Taking up the slack: new frontiers for smut

Art Life , Op-ed May 14, 2010 6 Comments

The Art Life’s senior social affairs editor Carrie Miller discovers that there is one last frontier to be exploited by artists seeking sensational content for their art – and it isn’t pretty. Image: Bruce McMillan.

In March of this year the State’s Attorney-General John Hatzistergos announced sweeping reforms to laws dealing with images of children, with the aim of making it easier for authorities to distinguish between child pornography and art.

“Currently a clear line does not exist between child pornography and art – a situation that is not ideal for the public or the artistic community,” said Mr Hatzistergos at the time of the announcement.

Images of naked young people, such as the Bill Henson photographs that provoked the review of existing legislation, will no longer be protected under the “artistic purpose” defense. And artists who create such images will now have to pay a $500 fee to have them classified by the Commonwealth under classification legislation.

Thank God. The government has finally taken steps to shut down the disgraceful exploitation of children by artists with new legislation that removes artistic merit as a defense in the grubby depiction of the innocent.

I don’t know about you, but it was clear to me that Henson’s work was suss when art industry experts defending him cited the fact that Elton John was said to be a collector of his work. Enough said.

The question now is: where can artists turn to in order to find filthy content for their degenerate ideas?

As a leading social commentator, I’ve been grappling with this issue since the whole debauched mess began until it struck me, as first-rate ideas tend to do: with all the recent talk about the future problems we’ll have to confront in the face of an ageing population, perhaps artists have been preying on the wrong group of vulnerable people in our community. Now that kids are off-limits, wouldn’t it be more productive to turn to the elderly for perverted “artistic” inspiration? Surely the smut-peddlers aren’t too fussy about their subject matter. And while everyone seems obsessed with protecting our young judging by the moral panics surrounding them these days, there’s really only thinly veiled contempt for the decrepit.

Let’s face it, the majority of the elderly are living with complex and chronic medical conditions, are often unwanted by their families, experience heightened feelings of isolation, are generally a sandwich short of a picnic in the cognitive stakes, and are certainly not pulling their weight in terms of contributing to society with their outrageous one dollar all-day fare discounts. So why not put them to some use that might even make them feel like part of the community in their twilight years? Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Sure, a few of them have been prepared to get their gear off for life drawing classes, but this is unlikely to produce avant-garde images of critical significance whose intention “is not to titillate or to gratify perverse sexual desires, but rather to make the viewer consider the fragility, beauty, mystery and inviolabilty of the human body”, which (according to some creative types) is apparently what Henson pretends to do.

The term “zone of ambiguity” also got thrown around a lot during the Henson furore in reference to his depictions of adolescence. I have no idea what that means but it sure sounds fancy. So I say we adopt it as a justification for producing dirty pictures of the aged. Come to think of it, don’t old people exist in a zone of ambiguity just like adolescents? Sure it’s the zone between losing the will to live and being stone-cold dead, but that must be able to fool some in the art world into sounding conceptually interesting.

It’s mainly old people who complain about kiddy exploitation in the arts anyway – that’s why it’s only fair they take up the slack. They were the ones clogging up the airways on talkback with their opinions over the Henson images. So it’s about time they come to grips with the fact that the tradition of nude and nubile youngsters being depicted in art is a very long one and is unlikely to go away anytime soon unless we can find a viable alternative.

Come on, grandma – show us what you’ve got. Dementia has a tendency to make you sexually disinhibited anyway. So why not put your miserable life to good use before it’s too late – as it very soon will be – and nude up for art’s sake.

One last thing. While the government has the will to look at pathetic artistic defenses, why don’t they finally do away with the contemptible satire defense. There’s simply no room for it in this great literal-minded society of ours.

Carrie Miller

6 Comments

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  2. Fsticks

    I think the crucial question is: would you give permission for your Gran to be photographed like this?

  3. Nanna Madge is always ready for some raunch!

  4. uncle charlie

    Aussie Cretin at least knows the difference between children and adults, seemingly beyond this “leading social commentator” with her “first rate ideas” who has missed the point entirely and who thinks that slinging off at the elderly is the way to make a point about the new guidelines.

    Nasty stuff.

    The reality is that because an omnipotent arts community demonstrated its total incapacity to regulate itself, the law had to step in and spell it out: artists are not immune from the law.

    If this sort of unfunny cheap-shot journalism is being seen as the way forward for the new art life, it must be time to look elsewhere for grown-up arts writing.

    To add insult to injury, it seems that it’s fine for art life contributors to patronise their readers with mediocre journalism, but apparently it is not fine for art life readers to complain about it: I posted a comment critical of Meares’ debut review today which did not make publication.

    Seems Aussie Cretin is thinking along the same lines as my academic colleagues who say that the critical attitude has been finally killed off and that one must increasingly toe the party line or else…

  5. uncle charlie

    Sincere apologies from uncle charlie – criticism is tolerated at the new art life after all!
    Way forward…

  6. kirk

    @fsticks – why would it matter, it’s their life.

    The only difference between children and adults – is that adults “seem” to have a more educated mind. When I saw interviews with the girl who was photographed by henson, it was quite clear that that girl was far more intelligent and wise than most of the adult population of Australia. I think, more interestingly – it would be good to see her in 10 years from now and see how her “exploitation” affected her. I’m betting she’s a very healthy minded human being.

    Now, take henson’s photos and put that girl in “exploited positions” with her genitalia up in the air, playing with herself.etc. – now you have a problem. Wake up.

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