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Professor Anthony Julius: Inaugural lecture as Chair in Law and the Arts at UCL

Posted on 28 March 2018

Deputy Chairman Professor Anthony Julius, joins UCL in his first lecture as the inaugural Chair in Law and the Arts, the first role of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Leading to his first lecture on 15 March, Anthony commented: "This is a unique opportunity for me to teach and champion literature and the visual arts which is extremely important at a time when artistic freedom is facing increasing censorship in many countries across the world."

He continued: "Questions such as how we negotiate the relationship between the obligation to be civil and the right to provoke is one that lawyers, but not just lawyers, have to address daily. Artists should interrogate the questions: I don't think they should be contained by them, but I think they should explore them. Sometimes, in the exploration of the questions, offence is given. That, I think, is a really small price to pay for the pleasure that art gives us."

Attendees to Anthony's lecture were introduced to his research project relating to the under-examined aspect of censorship of literature and the visual arts in liberal democracies, due to be published in 2020, he commented: "Art exasperates law, law oppresses art… We cannot dedicate ourselves to both. Law and the arts may say to us: choose, but we can respond: no, we won't."

Mishcon Academy:

Professor Anthony Julius: Chair of Law and Arts, UCL

Mishcon de Reya

Professor Anthony Julius

What does this mean, Professor of Law and the Arts?  I would say, well, I teach the relations between the law and the arts.  What are those relations and why are they worth teaching?  Law is the regulator, literature, the regulated.  Law is the vocation, literature is the leisure pursuit.  Literature’s disregard for law is much more complicated.  Literature finds itself at odds with law and legal processes.  Law suspects that literature and art look favourably on crime.  Literature and art, for their part, despise law’s perversely reductive life-denying and punitive understanding of transgression.  Law does not understand transgression’s beauty, it holds art’s celebration of the transgressor to be precious, misconceived, dangerous.  The one is committed to the unfettered realising of our imaginative capacities, the other to the regulating or our words and deeds.  Art exasperates law, law oppresses art. 

Where does this lead?  To the imperative we are required to take sides, different writers cast their choice in different terms.  For Blake it is God or the devil.  For Nietzsche it is the Apollonian or the Dionysian.  We cannot dedicate ourselves to both.  Law and the arts may each say to us ‘Choose’ but we can respond, ‘No, we won’t.  Why submit to this imperative of choice?’  Socrates himself relented just a little.  If we can come up with arguments to justify poetry he says, right at the end of the republic, then it can stick.  Ask the question, what is lost to a society without law, without the arts?  Law’s purpose is to make us secure, literature’s purpose is to gladden our hearts.  How absurd to be asked to choose between security and joy – we should strive for both.  Artists will always force the boundaries of what is held to be art.  It follows that they will also force the boundaries of what is lawful.  Here, all is struggle, values and principles collide with nothing conceded on either side.  These conflicts are daily with us.  Should artists who abuse actors, even commit crimes against them, be banned?  Should their works no longer be shown or performed?  Should artworks be re-titled if their original titles contain racially or confessionally offensive language?  Should we pull down statues that honour men and women whom we now wish to execrate?  These are complicated questions.  Art has its own moral force, iconoclasm has its own creative drive.  The object here is to seek to do justice to both sides, to make the best case for each in their mutual troubled contention.  Law and the Arts as a title is no more than a hybrid of two other titles: Union, Contest.  Law with Arts, Law versus Arts.  Law and Arts United, Law and Arts in Conflict.

Thank you UCL, for providing me with the forum in which I may find a new dedication and let me also thank you here tonight for helping to mark an event of great importance to me and which has made me very happy and one in which I take great pride. 

Mishcon de Reya

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