Thursday, October 9, 2008

Protocols for the depiction of children in art

Frank Moorhouse has entered the debate about protocols for the depiction of children in art, which the Australia Council has been asked to prepare for the Rudd Government. Frank stoutly defends artistic freedom, and he is right to do so.
The creation of artistic works should not be subject to dictates from above. Otherwise, we go down the path of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany where artists were able to exist only because they abided by the script given to them by their governments. Artists in countries with totalitarian governments (even Singapore I am reliably informed) still face opprobrium if they risk breaking the official political line.
But at the same time we have to recognise that artists do not exist in a cosy universe where they are, or even should be, totally free to do as they wish. Artists live in the real world. Their art reflects that world. That's how they connect with their audiences. If artists are to make a living from their art, they must make that connection. When they alienate their audiences, not only do they lose the opportunity to live from their art they also lose the ability to communicate the artistic concepts about which they feel so strongly that they must create art.
Successful artists, and by that term I mean artists who not only live from their art but are respected by their peers, balance this well. They may well be confrontational with some of their themes and messages, but they bring their audiences with them in a dialogue. At the same time, they may also offer solace, comfort or something as simple as pleasure. It is not, after all, the artist's duty to challenge everything.
So what does all this have to do with protocols governing artists dealing with children? Do these represent some growing puritan approach to the creation of art? In many respects, I believe they do, but I do not hold with the view that only artists can decide what is appropriate for art.
Art as I have said reflects the real world and the real world offers many impediments not only to artists but also to all the rest of the people who live in it.
We accept the constraints of the law. We might argue that these constraints should be changed, and at times it is necessary to stand up to the law and force it to be changed, but overall most of us, even artists, abide by the conventions we have decided work in our community. For example, we need to abide by the rules of the road in order to move around successfully. When we don't, we crash, artists as much as anybody else.
So do we need special rules for artists dealing with childen? I argue that if we are going to have protocols for dealing with chidren, let's make sure these protocols do a real job and really protect our children. If we are going to have them, they should be much more extensive than proposed.
They shouldn't be aimed only at artists. They should be community standards we embrace to save our children from all forms of exploitation.
For example, they should ban the use of children in advertising. They should ensure tobacco products and drugs of any description (including alcohol) should never be advertised in a manner that means children might be exposed to such advertising.

But that's not enough -- obesity is a bigger problem in school playgrounds than artists on the prowl for models. Children should be prevented from exposure to food products that are nutritionally unsound. Even better, let's ban McDonalds, KFC, Coca-Cola, Dominos, Burger King, and all the rest. All of these companies target children with unhealthy products. If we ban these companies, our children won't eat themselves fat.

And it is equally important that no sport be reported or broadcast -- too many children injure themselves on the sporting field. Sport also encourages unhealthy, aggressive behaviour. We don't want that.

That's just for starters.
There are many, many more things we can do to protect our children from bad influences like food, sport, advertising and, oh yes, art.

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