Thursday, January 8, 2015

Freedom of Sketch

-By Lauren Panepinto

I was going to continue my Seven Deadly (Art) Sins series, but something more important came up. Unless you've been hiding in a cave (a cave that has wifi strong enough to read this?) you know about the terrorist attack on the french satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I didn't think I had a lot to contribute to the conversation, other than to add my horror to the mass outpouring of shock and support from the art community. At least, not until I saw a few "friends" popping up on Facebook saying a magazine that existed only to offend and piss people off was asking for it and sure, freedom of speech and all, but they should have known better, they went too far. They posted covers of Charlie Hebdo that were absolutely offensive to me personally. Don't I agree that they went too far just for the sake of going too far?


Freedom of speech is a right that we, especially in most of the first world countries, hold sacred. We think it is a god-given right. It is not. It is a precious, fragile thing that needs constant defense. I feel especially strongly about this as it applies to the art world, and I support the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) every chance I get, because they remind me that even in this country our freedom to make art is threatened every day.

Freedom of speech is a right that trumps freedom from being offended. Every time.

Neil Gaiman, of course, states all this much better than I can in his 2008 blog post "Why Defend Icky Speech?":

"If you accept — and I do — that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't. This is how the Law is made. People making art find out where the limits of free expression are by going beyond them and getting into trouble. 
The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible. 
You ask, what makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you're going to have to stand up for stuff you don't believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don't, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person's obscenity is another person's art.

Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost."

Weapons of Choice (green of course) #jesuischarlie


  1. I agree totally with you Lauren. I couldn't have said it better...

  2. As French I feel really hurt by what happened in Paris yesterday.
    Do I agree with all that was published in Charlie Hebdo ? Of course not ! Sometime they went too far, but you can disagree, you can insult what they published, that's your right.
    Does that mean that you have the right to kill people ?
    Those who think "YES", whether Muslim or Jewish or Christian or from a political or ideologic group, are BLIND people, are WEAK people.
    Yesterday 4 cartoonists died because of the intolerance of some people.
    R.I.P. CABU, WOLINSKY, CHARB and all the victims of the barbary

    1. I just come back on the subject to give you the link on a video on Youtube, that explain a little what is (was?) Charlie Hebdo to people that don't understand French

  3. We should not be reckless with our rights & freedoms. They must not intrude on others.

    They all come with duties as well. We can not just stand there saying "I demand clean drinking water, it is my right!", because otherwise the reply is: "Fine, drink that filthy river water or ... start digging."

    Etiquette was introduced into this world to make living side-by-side with so many other humans possible. Take care in what you say or do (or paint or sketch or sculpt or...) - I had to learn that on this very blog. So must others in their own avenues.

    The artists and publishers of Hebdo did not deserve what happened (not the 2 police officers) but they also do not deserve being painted as 'The Knights of Freedom' ... they were not interested in easing the tensions between cultures, rather the opposite.


    1. (NOR the 2 police officers)

    2. I don't know, I think it took an amazing degree of bravery for them to continue to do what they did, especially after their office had been firebombed before. If their goal was ONLY to insult people, do you think that was something anyone would have felt was worth risking their lives for? They had to know, every day they went to work, that today might be the day they were attacked again.

      I don't agree with a lot of what their paper said, but I absolutely believe a few people taking a stand way out on the edge of freedom are the ones who protect the boundaries of that freedom, while the rest of us are much more happy to stay more safely in the margins.

    3. And who would your etiquette police be?

    4. Nicolay, It's a slippery slope you're treading on.

      I'm reminded of one Larry Flint. He thought of himself as just such a "Knight of Freedom" and I can assure you, his publications had nothing to do with etiquette or easing tensions between cultures.

    5. I'm sorry you feel that way. I happen to disagree with you, Nicolay.

      Religion is, for the most purposes, an idea, and as an idea it can't beyond scrutiny, being satirized or criticized, no matter how offensive someone who follows a religion may feel, because some do not. And the right to religious freedom means being free to celebrate it as well as the right not to do so if you choose to. It doesn't equate to the right to not be satirized.

      Cartoons are a celebration of free speech because they have the ability to make us laugh, think and criticize serious issues, whether political, sociological or religious.

      Freedom of speech or religion was never breached through the magazine's publications, no matter how distasteful one might think their cartoons were. Murder however breaches those rights (by imposing someone's religious views on their victims) and by obviously attempting to restrict free speech to what some deem appropriate or not.

      As for "easing tensions between cultures" - fundamentalism does not express a culture, nor I believe expresses the majority of people who wish to pursue their faith in peace. And to those who don't we most certainly must not bow down our heads, much like the people who died never did, even after a former attack and numerous threats.

    6. Food for thought Nicolay.
      Your comments were aimed at the wrong people. Turn them 180 degrees
      Murder is far more intrusive than words or pictures that are not agreed with.

      "...they were not interested in easing the tensions between cultures, rather the opposite."
      makes perfect sense aimed at the terrorists.

    7. Thanks David.
      My comments are directed at everyone, however. A voice calling for diplomacy, moderation and mutual respect of each other's values ... its hardly a terrible thing. Nor does it suggest a life of bowed heads or living on one's knees.

    8. I don't believe anyone has a right to never be offended at the expense of free speech, and I believe that is what you are suggesting. 'Freedom of speech just as long as it doesn't intrude on others' is a contradiction.

    9. You're right that Hebdo may well have created friction with the Muslim population, but when you say they must not intrude on others, what rights did Hebdo intrude on? Publishing things which people find offensive doesn't prevent those people publishing counter articles (which most people would see as the reasonable response), nor does it prevent people from following any faith they wish or violate any other right that people have.

      Freedom of speech is a right, freedom not to be offended is not. Freedom of speech offending you is not an infringement of any right, whether that freedom of speech is considered good etiquette or not

  4. "I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”
    –Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
    —Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    Good post, Lauren. Je suis Charlie.

    1. Exactly. As usual, you & I are on the same page. And generally with much more cursing than Dan allows us to print on Muddy Colors, lol

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  6. In this incidence, it matters not if you agree or disagree with a said creative expression, for what's important is purely the freedom to express it, despite individual preferences and preserving that freedom is our only duty worth defending. Etiquette Schmedtiquette. This is Hitler, only global. You would never say that is was really impolite of Yamasaki to design the Twin Towers as monstrous symbols of western wealth and therefore ever so slightly (self righteously from afar) deserving? Of course not. What's been attacked is art as a symbol - building, poem, sketch, comic - the form is irrelevant, for we are human, with varying moral compasses, which is all the more reason to defend, above all else, expression as a symbol of freedom. After all, Isis could have chosen to draw a massacre. Now that would have been polite.

  7. Very well said Lauren.

    Nicolay, I respectfully disagree with you when you say, "freedoms must not intrude on others". I do agree that people should use responsibility. Should. It's a judgment call but not a must. We live in a hyper-sensitive age where people actively look for things to be offended by. If the art community begin to produce paintings, music, film and poetry that is safe for the masses I certainly don't want to be a part of it. Once you succumb to religious zealots, what's next? (and there will be a next) Once you allow people to decide what you can and cannot express as an artist, I think you will find that it's a floodgate.

  8. I don't really understand Nicolay's comment.
    I have considered it seriously though...
    If someone jokes that my wife's an ugly/dumb expletive I would take offence, but I still wouldn't bomb or shoot them because I'm not a humourless idiot.

    Along with most people in the UK, I see ALL deities as fictional characters, which makes being polite about them seem kinda weird, more so if it's really only a fake politeness enforced by fear of reprisals. Do any religious people really want that? I suspect, those with good judgement don't. Clearly religious terrorists, almost by definition, don't have good judgement, which I guess is what allows them to pursue such self-contradictory nonsense.

    btw: Harry Potter's lame!- there, I said it out loud too and I'm still here! ribbit ribbit croak

    1. i somewhat understand his comment.
      it seems a bit hard to to stand behind them as a rally cry or banner of free speech when a lot of what they printed was apparently pretty offensive regardless of agreeing that they most certainly shouldn't have been killed for it and were within their rights to print what they did. while i wholeheartedly agree that they shouldn't have been killed, to use them as banners of free speech feels a little like throwing some support in favor of being blatantly offensive without regard to other people which also doesn't seem like a good thing to me. so in my eyes it makes the whole situation one big sad FUBAR thing.

      like most of us on the internet i'm not entirely sure that your wife isn't a fictional character.
      still though i think it'd be a pretty douche baggy thing for me to joke that she's an "ugly/dumb expletive." obviously no one is going to marry someone they think is.
      it has been my experience that if you like/love someone you do enjoy the sight of them and find it hard to think of them as dumb even if they aren't the sharpest tool in the shed. after all there are probably other good things about them that you rather enjoy if you married her.
      for the sake of this string of keyboard finger vomit if you made her up it seems likely that you would do so having various traits that you yourself value which would still be spitting on your values if i made mean jokes about her.

      i'm a Christian. i believe it was everyone's God given choice to believe what they choose to.
      a fake politeness enforced by fear? no thanks. i certainly don't want that but i do think there's something to be said about trying not to offend people just because it's a good thing to do even in cases where people disagree with each other. this doesn't mean that i think it's not OK to talk about things we disagree about. i just think it should be done with more tact and respect than being blatantly offensive.

      i do agree religious terrorists lack good judgement. i also think they either start ignoring parts of their religion and/or twisting them to justify their actions to themselves.

      btw: how dare you sir! i just finished reading the Harry Potter books and i quite enjoyed them! i am horribly offended that you don't share my taste in literature and demand recompense!

  9. Thank you Lauren. You must be willing to protect the speech that you disagree with, otherwise there is no freedom.

  10. Thank you, Lauren. I completely agree. I do need to add though, that this kind of violence associated with "defending" a deity is nearly exclusive to radical Islam. (If Christians behaved in the same manner in this day and age, the creators of "Family Guy" would all be dead by now.) Makes one wonder how strong any deity is that would need to be defended like this by mere humans, no? William is right. You can't only protect speech you agree with, or groups who have beliefs that you share. The larger question is, how much freedom can be eradicated by the threat of violence? Europe has a more acute threat at the moment, but America won't be immune, either. This is a literal war on "apostates" that has been going on for hundreds of years. It won't end soon.

    1. hahaha, just because Christianity isn't the bloodiest religion right now doesn't mean it still isn't way ahead in disbeliever-body-counts over the course of history. It's not one religion or another that is at fault, it is fundamentalism. fundamentalism and extremism. I don't care what anyone believes, let it be muslim, christian, vegan, whatever — my problem is when they have to evangelize. Especially when they evangelize with violence.

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    3. Somehow this post seems to have veered far from the topic of fantastic art. But since we're there...

      "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion."

      I disagree.

      Zealots come in many flavors and have throughout history. Their leaders use a variety of philosophies to promote their agendas. It is true that religion has been used to promote violence, as it is a powerful influencer of human behavior. But just looking in recent history we have the Stalinist/Soviet oppressions under which millions died, Nazi-ism, which may have appealed to religion but was fundamentally a nationalistic/racial movement, and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia where millions were tortured and died.

      No, violence, extremism, fear, hate are about the dark side of human nature, not about religion. If religion were not available other reasons would have been used for historical violence.

      In my view of history religion is generally a tremendous force for civilization and the source of many of the positive principles and practices we now take for granted in the world. Look at the teachings themselves, and decide whether they promote bad or good, not how those ideas may be twisted by bad people.

    4. I agree, unfortunately. Maybe the quote is better said for good people to do evil — that takes fanaticism?

    5. Also, Im not sure it has strayed far from the fantastic…we're talking about drawings of religious figures…could also apply to cthulhu!

      Also, I have a whole treatise in my head about how SFF fans are more likely to be agnostic and atheist, and instead of getting their morality and community from religion, they get it from SFF…but that's a whole OTHER post.

    6. I've said in various interviews through the years that all religious art, regardless of faith, is fantasy art. The interviewers have always gone immediately silent for a few beats before quickly changing the subject. :-)

  11. I believe the world would be a better place if we all did a little light reading of Joseph Campbell and comparative religion. When you have an open mind, you can't help but see that the stories we tell ourselves to get through life (whether we call them religion, mythology, or scifi/fantasy) have more in common than have differences to fight over. There is no new idea in any religion worshipped today, it is all rehashes of the first cave-paintings and stories told over the fires at the dawn of man. It is ridiculous to me that anyone is so convinced they are not only right, but uniquely right, in their beliefs that they need to kill people who do not agree their way of thought.

    “Myth is what we call other people's religion.” —Joseph Campbell

  12. Thank you for sharing this Lauren! I couldn't agree with you more. This freedom is the very foundation of our culture and must be defended. If not we invite fear and tyranny to rule our lives, and very thoughts. I pray we all find the courage to stand against this very dangerous and scary threat to liberty that many people likely do not fully grasp.

  13. I am a Bible-beliving, conservative, born-again Christian. To many I would be considered a radical religious, right wing nutjob. (Honestly, I've been called worse.)

    And I must say that the folks at Charlie Hebdo, and many people right here in the States, have published extremely offensive things directed at my faith and my God. In fact, it seems at times on a daily basis. BUT, never have I ever, ever wished any of them any harm, but I truly believe in freedom.

    True freedom includes the right to be offense, and sometimes to say really dumb things, and NOT have to fear for your life.

    That being said, there is also a reluctance to call out those that hate such freedom. It enrages me to hear such an outpouring of grief, but an inability to mention the words Muslim, Islam, Mohammed, or even terrorist. How on earth can we defend our freedom if we are not even able to name those who seek to strip them from us?

    Chesterton once said: "It's not that we don't have enough scoundrels to curse; it's that we don't have enough good men to curse them."

    …He's right.

  14. I'm with Douglas and Pheston on this score.

  15. "I don't care what anyone believes, let it be muslim, christian, vegan, whatever — my problem is when they have to evangelize."

    But Lauren, everyone evangelizes. The very quote above is a statement of faith on your part (i.e., your belief) that you are sharing with us because presumably A) you believe it is true, and B) you believe others should believe it as true also. Otherwise, why on earth would you say it?

    You share your opinions and views with us because you want to influence us, or galvanize us, or convince us on some level. In short, you are proslytising. Sharing your message.

    But that's the very spice of life. To engage other human beings, and to discuss their core beliefs is really all that matters. Much much more than talking about the latest Hollywood bomb, or even techniques on painting. To share your deepest beliefs is why we are here.

    I embrace it. It gives me an opportunity to not only to influence another life in the way I think is right, but also to have my own beliefs challenged, examined, and yes, even changed. (For the better I hope.)

    Life is too short not to hear other views, because it is the height of arrogance to think that we have it all down. We listen, we learn, we accept or reject, and we grow. …That's life.

    1. I think there is a difference, perhaps, in our definitions of evangelize, and perhaps you're right, in the actual definition of the term. I DO put my beliefs out there, as I do completely feel everyone has the right to. However, I do not coerce or force anyone into agreeing with me. I feel like many religions do take a step over that line and try to force their beliefs on others. But let's be fair. So do most vegans, ha. If I used "evangelize" inaccurately, then what would your word for it be? because to me, evangelize means taking that step between "stating your beliefs publicly" into "trying to convince others" and thats where things go wrong for me.

    2. Well… Let me back up a bit… If you KNEW something to be true, and you thought it would benefit me, would you care enough to tell me?

      From the Christian perspective, that's all it is. We share the Gospel (which literally means "good news") because we believe it is true, and believe that it will benefit you, as it has benefited us. That's all. IF ANY coercing or forcing has been applied then that message has now been poisoned, because the only faith worth having is one that is freely chosen. (A lot like love.)

      We are all trying to reach one another, and evangelize each other with our own good news, be they secular, theistic, or what have you.

      And yes, some religious folks- again, be they secular or theistic- go too far. Using threats, or guilt, or any number of ways to force their beliefs on others, and we should take great care to root that garbage out. But we don't want to toss the baby out with the bathwater, and lump in people who just want to share their views in good faith, and respect freedom enough to not take offense if you choose to reject their faith, oppose their faith, or simply get up and walk away.

      I understand your feeling, I was there once myself, but I've come to actually enjoy the wrestling of world views. Call me crazy, but I get a kick out of it.

      What other word would I use? I dunno… proselytize? But that's kinda the same.


    3. I believe with putting truth (as you believe it) out there for people to take up or not as they see fit. I do that with the Drawn + Drafted project, and even with this blog. Share info that has helped me. If that is religious knowledge, fine. I have no problem with that. There's a line, though, that many people cross, that you are pushing your beliefs upon people, and that's where I draw the line. I write these Muddy Colors articles mostly on topics people consistently ask me about. And when people ask me about these topics again, I have a place to refer them to. But I don't say anyone HAS TO read these articles, and I go to great pains to say this is only one of many ways that might work. If a religion sticks to that kind of attitude, I'm all for it.

      Religion, to me, is one way, among many, that people use to get through this very confusing existence. It's not the tool I choose to use, but it can be a valid long as you are not stopping others from finding and choosing what works for them.

  16. Is telling the world "I am Charlie" really standing up for freedom of speech?

    Or is it, while exasperating Muslims against the West and even against Christians (who have over and over again also been offended by the mag), turning away attention from more important issues of freedom of speech?

    Saudi Arabian and Egyptian officials were seen in the march beside François Hollande - while Saudi Arabia is friday after friday flogging Raeef Badawi and an Egyptian man rich enough to buy real estate in Austria just after buying "found out" there was a Crucifix on the road, and then asked everyone to do sth about it and then sawed it down himself with a chain saw.

    He is only getting slightly inconvenienced and not even sent back to Egypt for it - and how can you criticise Egypt these days without "not being Charlie"?

    I saw a comment, not sure yet if it was a misunderstanding or not, where it was stated that an Apocalypse film was getting released (the kind where FEMA men are used to force Christians to take the Mark of the Beast), and just before release the film maker and his family were found dead. Do you know if "found dead" is true or was my FB friend misunderstanding sth?

    Religion, to me, is one way, among many, that people use to get through this very confusing existence. It's not the tool I choose to use, but it can be a valid long as you are not stopping others from finding and choosing what works for them.

    If what "works for" some is sorcery or blasphemy, I do think they ought to be stopped. Meanwhile, we are not right now doing that and those who are stopping others from finding and choosing what works for them are as often as not Atheists.

    Can you imagine a Christian describing the "Hobbit house" in Wales as destroying the countryside? Just because it doesn't fit his plan for the countryside?

    That is the kind of thing Commies in the Soviet were doing at least half of the time.

    And today, obviously, they are CHARLIE.

    It is not a question of standing up for CHARLIE now so CHARLIE can stand up for oneself tomorrow or so the officials trying to stop CHARLIE must step back.

    For one thing, making huge parades about a thing impress diverse actors diversely.

    Walk for salt by Gandhi did impress Britain. Students on Square of Heavenly Peace did not impress Communist China - though their brutality backfired elsewhere, against Communism. China still has no real freedom of speech, only more freedom for businessmen. And the 4 millions marching for CHARLIE were not what the terrorists were interested in and will probably not impress them the next time either. BUT the "threat of terrorism" (though it didn't stop the march for CHARLIE) has stopped a parade against Muslims in Germany - through security measures saying "there is a terrorist threat against this march of yours, we can't allow it".

    So, getting excited about CHARLIE probably is behaving like a bull going after the red cloak and ignoring where the real danger is.

    Funny enough you mentioned an argument I had against Mgr Williamson who said Usama can no way have planned the 9-11 attacks - by restating his point:

    Unless you've been hiding in a cave (a cave that has wifi strong enough to read this?)

    Obviously, if Usama was hiding in a cave, and there "was no wifi", he made sure there was a cable connexion, not clearly visible from satellites perhaps, but not cutting him off from action either.

    1. I'm sorry, that was a little ranty, I am not sure I'm getting your point...that there is worse going on in the world than this terrible incident? absolutely. does it mean we shouldn't stand together in horror and support of the fellow artists who were killed because elsewhere more people have been hurt? absolutely not.

  17. How does parading support them?

    Their freedom of speech is used as a smokescreen WHILE France is attacking freedom of speech of non-professionally-published - especially school boys or perhaps even school girls.

    That is what I meant with a bull going after red cloak while ignoring real threat.

    AND the parades have been used to make a show of Saudi Arabia standing with France, while it is persecuting a blogger ten thousand times worthier if free speech than Charlie Hebdo.

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