Facebook, Curator of Culture

As the Academy makes its first bold forays into the expanding worlds of social media, we find ourselves reeling from a recent exchange with facebook, and on the edge of an interesting debate. 

It’s not “Contemporary vs. Traditional” or “Disegno vs. Colore.”  It’s much more universal and it drives to the heart of the age-old dialogue in visual culture: What is Art?

Just today, facebook alerted me that an image which violates their Terms of Use was removed from the New York Academy of Art’s facebook page. This image – a drawing by Steven Assael (see below) – is in an exhibition curated by the Academy and shown at the Eden Rock Gallery in St. Barth’s. 


And this isn’t the first time...  Alyssa Monks (MFA 2001) was censored by facebook, too. 
(Also read Huffington Post’s comments.) How does the de-facebooking of other works of fine art connect to the recent decision by the Smithsonian to remove David Wojnarowicz’s artwork from the National Portrait Gallery’s online and on-site exhibition?

As an institution of higher learning with a long tradition of upholding the art world’s “traditional values and skills,” we, the Graduate School of Figurative Art, find it difficult to allow facebook to be the final arbiter – and online curator – of the artwork we share with the world.

Steven Assael, "Simone" ink on paper.
Artwork image removed by facebook from the 
Academy's display of an exhibition on facebook. 

If it begins with Steven Assael, a modern master, who's next? Is it Kurt Kauper? (His drawing is still on facebook.) And then… must we censor artworks by our own MFA graduates? In this online kingdom in which facebook seems to rule, allegedly as a tool of universal communication and equal opportunity advancement, how shall the New York Academy of Art continue to impartially promote its under-recognized artists?  

If facebook is a new online Salon de Paris, where a faceless group of “curators” determine what artwork the public should see, well then please consider our website the Salon des Refus├ęs!  

And so we now ask: How is FACEBOOK controlling ART?

38 comments:

  1. How ignorant--send them a copy of Kenneth Clark's "The Nude" for starters.

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  2. "How does the de-facebooking of other works of fine art connect to the recent decision by the Smithsonian to remove David Wojnarowicz’s artwork from the National Portrait Gallery’s online and on-site exhibition?"

    Poorly. Look, whatever you think of Facebook's policy to prohibit nude depictions on the site (I think it's silly), the objective exercising of that public policy even with regard to artwork, is not remotely analogous to Wayne Clough's cowardly decision to overrule his curators, and remove a work that was already on view, based not on an infraction of existing policy but entirely on political pressure from people who had not even seen the work in the first place. What Facebook is doing is dumb but justifiable based on an objective reading of terms and conditions to which all Facebook users sign on. What Clough did was cowardly. We should all make an effort to be conscious of the clear difference between the two.

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  3. Eventually an institution that is pro nudes being displayed on FB is going to have to step up to the plate and bring this issue up in court. It's possibly the only way this censoring will end. Maybe all the museums and art schools from around the world can pitch in and jointly tackle this monster.

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  4. ... on a positive note: Seeing uncensored art will become prevalent in our society of "gotta-see-it-now". Art lovers, enthusiasts, patrons, students, and professionals will be forced to go to museums, galleries and studios in order to enjoy the artwork the way it was intended to be experienced. Eureka!

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  5. A disallowing of nudes is no new story. You'll find it in many, especially older, institutions in New York. I exhibited in a show at Lincoln Center's Cork Gallery (rooty-toot), in fact, that had such a policy and turned down my initial submission of a nude. It was easier to just submit a different picture.

    A gallery or website should be allowed to exhibit, or exclude, whatever it wants to. Exhibitors--including the Academy--regularly reserve the right to disallow any given work from an exhibit. I do think, though, that disallowing nudes is more than a bit Victorian in 21st century Western culture, and the wisest response is to rigorously support venues with more enlightened policies.

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  6. New York Academy Alumni Richard Scott has written an excellent article dealing with Facebook's censorship of art. Here is a link to the article:

    http://artbabel.blogspot.com/2011/01/sublime-or-shameless-facebook-censors.html

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  7. Per Adam's link, the Facebook policy as restated from an administrator: Our policy prohibits photos of actual nude people, not paintings or sculptures. We recognize that this policy might in some cases result in the removal of artistic works; however, it is designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users.

    So, no, Facebook is not controlling art. They are protecting themselves and their users. This is not a difficult case to understand.

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  8. Since this was first posted, artwork from two more Alumni - Richard T. Scott and John Wellington - has been removed from their facebook accounts. Along with Steven Assael's artwork, the Administrator of this blog has now posted both Richard and John's artwork in the body of the post, above.

    Following the comment threads after each artist posted a status report about their removed images, friends and fans of both artists have speculated on the protocol used for determining which images are removed. From "algorhythmic programming" to a "facebook censor control department" or even "a titty and crotch recognition program and it's nothing personal," and finally an inculpable "[facebook] depends on users [to report] violations," the criteria that surrounds how the images are "curated" seems indeterminable. Even while Anonymous (Feb 8, 2011 10:39 PM) posits that the policy "as restated by an administrator ... prohibits ... not paintings or sculptures," I have not been able to find where that policy is stated in facebook's labyrinthine Help Centre.

    Both Richard and John have indicated that there has been no way for them to dispute the issue, except for emailing info@facebook.com, which has not yet sent a response to Richard's inquiries. John says in his comment stream, "There is no one to take this up with - now that I've been warned twice I'm just deleting any paintings that they might find offensive. That some one is taking the time to tag my art and report it just amazes me." In addition, facebook has prohibited John from uploading more photos.

    In the back of my head, as I try to find connections, I wonder if reduction in arts-education and funding has rendered us less able to recognize and evaluate art as a whole. The title for this post "Facebook, Curator of Culture" may just be the textbook we are all reading.

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  9. I don't understand how a simple point can be lost so easily. Facebook is in the public domain.

    Simply put, they don't want to be sued by the hyper-conservative mother of a 8 year old for seeing some, in the parlance of our times, titties and crotches.

    True, anyone can walk into a gallery displaying nudes, just as anyone can stumble upon the NYAA Facebook page. However, one can not display art nudes on the street as that would violate public obscenity laws (S 235.20 Disseminating indecent material to minors; definitions of terms). Unfortunately, since Facebook is in the public domain, it's more akin to a street vendor displaying art, not a gallery.

    It may not make the clearest of sense or seem like common logic, but ultimately, Facebook does not care about art or to censor it. They care about selling ads and making money.

    Why not host images that you intend to display to Facebook on the NYAA server? Then, you can link images back without thumbnails, there by informing your Facebook page visitors that a new image has been posted and that people who wish to view it may do so by clicking a link.

    TL,DR: Facebook is (still) not controlling art.

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  10. Oddly enough, Steven's own facebook page photo sets are full of nude drawings and paintings.

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  11. Facebook is not trying to censor art. There is no way they can manage the amount of images coming in without making mistakes. It's not a portfolio site.

    But the government is looking to cut all funding to the NEA.

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  12. This happened to me just two days ago, for the image listed here.

    http://www.rolandmillington.com/fire/index.php?view=detail&id=97&option=com_joomgallery&Itemid=2

    Now, it's not a particularly amazing piece of art, however, it is a piece of art, and recognizable by anyone with even a modicum of training as a painting, and not a racy Hustler pinup.

    I sent a long and well-written message to Facebook (I have yet to hear back, and doubt that I will get anything even remotely resembling an apology.

    In lieu of the image (and partly due to my love of Monty Python) I posted this image instead, to replace the one for which Facebook slapped me on the hand and removed.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=199403820085016&set=a.198762233482508.61237.100000461974144

    Frankly, they have a Kohler ad running in their sidebar with a child without any pants on, yet they deem it important that there are no breasts on their site?

    They need to button up their policy, train the people who are implementing it, and position the necessary tools (checkmarks for artistic nudity and the ability to opt-out of viewing these things) and do it fast.

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  13. “... we, the Graduate School of Figurative Art, find it difficult to allow facebook to be the final arbiter – and online curator – of the artwork we share with the world.”

    What do you mean “allow facebook”? Why should facebook require your permission for anything?

    Why do you portray facebook as “the final arbiter” of the artwork you wish to share? They should be the final arbiter of what appears on their site without any interference from you. And you should be the final arbiter of what appears on your site. Why do you “find it difficult” to understand this concept?

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  14. Who cares facebook is just a herder of digital slaves run by a zuckerberg whos tole the company from his best friend and comes from zucker=sugar traders who run slave trade for centuries, so get out of it art has its own avenues

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  15. This is a publicity stunt by GSFA. No one forces you to use Facebook. If they make an exception for a "fine art nude" that looks photographic, how can they keep from having to allow fine art photographs that look like paintings. Then why not just allow anything? No nudes means no nudes. Pretty simple. Study common sense along with the art, kids.

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  16. Perhaps Facebook also needs to remember that the US is not the only audience it serves. It needs to be accommodating to laws in other countries in the same way that it was severely reprimanded and forced to make changes to comply with privacy laws in non-US jurisdictions.

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  17. FaceBook has every right to decide what it allows on its networks. If you don't like it, don't use it.

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  18. Margaret McCann said...
    How ignorant--send them a copy of Kenneth Clark's "The Nude" for starters.

    I agree, we must send send the company a copy of Clark's "The Nude" immediately and hope that they can implement an algorithm smart enough to understand each stroke and expression.

    Certainly, we must have advanced our technology so far that we no longer need humans behind computers to comb through the billions of photos uploaded onto the social media site each hour. I mean look at Watson on Jeopardy, the IBM machine that was created over night.

    And even if there are dozens of humans behind these computers, certainly they must be paid well and allowed the freedom to think beyond what they're told to understand that one image is art while another is not. Simply because of the nature of their work, they too must be art enthusiasts or part time critics because who else can make a claim to what is art and what is not? Certainly not Facebook, this social media site that you and I created in this Utopian society that exists in this space that I've created in these short few paragraphs.

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  19. Hi,
    The links above for the show on the schools website seemed to have changed for your blog so I can not see the kauper & SA pieces in context. Would like to see what else is in the show for us non Facebook fans.

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  20. This is all really nuts!! Problem is FB is waving it's big American flag right now and just like lots of other positions of power it is not willing to "own" what it really is out of fear of possibly loosing a tiny bit of their astronomical fortune or loosing any popularity "IF" anyone ever takes issue or offence whith any of this ART. Who's running FB now the Tea Party????? Unless that what they want the population of US to think they need to step up to the plate and sort this ridiculousness out.
    Hey, if they are really worried they should create a department, higher all figurative atists to weed out what is art and what is pornography...since they can't figure it out themselves it seems.

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  21. It's interesting how people forget that Facebook initially evolved from Zuckerberg's 2003 website, FaceMash: "a site that, according to the Harvard Crimson, represented a Harvard University version of Hot or Not."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Facebook

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  22. As a photographer working for a Buddhist community in the South of France, and as a Fine Art photographer and teacher, my account is also currently blocked. Facebook gave me the universal reason without indicating which photos are objected to. I assume the referred to photos may be stills from a documentary film I made in 1972, called LIFE CLASS, about an ART SCHOOL drawing class, much like your own, and contained some photos of unclothed models with students in a crowded studio.
    The other photos may be from a unique RETROPECTIVE of photos I mounted on facebook of the great ALFRED CHENEY JOHNSON whose photos made in his studio of the Ziegfeld Follies 20's dancers exemplify his strict classical style.

    To my mind these photos could not be perceived as, nor do they stimulate a sexual interest in normal and balanced minded viewers.

    Barry P. Beckett

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  23. you can't post nudes on Facebook
    don't complain about it - you don't make the rules.

    The artists should be pleased, as FB has judged them to be pretty good nudes.

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  24. Last I heard, Facebook is a private company with clearly listed policies and terms of use. If you don't like their rules don't use Facebook.

    What kind of idiot would advocate a lawsuit to attempt to force Facebook to display nude artwork, or anything else they prohibit today?

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  25. Have you considered ignoring Facebook? Art can be cool and hip in other ways besides posting old pieces on social networking sites.

    There are other ways of promoting art.
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/struggling-museum-now-allowing-patrons-to-touch-pa,2821/

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  26. Nudity hurts no-one. Kids have to be taught that adults get embarrassed by it.

    To stop being tormented by nudity, you merely have to turn your head away. You never see people in hospital because they have been hurt by the sight of nudity.

    Facebook, grow up! Or allow people to add a "representation of nudity tag" to images that can be filtered.

    We also need a tag for "offensive uncovered arms", as some religious people are offended if women are not covered in body veils.

    And I'm offended by "joke pictures" in which we make fun of people in unfortunately situations.

    Or better yet, just avoid f*c*book.

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  27. Incidentally, how does nudity make Facebook a non-safe environment?

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  28. Facebook is no different than any other social network or organization.... when you click "Agree" to the terms/agreement... you agree to follow those rules & regulations... If you disagree... don't click "Agree"... simple as that!

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  29. FaceBook need to change its policy to reflect how people want to user its service.
    Or users have to find a better platform, Diaspora could become one option if it ever prove to be better than FaceBook.
    I would like to note that FaceBook don't allow children younger than 13 years old to access its service, and in the same time don't allow nudity.
    Finally a question for all of you would be what is nudity anyway, it can be define differently across cultures, and as Facebook is present in multiple country it will become difficult for them to avoid conflict over this term.

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  32. Any social network owned by a tiny handful of people (that becomes publicly traded?) would eventually become this way, and worse. Let's step away from whether or not the decisions (about art, or what to do with OUR information, etc.) being made are good or bad. Let's just ask the question: Who is making the decisions? If it's not the people most directly affected by the decisions, what are you going to do about it? Why do you want your social network rulers to make better decisions? Why don't the people start creating social networks grounded in an entirely different scheme of ownership, rights; an entirely different legal framework. Democracy isn't about the equal right to vent your frustrations on blogs while the decisions have already been made. Democracy means the people have the power to make the decisions that stick.
    So instead you describe the problem to each other: talk about how nudes are not bad, how this is unjust, etc. It's a compulsion we all have. It's as if we think describing the problem to each other is somehow going to ever make a difference.

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