Bill Henson - Part 2

June 15, 2008

When I wrote a post about Bill Henson's controversial photographic work and the action by Australian police in closing down his most recent exhibition, it wasn't clear where this would end. In the past week we have seen the police drop all charges and Henson's supporters quietly celebrating the defeat of the "the philistines" who questioned his work. End of story? Well no.

As Miranda Devine writes in her opinion piece "Picture this: society draws the line" in the Sydney Morning Herald (14.6.08), the art community cannot simply conclude that art is beyond question from other interpretive communities, even if they choose to show it to an exclusive and 'safe' group of supporters. Devine notes that the art of Henson is not just being questioned by the police and government censors; nor just blogs like mine that have raised concerns in terms of the rights of children as well as moral and ethical concerns. In recent days a large group of psychologists, social workers and child-protection advocates have raised their concerns in a very public way in the form of an open letter. The group believes that the concern about Henson's work has been sidetracked into a pointless discussion about art versus pornography; when as they and others suggest it is about the protection of children and their developmental inability to give informed consent. The spokesman (Chris Goddard) states:

"We are particularly concerned [by the suggestion] Mr Henson's photographs are in some way so special as to be above the question of consent"

As I pointed out in my previous blog post, no interpretive community (even the art community) can hide behind postmodern notions that art appreciation and how any work is 'read' is all relative. The meaning is not just in the knower (rather than the work), all such meanings or interpretations of art are not simply relative. A photograph of a naked 13 year-old girl might be, in the eyes of some simply art, but it is still a photograph of a real naked 13 year-old girl. Like many others (it would seem), I find his use of such images, and the way that he does it, in the name of art to be inappropriate. I'm pleased that I am not alone. As Devine points out, it seems that:

" tolerance for underage exploitation has found its limits

I'm pleased about this and would hope that the community at large might continue to consider where it draws the line on many issues that affect society. I'd also be keen to continue to encourage others to consider on what basis they make such decisions. I know what my yardstick is for informing my worldview and the choices I make about what is just and unjust, appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong. It is the teaching of the Bible and the wisdom and truth of God that it communicates.

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