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The Forum > Article Comments > Moral acceptability > Comments

Moral acceptability : Comments

By Peter Bowden, published 3/6/2008

Whether it is to make money or a name for himself in the art world, Bill Henson is using children to further his own ends.

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Hensen is no more guilty than Michelangelo for his innocent artistic portraying of nude forms. I don't think he should be a target of abuse.

If the exhibition had not become a media story then it would have been attended by artistic people who go to galleries and that would be that. Nude forms, of both genders and all ages, have been the subject of painting and photography for centuries.

Now Hensen's work is a media story it would be no longer be feasible to exhibit them with artistic innocence, because they would be be a magnet for voyeurs.

Does art, like many other aspects of human enjoyment, have to suffer because of the activities of a deranged few? That's really the question.

How much social freedom in our society should be curtailed to cope with a deranged or lawless minority? We temper our freedoms in order to cope with terrorists and serial killers and house breakers... but where should the line be drawn?

Some are offended by all forms of nudity. They could put good arguments that all nude art is offensive and should be banned. Where do you draw the line?

Naked children are not offensive. All normal parents get sensual pleasure seeing their innocent young toddlers free ranging without clothes. The pleasure they get is not sexual. We should not make derangement a standard for judging everybody.

Art lovers derive artistic pleasure from seeing portrayals of the naked human body. Sex is not the object. There are many art pieces of aged people who are beyond sexual attraction.

Separation of art from pornography is as clear cut as is the separation of parliament from the judicial system. Kevin Rudd should know about that.
Posted by gecko, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 10:31:58 AM
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Peter,

Thank you for the basic exposition in moral philosophy, which I am sure is very well suited as an undergraduate's presentation in a tutorial in an introductory course on such matters.

I will point out however that you appear to have ignored the well-known criteria of autonomy as a continuum, missing out on the extensive research in developmental psychology which *clearly* indicates that adolescents have mastered the ability to engage in concrete operations and even have the capacity to engage in adult formal operations with their correlates in moral cognitive development.

Further, you fail to sufficiently investigate the motives of artist, parent or adolescent sufficiently which, as you should know, is absolutely essential if you're going to take Kantian deontological system of moral reasoning, as you have done. From all available reports both the parents and adolescents involved in the photography believed that it was the right thing to do. They did so for art, and because they believe that the photograph of these young adolescents can be both beautiful and innocent.

Thus your argument fails an empirical test on the capacity of moral reasoning, and a normative test on the basis of intentionality.
Posted by Lev, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 10:37:34 AM
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Well said gecko. I agree with you except for your last line. I think there is a continuum between art and pornography and that deciding what is appropriate and what isnít, isnít straightforward.

But works such as those of Henson should very clearly be considered to be acceptableÖin an art gallery or artistic publication.

Whether they are acceptable in other forums is another question. The Age published one of the key Henson photographs of a 12/13 year old girl with breasts exposed. The Courier Mail published a different photo of the same girl with a big banner across her breasts with Ďcensoredí written on it, and her pubic region exposed.

Iíd consider these instances to be very strongly in violation of accepted morality. (But I wish we had a much more liberal attitude to nudity whereby they would be acceptable in a newspaper or on the evening TV news.) I have heard absolutely no objection to them!! I mentioned these on another thread on OLO and there was practically no concern expressed. http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?discussion=1831#37015
http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?discussion=1831#37191

Iíve got to say; I just donít get it; there is outrage from lots of people about these photos appearing in an art gallery, but no outrage about the same appearing in a much wider medium; our newspapers. This absolutely bizarre!
Posted by Ludwig, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 12:17:51 PM
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Very silly argument:

"whatever are his objectives, he is using people who have virtually no say, to further his own ends"

Well, yes. Just like ABC Learning Centres (http://www.childcare.com.au/), Mattel (http://www.mattel.com/) and the Wiggles (http://wiggles.com/), to name just a few. Making a living by selling child-related goods or services to adults is not of itself problematic.

Personally I find the objectification of children in Anne Geddes' photography (http://www.annegeddes.com/) much more offensive than Henson's. Why aren't you including hers here, Peter?

And since you're objecting to Henson making representations of people who lack the ability to consent, then you need to include artistic representations of dementia patients http://flickr.com/photos/alfblume/2255334605/ and corpses http://www.koerperwelten.com
Posted by jpw2040, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 12:22:49 PM
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well, there go the harry potter movies. and the children of narnia movie. and nicky webster at the olympics. and ... god, this is just too easy.
Posted by bushbasher, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 12:34:37 PM
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"The children are being used. What ever the parentsí motives might be, be it an artistic desire, notoriety, or to make money, they are using their children for their own objectives."
Their own objectives? You don't mention that the children involved agreed to it, too. But:
"Society says children can't decide."
Except you've just written/implied that people that can decide - the parents - were 'wrong'.
So 1. you've assumed that the pictures are wrong, and doing harm, and 2. you object to the fact that a family has made a decision, and because it hasn't been put to a nation-wide referendum, it shouldn't have passed...
Posted by Chade, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 12:47:17 PM
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