Friday, May 23, 2008

Art or Porn?

Everyone would now have heard of the furore created by the seizure of naked photos of “children as young as twelve” by acclaimed photographer Bill Henson.

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this. On the one hand, Art has always had a different set of standards to other means of expression. I suspect that there would be no furore over this if Bill Henson was, say, an oil painter.

Cherubs are routinely depicted as small children or infants. Cupid is a naked child. There are a myriad of ads on television every day where small children and infants run around sans pants. In fact, the one that springs to mind is the ad with the naked babies flying all around the screen. That one always disturbs me. Babies are hard enough to handle at the best of times. Now you want to give them the ability to fly?

Hand me the broom, Marge! Maggie’s on the roof again.

We seem to be comfortable with small children being shown naked. Arse clearly on display, crawling away from mum whilst she tries to wrestle her child into a nappy, or using talcum powder, whatever. We don’t have an issue with the bank ads with naked oldies going at it in the garden. Adults are okay, as long as nothing “blue” is shown, within certain hours.

So what makes it not okay for a twelve year old to be photographed naked? Apart from the fact that these are not children - they are adolescents - and I assume there isn’t a question of a lack of parental consent involved, what makes this sexual?

Is it because they sit on the cusp of sexuality? They are no longer children – it’s no longer acceptable for them to run around naked in the paddling pool in the backyard. We aren’t comfortable to see them on TV whilst a loving mum chases after them.

But they aren’t adult either. We wouldn’t want to see someone this age in a pole-dancing club. To be blunt, you wouldn’t be ogling over a twelve year old in a pub.

Adolescence is itself a time of confusion. You are clearly no longer a child. You notice the other sex and hormones are running rampant throughout your body. But you aren’t yet sexualised. You don’t think of the opposite sex in terms of a bed partner. It’s that strange time when innocence isn’t quite left behind.

The only way I can sum this up is this – what is sexual is what adults perceive as sexual. These pictures aren’t porn in that it isn’t designed to titillate. Those who would consider this sexual would be those who consider adolescents of this age sexual anyway.

I think we are uncomfortable with adolescents being depicted naked because whilst we perceive them as not yet adult, they are no less subject to their own hormones – and ours – if not through action, then through attitude. Why do you think school-girl outfits are so damn popular?

If there are no signs of co-ercion, if the parents were well informed, present and gave their consent, do I really have an issue with it?

I don’t think I do. If the photos were overtly sexual then I probably wouldn’t be comfortable with it, but they aren’t. They are clearly not designed to be arousing.

Are they art? I don’t know. Who bloody does these days? A bag of garbage can be art these days.

Do I think they are porn? No. I’m no aficionado of porn, but I’m fairly sure there’s supposed to be, I don’t know, some kind of sexualisation of the subject. I don’t see that here.

7 comments:

Iain Hall said...

Keri
the images that I saw on the news looked at best very suss,
when it comes to porn any images showing "models" under eighteen is child porn and beyond the pale in my book. They may be called "art" and even artfully composed but they are still exploiting children.

weez said...

Shut up, Iain. We don't care about your book. You don't write the law books, and thank the gods for that.

Neither nudity nor pubescence alone constitute pornography. There has to be sexualisation and Henson's pics have none. The cops are going to look very silly after the charges are dropped against Henson & the gallery.

False kiddie porn complaints closed Henson's exibition- and my blog was suspended by my webhost after another false kiddie porn complaint, oddly enough by a neo-nazi/white-supremacist pornographer and sex-toy merchant, regarding my criticism of the Henson affair.

John Surname said...

Channel 10 didn't see fit to censor the images, I noticed.

I don't know if they're porn, but as art they're failures.

Oh yeah, shut up Iain. In your book it's acceptable to send out scotch bounties when someone is more articulate than you.

Keri said...

I presume you'll be contacting all the networks that deign to show ads with naked infants in them, Iain?

And can you be absolutely sure that no porn you have ever viewed has contained images of people under 18?

bron said...

Couldn't have said it better myself, Keri.

And as Surname said, it might not be porn, but it ain't good art either.

Either way, I still reckon there will be a few "sickos" out there wanking off to these images, even though it's not porn.

weez said...

"I don't know if they're porn, but as art they're failures."

Obviously, the folks over at the Guggenheim in New York and the Photographer's Gallery in London need some of your expertise. They clearly have it all wrong on this Henson guy.

John Surname said...

If some fancy museum likes 'em, they gotta be good!

Give me a break.

I was talking about the works in question.