Artist Karen Finley reflects on Supreme Court obscenity case in A2

Dec 2, 2015

Performance artist and author Karen Finley is coming to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on Thursday Night. We talk with Finley about her decades-long career, including taking the National Endowment of the Arts to the Supreme Court.

In the 1990's, performance artist Karen Finley gained a good deal of notoriety for being one of the NEA Four. That was a group of artists given a grant by the National Endowment of the Arts, only to have the grants rescinded by an act of congress, which viewed the artwork by her and the others as obscene.

After about 8 years, the case of Finley vs. the NEA went all the way to the Supreme Court, which Finley eventually lost. But the artist has continued performing and is currently a Professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Tomorrow night, Finley will be at the Michigan Theater as part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker series to discuss that very public legal battle, as well as celebrate the 25th anniversary of her first book, "Shock Treatment."

Current State’s Jamie Paisley talks with Finley about those tumultuous times.


How did you get past losing the Supreme Court case?
I had to do a lot of soul searching of what my relationship was to creating culture and being a participant. How was I going to continue and not be embittered by the difficulties and the censorship that I endured in the loss of losing the Supreme Court case? For me, that was returning just to the joy… to a spiritual place… of making the art but still keeping my anger in terms of speaking out. 
You’ve addressed art censorship in your own artwork. What do you think about art censorship in today’s society?
Art was the projection that society puts onto the artwork and that they see and view… their own anxieties and it can never end. Artists become a replacement for other groups of people or within fears, you just start looking and having assumptions. One projects their own anxieties onto the artwork. We’ve seen this time and time again.