02 June 2008

An open letter to artists everywhere


Oh man, this could be controversial. I risk being misunderstood, but, well, that's art for you.

Dear artists.

I've been reading avidly in the media about the Bill Henson affair, and realised that I don't like you very much.

Henson, I'm sure that you recall, may be charged with certain crimes for taking nude photos of young children and attempting to profit from them. Some people might call this porn, but Henson, and some of you, appear to think that because Henson did this as art, it's fully justified.

Personally, I'm staggered at the disingenuity of your assertion that Henson's photo's can be defended on the grounds of "art" or "culture", when you had a veritable arsenal of stuff that you could have used to defend this. Freedom of expression is one. Realism is another, given the fact that 13 year old girls are occasionally nude.

So strange as it may seem, you went and chose the one excuse that really shits me about art and artists, and the weakest and least defensible of the whole lot: Anything done in the name of "art" is apparently OK all round as far as you lot are concerned.

You are a pack of complete fucking idiots.

What's more, you are a fraudulent pack of complete fucking idiots. You're quite happy to defend Henson, because he seems to be well connected amongst the tortured artistic milieu. Yet for years, photographers in the porn trade have been ridiculed by you lot, mainly because they lack the airs and graces that define your artistic stereotype, which you only seem too keen to conform to.

And what's more, I'd say that there is someone busted for kiddie porn once every couple of months and sent to gaol in this state alone. When was the last time you defended their art? You disgusting hypocrites.

You defend Henson, because you contend that "art" was his intention. You complete bunch of nob ends.

It's quite possible that art was his intention. But so what? Society's laws and values, sadly in my opinion, aren't based upon intentions, with the exception of some. Like the ones in this case that mean that Henson probably will escape prosecution. Yet I don't see you campaigning to see other laws brought into line.

In France, a trader is awaiting charges based purely on the consequences, not the intentions of his actions. Where were you during this, eh? When did you speak out against his charges?

Thanks to you, we're now likely to get a barrage of kiddie porn thrown at us under the guise of "art". It doesn't take a genius to see that any porn photographer wanting to profit from exploiting nude kiddies will now just throw up a gallery somewhere and stick up their photos which might not only involve kiddies nude, but possibly "doing stuff" as well. Fuck you.

It goes further than that. I heard not long ago about people having their cameras confiscated on Australia's most famous beach, merely because they might have been photographing chicks in bikinis. I didn't hear a single one of you complain about this. Maybe if they'd uttered the word, "art" they would have been able to keep their cameras. You sanctimonious morons.

What, you don't like my "thin edge of the wedge" argument? Well, why the hell are some of you content to trot it out then? I watched the news tonight, and I saw some of you complaining about the potential for increased censorship across the board as a result of this.

Yet none of you complain about existing censorship regarding porn. For that is what Henson's art is.

I have to laugh, whenever I hear some of the lame excuses trotted out by you lot. So the children's parents consented. So what?

Ms Jones, I like your work. You paint nice. And your 15 year old daughter would be considered technically nubile in some cultures, but not here. So why are you defending Henson's work on the parental consent line? Didn't you tell me that you recently told your daughter to stop pleading with you to allow her to have sex with the young brickie next door who she's been flirting with outrageously? Why won't YOU provide consent? Because you can't legally?

Well then, Ms Jones. Why aren't you campaigning to have the laws changed so that you can? After all, you're happy to defend the parental consent line in Henson's case.

"But it's not sex," you say. So what, Ms Jones? You're still being inconsistent.

OK, so I made this scenario up. Let's call it "art" and that'll make it alright. I hate that. Why can't I just be an exaggerating idiot? Is there something wrong with calling something what it is? Why do Henson's nudie shots of 13 year old girls cease to be exactly that when they're called "art"?

Well fuck you, artists.

I hate the fact that you expect government grants and complain about businesses being provided with tax concessions.

I hate the fact that you hate intellectual property laws except where it's your copyright over your work.

I hate where you resort to defending bad taste, mistakes and half-baked concepts as "art", yet criticise fellow artists when they dare to do stuff that's entertaining.

I hate the fact that you sell your stuff in galleries for outrageous prices, yet criticise anyone deemed to have "sold out".

I hate the fact that you're so fluid with your definitions on what "selling out" actually involves.

I hate the way that you insist on being branded as "eccentric" and have the nerve to criticise anyone for pointless pigeonholing.

I hate the tortured artist thing with an absolute passion.

I hate public arts funding, and wish it would stop. I hate the way that our national broadcaster insists on foisting arts programmes on to the rest of us.

I hate the way that you believe that it's your right to profit from a hobby.

I hate most of your work.

I hate myself for liking quite a lot of your work.

I hate the fact that you're all so fucking hypocritical.

I hate the way that because I'm a musician and writer, this makes me one of you and therefore just as hypocritical as the rest of you.

And I hate the word "art". Seriously, it should be fucking well banned. The vast number of the rest of us do not want to hear you claiming that your latest unentertaining installation of questionable merit is good merely because it's "art".

Put jam on it and jam it up your arse.

Dikkii.

PS: I'm not deliberately being ironic - I know that this technically qualifies as art. Fuck you.

Believe it or not, people wonder why I get so frustrated with the term "art". I don't think that this is going to make it any clearer.

10 comments:

KitKat said...

You appear a trifle miffed, Dikkii.

I haven't entirely formed an opinion of the photos as I haven't seen any. But regardless they are photos of underage children. I can't even decide whether the fact that the photographer is not related to them makes it better or worse. Parental consent? Given the recent Austrian incest case? That parent consented to what he did to his own daughter...

There are potentially two thin ends of wedges here as you have examined - increased censorship of art, and the potential for generic kiddy porn to be passed off as art.

Although with the porn, there is a line, which I cannot define myself. Are Anne Geddes cutie pics of naked babies in pumpkins kiddy porn? There are probably some sick individuals who get off on it, while the majority of the population think her stuff is either cute or nauseous or have no particular opinion.

There's also the question of paintings of naked kids done in the last 500 years or so - is that porn? Some of these artists had a rumoured sexual appetite for young children, a strong case that this is porn.

So, as to the legality of these particular photos, I'd say better safe than sorry. But there are a lot of issues that I can't sort out in my own mind. And that's not just because it's Monday morning. I'm just chucking in some thoughts, really.

As for the outcry of the "artists", I certainly agree with you Dikkii, there seems to be some hypocrisy here.

Dikkii said...

KitKat, a lot of that are exactly some of the points that I’m raising.

Me, I’m just wondering why artists think that they can comment here. They’ve been awfully silent on too many relevant matters to allow comment without being accused of hypocrisy.

Unless the fact that they’re opening up now means that they’ll now start a dialogue with the rest of us that includes addressing some of the stuff that they haven’t addressed to date.

We can only hope, I suppose.

Indefensible said...

Dikkii, you're trying to empty the sea with a bucket. You're trying to reason with people who think you can do something about Darfur by staging a new ballet.

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/weekend/theater/18167214.html

Dikkii said...

You're probably right about the bucket thing, Indefensible.

And I had this to say about the Darfur ballet: "!!!!"

Ordinary Girl said...

I thought that Paul over at Cafe Philos had a decent article from the other side. Maybe you two could talk through it and see if you share anything in common.

Dikkii said...

Thanks OG. I'll go and check it out.

Greg said...

Yes, those artists sure are a thoughtless bunch. They are so lacking in sophisticated reasoning processes and concern for wider society that they seem genuinely aghast when asked to explain how we could develop an effective court-implemented mechanism for filtering Bill Henson in but kiddie porn out.

The nearest I've seen for a rationale like that is the repeated bleating that Henson can't be kiddie porn because he has been exhibited overseas. You know - in Paris. So on the basis of approval by foreigners, he must be legit. (And not those dirty brown ones who allow god-knows-what either - proper French ones with, you know, real culture and stuff.)

I've got a new take on this issue that gives me some peace. Maybe it will help you too.

Any artist that you've heard of is more or less irrelevant. They know it, we know it. It's just a tight clique of self-reinforcing wankers, reliant on wealthy benefactors, government largesse, arts "administrators" (free-loaders) and auction houses (cartels) to crank the handle on the whole disgraceful scam.

When confronted with this blatant and enduring rip-off, the only sane response is to get in on it yourself. Better to be the tic than the sheep, right? It's psychologically easier if you identify as being "on the artists' side". (Doesn't matter if you're getting the fame and fortune personally; you'll just feel better about paying thousands for a photo ... or coughing up taxes for the same.)

So what's needed is a marker, a shibboleth, a test. Something to sort the wheat from the chaff. Actual talent and producing work of value is setting the bar too high. Art needs more support than that. So the test needs to be accessible to all, to draw in the maximum number of committed wage-units, yet a powerful signal of commitment. Something a bit like transubstantiation.

Enter the "Bill Henson should be able to take and publish photos of nude 13 year-old girls and I want to look at them and maybe buy some but I'm not a perve" test. The squeamish, the weak and the impure will baulk at this. Only the boldest and bravest and most deserving art supporter can pass. Oh, and hey - anyone who backs this position must be in on the joke too, right? (*wink* *wink*) They can't possibly be suckers. They get it. Not like those dirty Philistines.

Dikkii said...

They are so lacking in sophisticated reasoning processes and concern for wider society that they seem genuinely aghast when asked to explain how we could develop an effective court-implemented mechanism for filtering Bill Henson in but kiddie porn out.

I'm nearly convinced that EEO sets the perfect criteria for this - if it pops up your PC monitor at the wrong time (i.e. when a wowser is walking by) will it get you sacked?

The nearest I've seen for a rationale like that is the repeated bleating that Henson can't be kiddie porn because he has been exhibited overseas. You know - in Paris. So on the basis of approval by foreigners, he must be legit.

I remember hearing that. And I remember the feeling of my breakfast coming back up at the time. That was serious bottom of the barrel stuff, and disappointing, too.

They know it, we know it. It's just a tight clique of self-reinforcing wankers, reliant on wealthy benefactors, government largesse, arts "administrators" (free-loaders) and auction houses (cartels) to crank the handle on the whole disgraceful scam.

And I thought that I was being harsh...

Enter the "Bill Henson should be able to take and publish photos of nude 13 year-old girls and I want to look at them and maybe buy some but I'm not a perve" test.

Oh I like this. This is kinda like law Articles or an accountant's Professional Year program. Only work produced by artists who have been certified will be acceptable.

Hey, it works for anaesthetists.

Greg said...

I don't believe my analysis of the "arts industry" is overly harsh. Anyone familiar with the linked article about NGV "conflicts of interest" and ugly personality clashes would agree. This particular case is just the tip of the iceberg.

Scarily, the idea of a professional certification for artists is well-advanced.

As evidence for my claim that the Henson-art-versus-porn thing is about signalling and identity, I submit the Henson-related Facebook groups.

There are about 15 relevant ones. About four are against Henson and about ten support him. The latter have titles like "I protest against the shutting down of Bill Henson's exhibition!!!" and "I support Bill Henson". By far the biggest is "Philistines get your hands off Bill Henson's photography!"

I'd suggest that the whole point of joining these groups is to signal to your friends that you support the statement in the title. That's why they're phrased the way they are. There's actually very little content or discussion going on in the groups, given their size. It's all about getting that statement to flash up on your wall and in your friends' feeds.

Social signalling trumps the careful contemplation of consequences.

Fortunately, indulging in empty signalling behaviour like this can only arise in a group of people entirely disconnected from real decision-making.

Dikkii said...

I don't believe my analysis of the "arts industry" is overly harsh. Anyone familiar with the linked article about NGV "conflicts of interest" and ugly personality clashes would agree. This particular case is just the tip of the iceberg.

Don't get the wrong idea, Greg. I didn't intend that point as a crticism. If anything, I felt you were quite a bit more specific than I was.

The arts is a sinkhole for money with next to no responsibility taken by anyone. Stage government ministries routinely handout Arts as a rider with another portfolio, or to underperforming ministers who are on their way out. (Looking squarely at you, Mary Delahunty)

Corruption and conflicts of interest are rife, with excuses like, "What do you expect? It's a small community." Which is, of course, a complete lie.

Certification - the scary thing about this is that it threatens to turn the whole thing into a closed cartel which would be even more corrupt. Which raises the spectre of bureaucracy in a watchdog to deal with it.

Agree with your point about signalling behaviour. Now if only there was one we could join which asked artists to pull their heads in.