Artists have a history of being on the front lines when it comes to free speech. It’s not difficult to understand the artist as activist. An artist must by nature or training be critical. Add to that the fact that artists are often forced to live on the margins of society where they experience intimately the broken parts of our civilization. Also, to devote your life to art you have to be, at least a little of, a romantic. And for a romantic the ideas of truth and justice are real possibilities we must strive toward.
The first amendment is the battlecry of artists because it is their weapon and means of protecting and disseminating truth. It is in a sense what gives them the freedom to be artists. Some artists, to be fair, exploit the first amendment to garner publicity but that is another subject.
In the 21st century we might think that the fight for free speech is only happening in authoritarian countries such as China, North Korea or Russia where an artist might be imprisoned for speaking out. But in the United States the new assault on free speech is just as serious, only the strategy of suppression has changed.
In this new environment, censorship is no longer carried out through threat of imprisonment. Technology has given us a more incideous method of suppressing quality, dissent and truth— drown it out. Drown it out with information clutter, orchestrated misinformation, fake news and propoganda.
Although this means is less danger to the individual who speaks out, it is a greater threat to society because so many voices for truth, liberty and justice can be undercut so stealthily and efficiently.