Are wedding cakes & photos commodities, or are they art?

When atheists object to a monument of the Ten Commandments, I have argued that it should be defended as a work of art.  And to the reply that non-religious people find it offensive, say, “art is supposed to be offensive.”  As we see in the futile attempts to ban controversial art works, art is pretty much sacrosanct and courts have ruled that it is thoroughly protected under the First Amendment as “free speech.”

Those Christian bakers and photographers who object to taking part in gay weddings are being charged with discrimination, as if creating culinary sculptures and expressive photographs were commercial commodities, on the order of selling products in a grocery store.  But what if the cakes and photos are works of art?  Artistic expression, even when it is paid for, cannot be coerced or constrained.

This is the argument now being made in the courts.  So far, unsuccessfully, though bakers and photographers have long insisted that their work is a creative, expressive, and aesthetic art form.

I wonder if a composer, or a portrait painter, or a poet would have to accept a commission from a gay couple.  Would gay artists in any of these forms be required to provide their services for a group they deem homophobic?  As I’ve asked before, does a rock musician’s refusal to allow his music to be played at a Donald Trump rally constitute discrimination against someone for his political beliefs? Would an atheist filmmaker who refuses to make promotional videos for a church be discriminating on the basis of religion?

At any rate, the legal debate over “what is art” is just getting started.  Can anyone help in drawing the lines?  See the legal wrangling after the jump. [Read more…]

The artistic freedom of musicians and bakers

Liberal musicians have long objected to their work being used by conservative politicians.  And, as the link shows, they usually get their way.  After all, artists should have the freedom not to have their creative work employed in a cause they do not believe in.

So why don’t the culinary artists who make wedding cakes have that same freedom? [Read more…]

Tolerance vs. other liberties?

The University of Michigan was going to screen the Academy-Award-nominated American Sniper, but then cancelled it when students launched a petition claiming the movie was intolerant of Muslims.  But then other students launched a counter-petition saying that the university should show the movie in the name of artistic liberty and the freedom of expression.  Whereupon the university cancelled its cancellation and agreed to show the movie after all.

But the incident shows that the principle of tolerance above all can be used for many different purposes.  A consensus seems to be emerging that tolerance should trump religious liberty.  Might the demand for tolerance also be used to trump other civil liberties?

Freedom of Speech is arguably already muted by speech codes.  I suspect that we need to formally and legally work out the boundaries between tolerance and civil liberties.  Any ideas about how to draw those lines? [Read more…]

Tweaking movies for China

Hollywood talks a lot about artistic freedom, but the prospect of reaching the vast market that is China trumps concerns like that.  To get past the still-Communist censors, movie-makers make all kinds of changes. [Read more…]