Art Book Printing and Censorship

“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
― Benjamin Franklin

I intend for my articles to enlighten, educate or entertain. It’s all about about our favorite topic: how to design and print the best coffee table book for the available budget. But today’s article is strictly the expression of an opinion. I welcome your ideas on the subject.

Whenever we receive quotations from our partners in Shenzhen, China, the following clause is found in the fine print:

According to Chinese government regulations, prior to printing we are required to submit materials containing sensitive content for approval to export. Sensitive content includes: politics, maps, nationalism, religion, and overtly sexual images. Please notify us if your publication includes sensitive content so that we may apply for approval early to avoid delays. We reserve the right to decline any orders which include sensitive content as mentioned above. Thank you for your understanding.

China’s central government enforces censorship on many subjects. Books that are printed exclusively for export are generally approved for production (but not always, as in the case of Little Black Book of Marijuana by Steve Elliott). If a work is controversial, delays sometimes happen.

Someone with strong conviction about what is or is not offensive should probably not be in the printing business, and certainly not in the business of printing art books. No expression or art should be censored for adult viewers, no matter how offensive, as long as no person was mentally or physically damaged in the creation or exhibition of such art.

Despite this conviction, I have turned down several opportunities to print books because they included certain images and ideas. So where then do I draw the line? To me, if the sole purpose of an image is to sexually arouse the viewer, “erotic art’ becomes “pornography”. It does not fit in our portfolio. We respectfully decline such work.

I am blessed to work with women and men who enjoy a quite liberal outlook on life. We have designed and printed books that some people may find offensive but no one on my team felt this way. I deeply respect the feelings and convictions of my colleagues. So, when we consider a new project, our entire team, from the junior designer to the production manager, has an equal voice. If there is a concern, we discuss it.

In our studio, I cannot dictate to others what I think is or is not offensive, but I can also not force others to view and work with images and/or ideas that make them uncomfortable. If it does offend just one team member, I choose to not accept such work.

What’s your idea?