of Paul Chabas' painting fromt he last Paris Salon. We see a charming young girl, still in her teens, who has ventured into the lake for an early dip. Not having quite considered the morning chill of the season, she stands in shallowed water and tries to protect herself from the air by folding hands and arms about her body. The attitude she takes almost precludes the possibility of calling the figure "nude," because so much covered and concealed. So coy and modest, so absolutely pure, so devoid of coquetry; why find fault with that which is faultless? Scarcely more than a child why accuse her of evil intentions? There is hardly a boy in the country who might not easily see his sister in a similar state, nor think evil of it.

His Honor, the Mayor, rules, that his support of the policeman's action was not because the picture is a nude, that he had no objections to its sale, but he did not think it should be displayed in a store window for children to see. While we comprehend His Honor's point of view, it may be that he is mistaken. All boys are alert to make merry over an unusual situation, and the assembled youngsters doubtless had their jokes. There certainly is nothing about the figure to excite merriment or any other feeling, so absolutely unconscious is the little lady. In a lifelong experience with boys and girls in the presence of nude figures, I have never known any harm coming to them because of familiarity with clean pictures, nude or other. A host of boys and girls, many of them young, have grown up in life classes, and gone out into the wide world. Many of them I knew well. Have these proved themselves to be good citizens? They are they salt of the earth and are doing magnificent educational work. I believe that boys and girls "find themselves" much more quickly when made familiar with the nude in art, and my own girls are destined to pass through this experience.

The noteworthy fact is that this little September Morn girl is so unconscious; not a suggestive movement about her. If the censors wish to arrest men who show designedly suggestive pictures, secretly, in a backroom, good can be done. The secret showing of these things is, in itself, a vulgarity, rotten and harmful. But this gem of art; who wants to banish this to the background? To this painting was given, this year, the great Medal of Honor, the highest rank in the gift of the Paris Salon. For years Chabas has climbed up step by step and now has reached the top. Only one higher rank can come to him and that is not a Salon Honor, but a National position, gained through the votes of the exclusive members of the Institute of France. It is a reproduction of this honored picture which a policeman persecutes. Some one may say, "But it is probable that our police censor knew nothing about Chabas or his standing in the world." Oh, shame! He should know. What business has this good, but misguided man, to flash his star over a fine picture of which he knows nothing at all? Censorship of such works should be handled carefully and prayerfully, and only by those who know. Are Chicagoans to be disgraced, in the eyes of the world, by such an ignoramus? And, how far is he going with his meddling? If such an one carries out this project once, what may he not do on a second provocation? Nude or draped, the evil in any picture lies in the intention to make it evil and to awaken lewd thoughts. This may be on the part of the artist or some person who may have the handling of the picture.

The nudity of itself is not suggestive. A wicked suggestion may be designedly attached to a picture by any vulgar person. But our little girl furnishes no such suggestion. She is as unconscious as a bathing bird which seeks refreshment in the rain water left by a passing shower.

One question is uppermost in our minds; are the various men who move against the picture embarrassed by any rumors of their own misdeeds? Are they entirely pure? Are they doing this work because their office demands this line of activity, or because they feel in their hearts the necessity of it? Far be it from me to make accusation; but there are disturbing rumors afloat. Are we to trust art censorship to any but the most unsullied souls? Probably it were well not to dig too deep, seeking the mire: but this performance already stinks.

Original Format

Magazine Article

Citation

James William Pattison, "Public Censorship of Art," in September Morn Archive, Item #64, http://septembermorn.org/items/show/64 (accessed July 21, 2017).