It is now the task of art historians, critics and fellow artists to explain Henson’s work and defend his status as one of our finest artists. Their job is almost impossible.
The current debate about the representation of children and adolescents is so charged that anyone who disagrees with claims that pedophilic images are proliferating before our eyes is open to the charge of pedophilia themselves.
Henson’s work is art and, as such, it falls into a different cultural category to the ads for kids’ clothes and the tween magazines that have been the central focus of this debate. But these distinctions are irrelevant to people who believe that visual representations of children and adolescents are the real source of child abuse.
I have been thinking further about the issue of sexualization of teens in art. I think if the case against Bill Henson were to go through we will start to see extreme limitations in the freedom of expression and artistic freedom. we will also see a harsh and difficult change in the way we handle teenagers and the way they see themselves. This article fascinated me because I think there is a real fear that if you aren’t shocked and offended by Bill Henson’s artworks you are obviously a pedophile. I think that is the reason so many other galleries are following suit. it’s almost gestapo tactics.
I wonder what it says about the person who sees these pieces and immediately thinks they’re sexual. is it automatically because they are nude or is it because they felt a response and assumed others did as well? or is it that all emotional responses to a nude work, especially one of a nude minor, must be either outrage or titillation? I had an emotional response when I saw the first uncensored piece in the age. it was one of almost sadness, a fear for her going through puberty and experiencing so many new things, physically and emotionally. it reminded me of going through puberty myself and the uncertainty of it all – a sense of pride warring with fear.
Viewing this website forcibly reminded me of the dangers of fetishising innocence. School uniforms may well titillate pedophiles and prompt them to commit crimes. But is banning school uniforms the correct response?
If we go down the path of saying that all images of children and young adolescents can only portray them as ideal Brady Bunch kids, then we will spend our lives, as a society, looking for images of corrupted children and teenagers everywhere. Worse, we risk looking at every image through the lens of the pedophile.
I agree with this, by trying to anticipate what might turn a pedophile on we may be stepping into their shoes and thereby, not only destroying our own view of art, but possibly ruining the experience for others. the reality is that there are sick people in the world. there are people who will get turned on by the images of corpses in CSI, who will get excited by the shoes in a catalogue or even the feet in the Sound of Music (read this article for more on that surprising development). so what can we do? we can stop trying to predict them, stop trying to anticipate what they might find titillating and risk damaging freedom of art and expression, the reputations of renowned artists and focus instead on making sure our children are safe and educated. that they have control over their bodies and their own sexuality. I don’t want to step into a pedophile’s shoes, I don’t want to try to think like they do. and I don’t want to see beautiful artwork degraded just because some strange person might think it’s sexy.