Friday, April 10, 2009

Bill Henson is Innocence

Bill Henson is innocence

I recently received an Art Monthly (Australia) April 2009 edition as a present. Whilst in the past I collected and read such publications avidly I now read them only by chance. Interestingly in the edition there is an article by Paul Rapoport on a book by David Marr about Bill Henson the photographer. Bill Henson has been a controversial artist not because of any overt behavior but because of his subjects and how he portrays his subjects. The subjects are pubescent boys and girls and their portrayal is both sensual and interpreted sexuality. Bill Henson's photographs are well supported by the 'cultured elite' and by state and federally funded galleries.

The issues are; Henson does poach his subjects from primary schools for a photo shoot and the Prime Minister described one of his nude pubescent girls as 'absolutely revolting'. The article defends both issues. The primary school poaching was dismissed as a 'fear-mongering fabrication'. The Prime Ministers comments were based on a corrupted images caused by the television monitor.




This article is about an industry protecting one of its own. The article doesn't question exploitation of pubescent sensuality or sexuality it questions nudity. The article doesn't question the concept that Bill Henson is actively making money from his photo shoots the article focuses on cultural contribution. “Henson have engaged difficult ideas to produce profoundly human works of art”. The article doesn't state that a sale of a pubescent photo will earn the seller and Henson over $5000. Henson is a commercial artist. His success is based on his works of art.

In 2008 a private art broker acquired a Henson photograph that depicts a young girl lying asleep on a bed in front of a glowing TV screen. Matt Henry “has bought one of controversial artist Bill Henson's photos to support him, and claimed he had been the target of a "witch hunt".”

Matt Henry is actively ensuring that the industry supports itself. He has made $ investment which in time will reward him with more $$$$$$$$$$$$. Henry doesn't contribute to the discuss on the need to own images of pubescent boys and girls and their sensual & interpreted sexual portrayal. He didn't buy the work for it's dialogue he brought it to support Henson.

Martin Sharp (Australian Artist) "It was a powerful image. I would call it very beautiful in its vulnerability rather than 'revolting' as the Prime Minister has done," Sharp said. The photograph suggested the girl "gave her trust to Henson … and this trust has been violated by the police and Kevin Rudd's comments."

The interest in this comment is that the photograph suggested the girl "gave her trust to Henson and Henson's communication in the photograph is beautiful because of the girl's vulnerability. Trust in an older man who portrays her as beautiful because she is vulnerable. Why is she vulnerable and Henson portrays the communication effectively.

This is where I find the Henson issue interesting. His photographs are beautiful in that they ooze sexual vulnerability. They are victims but who are they victims of. The psychology between the artist and the subject is not investigated. His photographs are works of art. They are High Art. Henson is a craftsman in charge of his trade. Henson has to work hard to get this emotional dialogue. There are no accidents. His images are not flukes or one offs. He is in charge of communicating a knowledge of concepts through the work of art to the viewer. This is passing of knowledge that he is fully in control of. His sales depend on his control. If the communication doesn't happen the sale or the rating will not go ahead.

Art is a communication tool. The Fine Arts trade is a one way dialogue that is firmly based in the 20th Century. Henson's art cannot be touched. He is the artist and his communication is protected by the authorities of the trade. He is portrayed as the victim who is innocent in his pursuit of art.

The claim that the Prime Minister's comments were corrupted by a TV monitor is beyond the ridiculous. This is political spin aimed by ART experts protecting their precious ART Industry. Art has been successful in establishing a cultural lie where experts know more because they know more and those who don't don't count.

So what is Bill Henson communicating. It is not nudity. It is not naked bodies. It is not pornography. The subject in his photo shoots communicate pubescent vulnerability, sensuality and sexuality. The question on whether old men should have access to places like schools to poach and groom subjects for a photo shoot that eventuates as a commercial object communicating pubescent vulnerability, sensuality and sexuality doesn't address the problem. The problem is that the dialogue is one way. Artist do not articulate their depicted knowledge. It is not good enough to say its an investigation into or that its up to the viewers interpretations. Artists need to be questioned and need to provide answers. When celebrities across the word are scrutinised on every comment and action made why are significant artist's hidden away and spoken for by the culture industry? When sport stars are role models what are significant artists?

The Arts Industry has hidden behind cultural significance for centuries. Who own culture? When issues such as this occur it is interesting how forceful the cultured authorities defend one of their own. Perhaps protecting one's own investments is a culture transforming necessity. 'Absolutely revolting' is a distortion of one's protection.