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Gauguin controversy shows problems with cancel culture


If art can be seen as a chronicle of history, then why would it be acceptable to suppress it? 

Art is an outlet to express oneself, whether that be through tangible means, such as paintings and sculptures, or through more fluid forms, such as dance and music. Yet, this definition is too confining, as art is also representative of the time period of which it was created.

In other words, it can be seen as an unwritten history book, a visual timeline of history. The meaning of these sorts of work, referring to the latter description, cannot be eradicated nor altered as it is fact that had created them and substantiates them — perception of historical fact.

From time to time, pieces and the connotations they carry, like those of 19th century French painter Paul Gauguin, come into question as some works allude to negative aspects of history. Undoubtedly, this classification of work should not be praised and endorsed. 

Nevertheless, these pieces also should be exhibited for analysis and evaluation as a means of gaining a greater understanding of the time period during which they were created. 

At the time of a work’s commission, a negative mindset, portrayal or belief was considered the norm and simply representative of that life or that point in time. This sort of understanding cannot be attained through text as this is visual representation.

Attempting to suppress the art itself, which in the context of our times — at a present point — can be considered abhorrent and more than just distasteful, would be synonymous with banning the likes of mentioning the Trail of Tears from U.S. history books. Moreover, illustrated history can arguably have even a stronger impact on an individual in understanding the injustices of a time, rather than text. 

The previously mentioned points are important when analyzing and formulating a stance on the ever-evolving Gauguin controversy.

For background, Gauguin’s works are saturated with Tahitian scenes and those of the Marquesas Islands, which boast an assortment of imperial inequities and what would be considered inappropriate personal conduct — some scenes rendering themes of sexual violence, according to art specialists. 

In accordance to his personal life, Gaugin left a legacy of numerous sexual encounters with teenage girls and called those he painted “savages” — a term directed at the Polynesian people.

Over time, many have raised questions whether Gaugin’s works should be shown. To this, some say — without a doubt — that Gauguin’s art should not be showcased in exhibits. They contest that the connotation of the work is offensive and displaying such pieces would demonstrate support of such unpleasantries of history. 

In essence, people who hold this view find that exhibiting such art is a form of condoning those historical behaviors — art is a rendition of the context it embodies.

On the other hand, others would argue that the inability to express historical behaviors and more is a form of suppression. Meaning, they contest that art should be shown and at the public's disposal in order to gain a full understanding of former times. 

A third view is one of the more interesting concepts. This standpoint holds that Gaugin’s art is a melange of styles and techniques, truths and myths, fact and story. Those that hold this view contend that his art is purely an invention of fantasy, as one could not take the meaning of a work seriously when the artist himself at one point had portrayed himself as a protagonist in Victor Hugo's “Les Misérables.”  

There is no doubt that Gaugin’s works are controversial in today’s environment, but they must be objectively seen for what they are and protected under the freedom of speech. Experiencing such work is a Constitutional right and must not be censored. 


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