Friday, May 30, 2008

Should We Protect or Deride Artistic Freedoms?

Controversial as it may be, with accusations of ‘child pornography’ and criminal charges about to be laid, Bill Henson’s latest art exhibition has caused a whirlwind of hullabaloo in political, legal and artistic circles.

In an era of sexualised children and constant government enquiries into becoming a nation of thoroughly bred moral crusaders, the media, police, and politicians have hounded Henson like a pack of hyenas.

Critics and blogosphere’s alike have wanted to give their two cents on the controversy, more specifically regarding Kevin Rudd’s reaction: that of deeming the photographs ‘revolting’. As an ‘intellect’ many were expecting Rudd to understand the artistic and creative beauty behind the piece. What many were failing to realise however, was the practicality and logic behind his denouncement.

Children as young as 12 are being exhibited in these photographs. It would only be common sense to realise that the Prime Minister of the country has no alternative than to condemn the exhibition of unclothed children. With the recent government emphasis on 'letting kids be kids,' and enquiries into the sexualisation of children in the media and society, Rudd has no alternative but to condemn for the sake of consistency. The papers would have a field trip otherwise.

The greater predicament lies in using ‘art’ as a common veil and disguise: hiding the lewd and controversial under the pretence of art.

Giving this the green flag and essentially giving someone license to publish/disseminate whatever they see fit with a label of ‘creative freedom’ is a misused and exploited concept and wrongly so.

It’s only expected that something so readily accessible to the public should come under fire when it offends the sensibilities of society. An unequivocally lawless approach cannot be adopted in terms of art and creativity.

Intellectual and artistic freedoms weigh into the discussion in the examination of freedom of expression and censorship. In a democratic and liberal society, which exceeds the other? Protecting the subject matter when the government/police see it as essential, or freedom to express ideas and concepts which fall within the creative model?

Always difficult to ascertain, general moral standards shouldn’t be traversed for the sake of unreservedly administering a standard of freedoms. However Henson is being utilised as a scapegoat and criminal proceedings are exerting a rule of extremity.

Most people purporting critical views are missing the point. The deeming of it as ‘pornographic’ has offended the artistic sensibilities amongst us.

We all accept that Bill Henson most likely had no intention of producing these photographs for pornographic intentions. This isn’t an issue of adding to the collections of paedophiles across the nation.

What people fail to realise, is that by granting exemptions, a standard is set thereby increasing the general tolerability. When you legalise something, the law is telling society it’s acceptable and okay.

If Henson’s artworks are classified as suitable because it’s stored under the pretence of ‘art’, then it’s being validating and deemed okay in the name of creativity and intellectual/artistic freedom. The problem then lies in that in granting it some acceptance, it may validate child pornography in the minds of those with such tendencies.

Some restrictions are necessary. A blank cheque can’t be provided to every domain to reign free.

Pornography or art. Thoughts?

Photo: ABC TV


Anonymous said...

Worth a thousand words...

Annette Lin said...

Definitely art! Nakedness doesn't necessarily equal porn - and I think Henson's photographs are TAME compared to what a certain lecturer showed us last year in certain subject with the word "cultures" in it!! :P

Kester said...

... I guess henson's artworks arnt PICTURE PERFECT after all...

Bonita Silva said...

mmm it definitely is art, but is it okay to use a 12 year old minor? and ahahahahahha. bless uts.

Annette Lin said...

Hmm, well, no, he shouldn't have asked her to pose in his photographs. I mean for all we know, he could be a complete pedophile who was doing it for his voyeuristic pleasure (one man's art is another man's porn, right?). Couldn't he have gotten the same effect from a short, skinny over-age model?

Kester said...

mm i agree surely he would have realised what effect his artworks would have on its audience. And sure the human body is a natural and beautiful marvel but there is a reason we hide our nakedness. If a person was to walk on the streets naked he or she would be arrested for indecent exposure even though its not in a pornographic sense and most people would be disgusted to see that. I know i would. So i don't see how exposing a minor in the disguise of art is acceptable. Especially when theres even a chance that it is looked at by weird sick paedophiles.

Stephanie Kok said...

yeah, it's a bit scary if you think about it this way: if he really was doing for some sort of pornography..he can get away with it just by saying that it's 'art'. And what if it were someone else, less known in the art community, who took the pictures? Would they be treated differently?

On the other hand, it's kind of limiting freedom of expression and the type of work that artists can do...

But essentially, it's disturbing to think that the model was so young...not even a 'teen'!

I wonder what he was trying to achieve with the images...

A dreamer said...

i'm not too certain about hensons past work but hasn't he been doing the nake teen thing for most of his career? i heard that that is how he came into prominence.
if that's the case then i don't understand why the issue is only coming up now.
i'd say it's art. while it is confronting, i think that's the nature of his work.

Imelda Matt said...

ART...great post and blog! I'll be back I really enjoyed, so there are 4 of you who post?

Bonita Silva said...

thanks for visiting! :)
and yes, 4 of us indeed.

Anonymous said...

There are no absolute freedoms in society, and I don't think its reasonable for people to expect that anything labelled "Art" is to free from all restrictions.

It is hard to tell whether Henson was taking photographs to create art or to satisfy his fetishes (or a combination of both).

Laws relating to the display of naked children are there to protect the interests of the child. The intention is to protect them from exploitation, abuse etc. So what if photos like Hensons are banned? Seriously, its not like society or the artistic community would suffer any great loss from this. The only person significantly affected would be Henson himself, as he makes money from the images.

People shouldn't act so naive and feel shocked by what has happened. Its obvious that the law takes a
very dim view of any images/material of a sexual nature that involves children. Henson was probably aware of the potential legal implications of his photographs, but he went ahead and created them anyway. He probably isn't surprised by the result and neither should anyone else.

It has been raised by sections of society that the Government is limiting freedom of expression. Talk about being dramatic. They should be fair and acknowledge that there is a lot of freedom available, and there are a lot of outlandish things a person can do and say without falling foul of the law (even if they are deemed to be distasteful or disagreeable in the eyes of the general public). They should also acknowledge that a person's artistic freedoms are also protected by the government. The police would not tolerate any member of public to assault an artist simply because that person found the artist's work to be distasteful or offensive. If the assault were to occur, that person would be prosecuted and the artist allowed to carry on with his work. This would be an example of the Government protecting an
artist's artistic freedom.

The fact of the matter is that no one in society is allowed to do anything they want and be free of
consequence. And if one stops to think about it, they'd probably be thankful that this is the case.

Bonita Silva said...

a dreamer - this has been the nature of his past work, but i don't think he used a 12/13 year old in most of the photographs. i think that was the issue here. maybe he could have escaped all the public scrutiny if the model was at least 16. also, it's lapped up controversy presently due to our current government. with the k-rudd in and his massive emphasis on de-sexualising children, it's expected of him to denounce something of this nature that's generated public/media interest.

and anonymous - i have no idea who you are, but i completely agree with you. couldn't have put it better.

thanks for the comments!

Anonymous said...


Sorry...can't reveal my identity. You may call me Mr Anonymous, if you like. haha

In regards to George Michael, my sister-in-law has the same sentiments about him as you do. Except its been like 8 years, and shes still in denial about him being gay. Shes currently undergoing intensive electro-therapy to convince her otherwise.

But I digress.

Nicely written article.

Mr Anonymous

Bonita Silva said...

mr anonymous,

let thouest identity be known! hehe. your sister-in-law is totalllly on the same wavelength when it comes to george michael. i will never undestand why god made him gay. it's a curse to women... yet a gift to men. so savour it!

and thanks :)

Anonymous said...


My name is Jonas (aka Mr Anonymous)...I'm one of Amy's facebook friends. Thats how I found out about this blog.

Err...and i'll pass on the savouring of George Michael, if you don't mind. I think I'll leave that to the ladies and guys of other persuasions. haha


Monique Moussa said...

I have studied Henson's art all throughout high school and not once did I ever sense wrongness or perversion in his work.

Clearly those who regard the photographs as pornography do not
i) Understand art
ii) Appreciate art.

I like to think that I am not tasteless or blind, however Henson's works are obvious to any artist as portrayals of humans as themselves, his use of lighting and shadows is what his work is known for and its what makes his photographs beautiful... and this is accentuated by the nakedness of the bodies.

Age has no importance to both the creator or the responder.

The controversy over these works is purely concocted because of a perspective that is completely wrong.