Friday, April 1, 2011

Is it 'Art'?

At uni, we had this conversation constantly: "Is it 'Art'?" It never failed to illicit much desk-thumping, eye-rolling, finger-pointing, and many disparaging comments on the sorry lack of intelligence possesed by those in the opposing corner of theory to oneself.
I was reminded again how volatile this course of debate can be when I read the recent review of the Aussie photographer Bill Henson's latest show in Melbourne.
I'm not going to post pictures here, because I'd rather not have someone demand my blog gets flagged. Which in itself would suggest that the censors have already won this debate. Before continuing I'd like to specify that a) I'm NOT CONDONING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. I'M ABSOLUTLEY AGAINST CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, b) I'm talking about this because I've wanted to gauge the opinion of my readers on this subject for ages, and c) the editorial I'm going to post is WIDLEY AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET AND HAS BEEN POSTED PREVIOUSLY ON NUMEROUS FASHION-RELATED BLOGS.
I have actually seen some of Bill Henson's work in the past and will never forget my reaction to it. It's very different in the flesh to what it seems in magazines or photographs online. Bigger, (obviously), and far more confronting. I believe it would be impossible for anyone with half a brain cell to view his work and NOT have alarm bells going off in their minds about what it contains. But is that not the point of 'art'? To cause debate? To push the viewer to a deeper understanding of their own 'human-ness' by way of coercing them to decide what they stand for, and what they stand against, in visual culture and society?
I found it simultaneously necessary and interesting that Henson's show was closed in 2008, after the police decended and took numerous photographs which had been deemed child pornography. I mean, Henson does use underage 'models'. I for one am very uncomfortable with underage folks being used in fashion shows and fashion editorials - I don't believe it's at all necessary and as a woman, I will remain un-moved looking at clothes on the body of a 14 year old. All I will be thinking is 'will someone please send this kid back to bloody school?' and 'where is your parent/guardian?'. That's another point: the parent/guardian has had to give permission to Henson, and to any photographer in fact, to take the photographs society than finds so questionable. So does that not mean that the supposed 'fault' lies solely with the adult who has given permission and placed their child in this position? This is another good article on the art/pornography dilemma.

"Taste of Arsenic" photographed by Sean Ellis and styled by Isabella Blow, for The Face, Ocotober 1996.

This is the editorial I've always wondered about with regards to this particular art argument. It has previously been posted here and here. The models were all aged 7-14 at the time of the shoot. Susie Bubble was of the opinion that the editorial would not have 'worked' with older models.... that the use of children was vital to creating the Victorian-esque 'Lord of the Flies' theme. I think that the use of underage models in fashion shows and fashion shoots, adds another level to the debate, because in this context they aren't just in a photograph - they are also a part of commodity culture.
I'm going to refrain from sharing my decisions on both Henson and this editorial, because I'm more interested in learning what you all think about this particularly interesting and necessary art discussion.

1 comment:

bobby said...

In part because it is a natural reaction and attraction to the human form, and also since parts of the body are typically hidden from view, for me there is almost always an innate degree of sexualism when viewing nudes. While the sexual aspect can often be but a minor part of the enjoyment of a work, the perceived theme and context can be much more stimulating in this way.

However, my immediate reaction to nude children in art is one of confusion: there is nudity but it's missing the innate sexual aspect. The confusion can turn my stomach for a moment, tricking me into feeling disgusted, before I realize I'm just not used to "switching eyes" and seeing the nude form without sexualization. Once I adjust I can appreciate the intent behind it, whether it appeals as a piece of art or not (and although not nude, the pictures of the little girl in "Taste of Arsenic" just plain creep me out).

Classifying Bill Hensons's work as "PG [17]" by the Australian Classification Board was a suitable solution, wherein the rating is intended to protect children from loss of innocence, since adults are their own censors.

I noted that he was not prosecuted. As a society we have to have a certain level of trust in the law of the land to function somewhat adequately & prosecute those who are damaging others, and if the law is not working, it is up to us to change it. From the pictures I saw, I can see why no charges were laid.

I like that we cover bodies. There is a mystery in that which lies beneath, which I have long adored, but to censor the human body, young or old - an object of such beauty, both aesthetically and scientifically - is like censoring the stars.

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