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Censorship in the Arts  
 
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Since recorded history, governments, religious authorities, and self-appointed arbiters of morality have attempted to regulate what individuals think and believe, read and write, see and depict. Sexuality of all kinds has been a prime subject of regulation and censorship, and homosexuality, the "crime not to be named among Christians" and "the Love that dare not speak its name," has been particularly so.

Censorship and Its Consequences

The history of censorship in the arts includes such incidents as the placing of fig-leaves over the genitalia of Renaissance masterpieces, the confiscation by governmental agencies of art works such as the paintings of D. H. Lawrence, the destruction of "degenerate art" by the Nazis in Hitler-era Germany, the banning of books such as Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) in England and Allen Ginsberg's Howl (1956) in the United States, and the denial of public funds to "promote homosexuality" or public space to exhibit sympathetic depictions of gay male and lesbian art and theater.

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It includes both the criminalization of particular sexual images and the introduction of informal codes of censorship, such as the Motion Picture Production Code that restricted positive depictions of homosexuality by Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Until 1958, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the magazine One was not "obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy" simply because it discussed homosexuality, the distribution of work with homosexual content, even when it was not sexually explicit, was dangerous, even in the Western democracies.

Photographic images of nude men and women, whether or not they were engaged in erotic activities, were routinely confiscated and destroyed, and the creators and distributors often prosecuted.

Perhaps even more invidious than the official censorship enforced by governments is the self-censorship performed by gay and lesbian writers and artists themselves as a consequence of a pervasive climate of censorship and .

Realizing the danger of open homosexual expression, many gay and lesbian artists have in effect placed their artistic imaginations in the closet. They have sometimes destroyed their "private" art out of well-justified fear, and they have frequently made decisions to avoid homosexual subject matter in their art.

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit depictions of sexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed, especially if it deals sympathetically with homosexuality or conveys positive images of glbtq people and culture.

Although censorship is by no means a thing of the past, in general the climate of censorship has alleviated since the 1960s. Consequently, there is a great deal of difference between the level of explicitness in gay and lesbian art work created before the lessening of censorship as a consequence of the (hetero)sexual revolution of the 1960s and art that was created afterwards.

Pre-Stonewall art (work produced prior to the 1969 Stonewall uprising that inaugurated the more militant phase of the gay rights movement) dealing with homosexual subject matter is typically covert or indirect. Artists were forced to adopt strategies of concealment in order to avoid controversy or possibly even imprisonment. The meaning of their work is often discernible only through a decoding of signs and signals, or by reading the art in terms of the artists' biographies.

Conversely, an overt, even confrontational stance is much more common for post-Stonewall gay and lesbian artists. The imagery they employ is more often explicit and unguarded. They are increasingly likely to create openly homosexual work, just as they increasingly are able to conduct their lives openly.

In many parts of the world, censorship continues to be a major impediment to gay and lesbian artistic expression. In the United States and the Western democracies, however, efforts at censorship have become somewhat more subtle, often centering on questions of the public support for art and on the protection of the innocence of children rather than involving outright bans against the creation or distribution of gay or lesbian art.

It is important to note that sometimes censorship obtains the desired effect: the art is destroyed and the artist is reduced to silence or his or her vision is inhibited. But in other instances censorship backfires, causing an image to attract wider attention than it would ever have attained had it been ignored. Thus, sometimes attempts at censorship only encourage additional subversive art.

Pre-Stonewall Censorship in the Arts

There are some striking examples of the suppression and censorship of pre-Stonewall artists' work with homoerotic content. One involves the painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935), who is perhaps best known for his landscapes of industrial America, featuring bridges, grain silos, factories, and so on. These landscapes earned him a reputation as an important artist.

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Paul Cadmus's controversial painting, The Fleet's In! (1933).
  
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