News and events

Artwork controversy

I’m not really familiar with the work of Bill Henson.

I’m more familiar with Jim Henson.

But I do know this: Nudity is not necessarily sexuality. Context is critical. Which is why Mal Day’s comments on Lateline were so stupid:

If I was to take those – take similar photos and display ’em in any of our retail stores, albeit only to adults coming through the doors, that would definitely be considered child porn.

Idiot. A pr0n shop is not an art gallery. Display nudity in a pr0n shop, and of course it would be considered sexual. Context.

Tell you what I did find mildly amusing though: turns out Eros, the adult entertainment industry body, has been donated $10,000 to complainant Hetty Johnson’s Bravehearts Foundation. Not the first pairing one would have thought of.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

11 replies on “Artwork controversy”

Whether or not people perceive it as porn or not is irrelevant. The fact is, Henson was taken aback by the reaction which suggests he is out of tune with the largely conservative agenda many Australians have. Regrettably we have this thing called the Christian lobby who spread nonsense. Henson wasn’t very sagacious for releasing such art, however at least he has not gained popularity.

Meh. It was stupid that it was even an issue. The pictures have been travelling the country for years, he’s been taking pictures of young people for at least 25 years (that I know about) and it probably took one conservative, backwoods biddy saying it was child abuse and calling the police to cause the proverbial tempest.

No, Daniel et al. It doesn’t matter where the images are displayed. Photographs of naked (or semi-naked) pubescent (or pre-pubescent) children is not *art*.

Daniel, if your boys were photographed in this manner, I have two questions…

1. would you have let the photographs be taken in the first instance?

2. if so, would you allow them to be displayed publicly?

I didn’t argue whether or not they’re art. I just argued that they’re not sexual, and therefore not indecent. Just because I personally don’t appreciate the images, doesn’t mean they’re not art.

Would I let my kids participate? No, I don’t think so. But it’s not about me. The question is whether a consenting parent should be allowed to make that decision.

No it’s nothing to do with a consenting parent. A parent could consent to their child appearing in a porno movie if they so desired. That wouldn’t make it right.

And whether the images under discussion are art or porn is irrelevant too. Most images that could be considered porn could also pass for art. Porn is a genre of art, after all.

The key issue is that a child is exploited regardless of the intention and use of the images. Steve Biddulph put it very well in an article in late May:

What next burn all the classical artwork with cherubs and young nudes?

Any form of child exploitation should be stamped out but the human form can be a beautiful thing and should be able to be appreciated without any sexual connotations

I worry about all the people who faced with a naked form instantly see pornography, sounds like underlying issues to me?

What makes you think the classical artists painted live models? They’re not exploiting anybody if they make up images out of thin air. But photography (or painting a real portrait) necessarily has a live subject, and that is where the exploitation is.

We may well be able to appreciate a picture without attaching any sexual meaning to it, but the subject might recognise the potential for such a meaning to be construed, and that could cause emotional damage to a young person. It also might not. But to risk it simply because someone wants to create art is high arrogance.

@Philip: “A parent could consent to their child appearing in a porno movie if they so desired.” — Well no, of course they couldn’t, any more than they could “consent” to having their child murder someone.

As for live models, it has been common for centuries to use them, both clothed and unclothed.

And to turn it around, a made up image that’s not based on live models could well be a depiction of child pornography that would be illegal.

Bear in mind that the Classification Board has ruled that Henson’s picture is not porn — in fact it’s rated PG. Which brings me back to my original point: nudity is not necessarily sexual.

So you see no problem with the exploitation of children, as long as a classification board declares that the result is art and not porn, and never mind that the two terms are not mutually exclusive.

Well, hold on. We haven’t established that these photos are exploitation of children. The parents involved obviously don’t think so. Have any of the (some now fully grown) subjects said so? Just who is claiming exploitation, and on what basis?

And if it’s not illegal, would we really want the government ruling that the parent can’t make the decision?

No, art and porn are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But in this case, the ruling was clear. It’s not porn.

That was a legal ruling, and necessarily did not address the issue of the potential for exploitation, because the law does not forbid ‘creating the potential for exploitation’, only creating child pornography.

Steve Biddulph’s article explained clearly how it is not possible to predict whether a child will suffer as a result of taking part in an exercise such as nude photography. When we can’t predict the exact outcome of an act, and we know that the outcome could be good or bad, especially for a child, then it is morally wrong to perform the act, whether the law says it is wrong or not. That was his point and it seems to have been missed by most commentators on this issue.

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