I’ve steered clear of the Bill Henson/pedophilia hysteria to date, simply because I’m not, or wasn’t until last night, well enough acquainted with the man’s work or artistic focus.
Last night, the ABC acted in what I regard as the public interest by showing a documentary entitled ‘The Art of Bill Henson’ on the program Artscape. I made a point of watching the doco, at least half-way through. I’m not a latte-sipping luvvie, as the conservative elements in this country persist in labelling those who have artistic bents, but I do like what I like in the artistic realm. I enjoy photography myself, on an amateur level, of people and places, landscapes and abstracts, so I can appreciate to a degree why Henson would see content and context in his chosen photographic style. Frankly, it’s not my cup of tea, but to a great many, it is art. I found what was shown on the doco to be confronting, vaguely disturbing and challenging. Disturbing not for the random nudity displayed, but for some of the hard vision of adolescent youth being forced to grow up before it was ready. Young bodies not yet fully formed, yet heavily painted in tattoo art. Faces which look worn and hard on 15 year olds. Gangly youths with upended beer bottles in their mouths. Anger, disdain, angst and frustration melded with an inescapable innocence and unease with a world which can’t be held away long enough.
As I stated, I found what I watched to be disturbing and challenging enough to not want to watch the last half hour. That type of photographic art isn’t something I find enjoyable or entertaining, however, it IS art. There is simply no escaping the fact that what Henson does is artistic. Art, that style of art being pictorial representation, is intended to make the viewer stop, consider, appreciate and absorb. If you’ve ever been through an art gallery, you’ll know what I mean when I say that some things you’d not bother even glancing at because they simply don’t interest you, while others will stop you in your tracks. Henson’s work will either not interest you, or capture you. It’s that simple. There is no half way.
As I say, I’m not an arty-farty type, but I find those who openly ridicule others who are, to be incredibly closeted, narrow-minded individuals who give me the impression of being intimidated by attitudes towards art, per se, which they know they don’t understand. Appreciation of art, in whatever form, is purely in the mind and perceptions of the beholder. We like what we like. To openly come out and attack another individual who is recognised within his own field as an artist, a perfectionist, and someone who deliberately tries to convey a message with his art, as one of society’s pariahs is not only ill-informed, but socially dangerous, both to the attacker and recipient of the attack. The implications of the Miranda Devine and Ray Hadley attack on Bill Henson’s art, for Henson, are obvious. However, I wonder if Devine & Hadley, not to mention others of their ilk who are easily identified on a daily basis, stopped to think just how much they are exposing their own fear and ignorance of something they clearly do not understand?
Pedophilia is a crime. Crime’s are addressed by presentation of irrefutable evidence of committal before a court of law and jury of the accused’s peers. Innuendo of the kind raised against Bill Henson by what amounts to muppets acting on behalf of a larger, faceless, manipulative ideology in this country needs to be recognised for what it is. Jealousy, frustration and a newly found sense of complete powerlessness in the face of ideological change in Australian society. I’d liken Devine, Hadley and the rest of the shock genre in conservative Australia to Stadler and Waldorf. Heckling from a balcony, out of reach of the performers, usually making little or no sense but a lot of noise. A distraction to the audience and ultimately an annoyance which if continued, ends with ejection from the theatre. Muppets.
Leave art to those who want to appreciate it for what it is. Leave identification of criminals to the police.