Banned Books Week, you say? People objecting to words, you say? But what about paintings and sculptures and songs? Oh my! That’s right, Banned Books Week starts today, and in honor of the occasion, we wanted to take a look at other art forms that have suffered--and succeeded--because of censorship.
Take music, for example. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) lists 40 banned or censored songs, including classics like Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Nearly all the songs on the list--which does not include every banned or censored song--went on to become popular and well-known.
Although censorship in art is nothing new--perhaps even going as far back as cave drawings found in Lascaux, France--and the reasons are plenty, one main theme that landsart in the banned category is nudity. The most famous of paintings--from Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” to Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” to Edouard Manet’s “Olympia”--have been both controversial and remembered because of their depicted nudity and the furious reactions of viewers of their times. “Olympia”, for instance, was allowed into the Paris salon of 1865, but it had to be guarded by police to protect it from “furious bystanders who flooded the show.” (Huffington Post, January 2015)
But let us not forget the reason we started this conversation: banned books. The American Library Association compiles several lists of banned books, from the 100 most banned 1990-1999 and 2000-2009 to a top 10 banned books list for every year since 2000. Taking a glance at the 1990-1999 list, it’s hard not to notice some very famous names and titles: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; Carrie by Stephen King; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck; James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Once again, it begs the question: did the challenges of these books really hurt them?
So during this annual banned books week, grab a challenged book you haven’t read--or maybe you have but it’s been awhile--or go to a museum or a concert and experience the freedom of expression that’s all around us.
Check our list of books, including several gorgeous art books and two guidebooks on responsibly enjoying alcohol (hey, it was banned once and how well did that work out?!), and celebrate this Banned Books Week.