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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 11, 2008

Bezanson to consider art and the Constitution in Presidential Lecture

Many an argument has begun with the question "what is art?" So fraught can it be, in fact, that the greatest legal minds in American history have essentially taken a pass on it.

"There is little legal framework to protect art or artistic expression," said Randall Bezanson, a UI professor of law and First Amendment expert. "There's no mention of it in the Constitution, and generally, the Supreme Court has not attempted to take up the question. As a result, it's up in the air as to whether many forms of art have any substantial constitutional protection."

Bezanson will attempt to fill in the vacuum and lay out a method to extend Constitutional protections to artistic expression when he delivers the University of Iowa's 2008 Presidential Lecture, "Art and the Constitution," on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 3:30 p.m. in the Levitt Center for University Advancement. Admission is free and open to the public.

Prior to Bezanson's lecture, cellist Anthony Arnone of the University of Iowa School of Music faculty will perform selections from Suite for Solo Cello #1 in G Major for solo cello by J. S. Bach.

Bezanson said artistic expression is tricky from a legal perspective because, unlike speech and press, it's not specifically protected by the First Amendment.

"The guarantee of free speech has historically been interpreted to protect only reasoned and cognitive forms of expression," Bezanson said. "But art is frequently neither of those. It is often emotional and sensual, and does not simply make an appeal to our reason. As Plato put it, art is dangerous because it looses emotion and imagination in unpredictable ways."

Bezanson said few legal cases of artistic expression have made it to the Supreme Court, and in those that have the court has "managed to avoid the issue" of constitutional protection for art. But art deserves legal protection, he said, and not just as a form of speech but as a form of expression in and of itself. In his lecture, Bezanson will lay out a legal framework the Supreme Court can use to protect art as art, and not as speech.

Bezanson also explores the issue in more depth in his new book, "Art and the First Amendment," which will be published next winter by the University of Illinois Press.

Bezanson is the David H. Vernon Professor of Law in the UI College of Law. Following his graduation from the UI law school, he served as a clerk to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. Bezanson joined the faculty of the UI Law School in 1973, where he remained until 1988, serving also as a vice president of the university from 1979 to 1984. From 1988 to 1994, Bezanson served as dean of the Washington & Lee University School of Law in Virginia. He returned to the Iowa faculty in 1996.

Bezanson's teaching centers on constitutional law, freedom of speech and press, and mass communication law, but he also teaches in the fields of administrative law, law and medicine, law and journalism, and torts. He was given the UI's Burlington Northern Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1987.

Bezanson's scholarship spans the fields of administrative law, constitutional law, first amendment theory, defamation and privacy law, law and medicine, and the history of freedom of the press. He has published in many law reviews and journals. In 1987 his book, coauthored by Gilbert Cranberg and John Soloski, "Libel Law and the Press: Myth and Reality," was given the National Distinguished Service Award for Research in Journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi. His 1992 book "Reforming Libel Law," co-edited with Soloski, is used in undergraduate and graduate journalism programs throughout the country.

His other books include "Taxes on Knowledge in America: Exactions on the Press from Colonial Times to the Present" (1994); "Speech Stories: How Free Can Speech Be?" (1988); "Taking Stock: Journalism and the Publicly Traded Newspaper Company" (2001) coauthored with Cranberg and Soloski; "How Free Can the Press Be?" (2003); and "How Free Can Religion Be?" (2006). His most recent book is "Art and Freedom of Speech," which is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press.

Bezanson is a member of the Iowa Bar and has been a member of the American Law Institute (ex officio) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). He has drafted legislation on a broad range of topics, including civil commitment of the mentally ill, treatment of the terminally ill, surrogacy and assisted conception, and defamation and invasion of privacy.

The Presidential Lecture series provides an opportunity for distinguished faculty to present significant aspects of their work to members of the university community and to the general public. The university established this annual series to encourage intellectual communication among academic disciplines, and to provide a public forum for university scholarship, research, and creative achievement.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Thomas Dean, Office of the President, 319-335-1995,; Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,