To the editor: After a local group complained that a mural at a Koreatown public school was unacceptably offensive because it evoked the battle flag of imperial Japanese forces, the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to remove the work of art. Now, the artist is stunned — with good reason!
All art is an expression of an artist’s experience, feelings, intent and impressions. It starts a conversation with the viewer who brings to it her or his own expressions, feelings, intent and impressions. There will be many reactions, many conversations, many opinions. It’s what makes art so vibrant, so valuable.
One group cannot invalidate the art. It halts the conversation for everybody and mutes the artist. Yes, sometimes those who experience the art are disturbed, but whitewashing it will not solve this dilemma. This artist did not willfully convey a message of division and hurt. His intent was to honor a person and a time in history. The art piece needs to be viewed as the tribute it was meant to be.
While I recognize that unwelcome associations might be evoked by an image, these associations do not render an art piece a candidate for obliteration. They can, however, open a door to new information and understanding.
Karen Scott Browdy, Fillmore
To the editor: The comparison by school administrator Roberto Martinez of artist Beau Stanton’s mural to Confederate statues is disturbing.
Confederate statues intentionally commemorate a culture that supported slavery and segregation. They remind people that the prejudices behind them still exist and are ingrained in local governments that should protect and represent all citizens.
Stanton’s mural only unintentionally resembles an offensive symbol. Martinez implies that those who find “beauty” in a Confederate statue have made an an aesthetic choice, and that the feelings about those statues are as arbitrary as those evoked by art.
If there’s going to be a rational discussion about the mural, those having it need a basic understanding of art, history and censorship.
Maureen Milliken, Belgrade Lakes, Maine
To the editor: I’m a writer who teaches in the L.A. Unified School District.
Decades ago, riding a bus in the South of France, the man seated beside me, to whom I confided my literary ambitions, wrote down something for me that Jean Cocteau had told him: “Art should disturb. Astonish me.”
Now, in the controversy over the Stanton mural, an administrator has offered a more placid definition: “Art is intended to celebrate the human spirit, not to offend the community.” The mural will be erased.
But it’s not the art, it’s the neighborhood. Some residents are offended by the mural, which they say recalls something horrific in their past. The question is, will we have a neighborhood-by-neighborhood definition of art, driven by an ever-shifting critical mass of shared ethnic and cultural experiences?
I could never in good conscience teach such an idea to my students.
Mitch Paradise, Los Angeles
To the editor: The mural in question is a typical example of “psychedelic” art. Peter Max was one of the most notable artists who used these kinds of colorful sun rays in many paintings.
Can we really ban an entire genre of art simply because one of its elements is somewhat similar to a politically offensive flag? Can I, as a Jew, ask that any piece of art that shows a yellow star be banned?
Shouldn’t there be some sort of connection between the intent of the artist and the reason that people are taking offense to the art?
David Del Bourgo, Woodland Hills
To the editor: Has no one suggested repainting just the background? Seems like the obvious win-win solution.
Larry Dick, Huntington Beach