Art Monthly Australia published this picture on their July cover. The girl, Olympia Nelson, now 11, was six years old when her mother took the picture.
It excited the wrath of Australian politicians with both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Brendan Nelson each trying to outdo the other with their objections and condemnations.
This after police shut down the Sydney exhibit by Australian artist Bill Henson (also roundly condemned by the politicians). The Australian court ruled that Henson's work was NOT pornographic and ended that row.
Now the Australian Classification Board, with the power to stop the sale of the magazine entirely, is being asked to rule on the magazine's right to sell given the fierce opposition to the cover. They are also to come up with "guidelines" on the subject.
The magazine editor, Maurice O'Rierdon, stated that the cover was selected to "validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art".
The girl's mother is an art photographer and her father is an art critic. Olympia, perhaps poised beyond her years, has expressed indignation over the negative comments in a press conference.
Early articles on the Internet show the image you see above, but later ones have a small black square blocking off part of it. This gives newcomers to the controversy the idea that the picture might be more revealing than it actually is. Thus the doctored photo is more provocative than the original.
Except for a small group of voices saying "what's the big deal?" the opposition to the photo seems nearly universal. Some condemn it for the "adult" pose, while others condemn any lack of clothes as child abuse out of hand.
The issue for Art Monthly Australia is further muddied by the fact that the magazine is supported by tax-payer funds.
Trying to separate the many strands of this controversy is like trying to separate grains of salt and pepper with a tweezers -- more tedious than rewarding:
- From the artistic view: the picture is okay, but certainly can't be called great art.
- From the child porn view: the fact that both parents are solidly supportive, that her mother took the original picture and that the girl is now five years older than she was when the picture was taken speaks to the wisdom of the parents not to expose a six-year old to this ordeal. Maybe they waited until they were sure she could handle the pressure or maybe this was the first occasion they had to publish the artwork.
- From the magazine point of view: they certainly made the case and got the attention they were seeking -- too bad they are fed from the public trough. When you take money from the government til, money expropriated from taxpayers, you exist not by right but by permission -- and sometimes the taxpayers (and the politicians who have to be attuned to the sensitivities of their constituents) withdraw that permission. Why should you be surprised?
- From the taxpayers point of view: All funding of art from the public trough is expropriation of some group by another group. There is no justification for any of it, just the old demagogic, "might makes right." Public indignation over this art is more the expression "These people are not one of us so how come they get to have this art published at our expense?"
- From the political point of view: In today's world, the astute politician is the one who can figure out which way the mob is headed and get there first.
- On the subject of guidelines: Nothing is less conducive to creativity and innovative cultural vision than government proscribed guidelines.
- Bottom line: Most people hate the idea of child abuse and child pornography, and that's what makes this subject so controversial. The problem is that no one is willing or able to offer an objective definition of the offense. Is unclothed equivalent to pornographic? Is unclothed equivalent to abuse? Some say yes, others (including me) say no. Can the age of consent be fixed only by government decree or is it a matter of parental judgement? Common practice in other matters (like drinking & marriage) say that the age of consent is fixed by the government in Western societies. Should this be different?
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