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Art or Obscenity?

As time has moved on, new artists and art forms have developed that challenge our expectations, aesthetic, and understanding.  For years, writers, filmmakers, painters, and other artists have attempted to challenge the status quo and make innovative contributions to the art world, and controversy has followed them.

Today, Pablo Picasso’s 1907 revolutionary painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, is praised for having a profound influence on Modern Art. Yet when it was first released, many people were shocked and outraged. The female nude had been a common subject in Western Art and had followed conventions that were taken for granted. Picasso replaced the “classic” female nude with a painting of a group of prostitutes. His style also rejected many Western conventions. Instead, Picasso found inspiration in Iberian sculpture and Spanish art. Picasso challenged widespread norms and ended up changing art forever, but at the time many people thought it was offensive.

In 1917, Marcel DuChamp created a piece that remains a subject of intense debate in the art world. Duchamp presented a urinal, which he signed “R. Mutt” and titled it Fountain.  He submitted the work to a gallery that refused to show it, and the original work has been lost. Despite this, many view Fountain as among the most influential artworks of the 20th century and a huge move forward in conceptual art. Many performance artists have tried to enhance the work by urinating in it. Two artists that did this were Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, who attempted to urinate on the piece while it was on display at Tate Modern.  Chai explained, “The urinal is there – it’s an invitation. As Duchamp said himself, it’s the artist’s choice. He chooses what is art. We just added to it.”

In 1996, Chris Ofili revealed The Holy Virgin Mary in the Brooklyn Museum, a mixed media painting (painted partially with elephant dung) showing a black Madonna, surrounded by pictures of buttocks. The Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giulianni, brought a court case against the museum where it was being displayed, arguing that the painting was “sick” and “disgusting.”

Some of the most famous and celebrated books in literary history were banned, censored, or challenged in the past (and the present). Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was heavily censored between 1966 and 1975 for its vulgar language and sexual scenes. James Joyce’s Ulysses, now widely hailed as the best book ever written in the English Language, was banned because of its sexual content. Other famous banned books include Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and Candide by Voltaire.

The controversy continues today, as more and more artists attempt to make their mark on the world. Art has always attempted to change the way we view the world, and sometimes this can be achieved through shock; but some people worry that today’s artists may just be trying to “out-shock” each other. Today’s art – its production, perception and success or failure – is intricately connected with politics, economics, and the media. This causes us to wonder where we should draw the line between art and obscenity – or whether there ought to be a line at all. Under what circumstances are we justified in censoring art?


What do you think? Join the discussion and post a comment! 

Background resources

Art or Obscenity – Printable worksheet with discussion questions!

Requirements for the Maturita Oral Exam: Culture and Art

Vocabulary List


Internet Piracy

Internet piracy occurs when copyrighted digital files are unlawfully reproduced and/or distributed on the Internet. Piracy can be done with music, movies, e-books, software, and other files. Many people see internet piracy as a worldwide crime problem because it is relatively easy to commit and difficult to catch. Among the first types of files to be pirated were music files known as mp3s. In the 1990s, many file sharing programs were developed which provided an easy way to share these types of files. The incredible popularity of these programs has resulted in a backlash from the artistic community, which see the increase in pirated music as a loss of profits. Different countries have different laws regarding mp3 sharing. In Canada and Europe, it is legal to have copied music files for personal use, whereas in the United States it is illegal. In most Western countries, it is illegal to have pirated movie files.

New technologies like the computer and the Internet create a problem for copyright law. They make sharing information easier and faster over long distances, but the traditional copyright system relies on the ability of copyright holders to control who has the ability to access and copy their work. Copyright owners and producers lose billions of dollars per year due to internet piracy. Several pieces of legislation have been proposed to combat internet piracy. In the United States, the two main bills are the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). These bills would allow copyright holders to forbid online advertising networks to work with foreign websites involved in pirating. It would also forbid search engines from linking to such sites. A larger effort against internet piracy is the multinational treaty Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). If passed, the agreement would establish an international legal framework for targeting internet piracy, and create a new international governing body (similar to the World Trade Organization).

Those in favor of the legislation cite statistics showing that over the next five years, over a million jobs and up to 240 billion Euros will be lost in the European Union due to internet piracy. This huge lost in profit not only harms the job market, but it limits the amount of research and development funds available for creating new products. The rate of innovation and the quality of products on the market could decrease. Furthermore, pirated material can be sold at lesser quality or connected to viruses and hacking programs.

Opponents of the proposed legislation claim that it infringes on fundamental rights including freedom of expression and privacy. Many fear that if companies or governments have the power to cut off access to websites that have connections with piracy, even unknowingly, this could limit internet innovations in the future. The next YouTube, Wikipedia, or Facebook might not be possible if such laws are passed. The Internet has fundamentally changed the way people access information (including intellectual property, such as music, movies, and books). Many people believe copyright laws need to change as well.

What do you think? Is internet piracy a problem? What is the solution?

Background Resources

Internet Piracy – Printable worksheet with discussion questions

Maturita Oral Requirements – Science and Technology

Vocabulary List – Science and Technology

BBC News – Different viewpoints on Anti-piracy efforts 

Forbes – How the Entertainment Industry can beat internet piracy

Immigration and Multicultural Societies

Some people think immigration is one of the biggest problems in Europe. Others think immigration is essential for European growth and vitality. The first group argues that large waves of immigration into and within Europe have put strain on resources and sometimes led to the radicalization of violent minorities, in both immigrant communities and domestic populations. The second group argues that immigrant labor is necessary in countries that have shrinking or aging workforces and increasingly open economies. Multicultural societies are also good for a country’s political and social life. Does immigration threaten or enrich Europe? What are the challenges and benefits of multicultural societies?


Side A: In modern European societies, governments try to balance individual liberty and social solidarity. Large waves of immigrants that do not assimilate into the host society threaten this balance. Immigrants often form enclaves in society and the cutural, linguistic, and ethnic distance this creates between immigrants and domestic populations can lead to hostility or even violence on both sides. Immigrants also place a strain on resources and can contribute to unemployment rates.

Side B: Europe’s workforce is both aging and shrinking. It needs foreign labour to support its economy and infrastructure. The open movement of workers within the EU, particularly from east to west and south to north, is also important for building a more unified European identity. Immigrants bring new ideas and experience, contributing to cultural and political growth in Europe.

What do you think? Join the discussion by commenting below! 

Background Resources:

Immigration worksheet – with discussion questions

Maturita Oral Requirements

Vocabulary List

“Why Europe needs an immigration strategy” by Kofi A. Annan

Hornets’ nest  from The Economist