“it seemed as if the Internet was governed more by fear: the fear of unpopularity and uncoolness, the fear of missing out, the fear of being flamed or forgotten.”
― Jonathan Franzen, Purity
Art has some protection from societal criticism under freedom of expression, but, it’s not absolute. You’re always granted control over your artistic message, but people don’t have to like it. Many talented artists are vilified throughout their career – maybe you will be as well, that’s the risk you take when you put anything out into the world. Only time will tell which objections are valid and which are trivial.
It can be scary to deviate from the currently accepted social conversation. When an improper tweet can ruin your career, it’s terrifying to try to say anything that hasn’t been tested by previous artists. But, hopefully that fear doesn’t steal the edge from your work or push you into silence.
There will always be an ebb and flow for art criticism in society – sometimes puritans will have more power, and sometimes libertines will. If you plan to be an artist for your entire life you should decide how you feel about freedom of expression and be prepared to defend your stance. Or at the very least have a stance in your own mind and continually produce work that conforms to your true feelings.
Let go of the fear of societal condemnation, say what you want to say and take whatever praise or damnation critics have to throw at you. That fear is ruining your work and honestly, the world can only handle so many gossamer-thin creatives, all riding the same wave of whichever ideology is in vogue.
If you’re an unknown artist the stakes will be quite low anyways. Fearlessness will improve your work much faster than if you drench every artistic decision with anxiety.
Still, even as an artist you don’t need to be a staunch defender of artistic freedom. The idea is quite loose. An open market for creativity is beautiful, but you don’t have to defend artists that you find reprehensible just because you value freedom of expression.
If someone is making bad art you can tell them it’s bad. You don’t have to passively support bad art just because you believe in free speech. Reasonable dissension does not make you tyrannical and it doesn’t betray your belief in artistic freedom. The freedom to critique is just as valid as the freedom to create.
Be sure to criticize in good faith, and make sure that your criticism is thoughtfully written. If your critique is lazy or insincere then it’s going to come off as noise. It’s more beneficial to respond to bad art with good art, and fresh, honest prose is much more valuable than a regurgitated wall of text. The former will greatly improve your own work and will be a pleasurable experience for those who read it. Sadly, no one is going to read the latter, because no one really cares what you have to say unless you say it in an interesting way; (one of the unfortunate side effects of information overload).
Above is a rare demo of the stadium anthem “My Generation” by The Who – originally banned by BBC on the grounds that Townsend’s signature affectation may be offensive to people who stutter. Thankfully, the ban was not permanent.