Art and Moral Taint

It was reported yesterday that the Tate gallery has decided to remove prints created by the artist Graham Ovenden following his conviction for child sex offences (on Tuesday 2nd April). Ovenden’s conviction itself raises difficult moral questions which I shall not address here. Ovenden is (or at least was) a celebrated portrait artist; he admitted to taking pictures of and painting nude children in the course of creating his portraiture, claiming that, in doing so, he was aiming to capture children in what he termed their “state of grace”.  Although he vigorously denied allegations of paedophilia over the course of the trial, Ovenden was found guilty of six counts of indecency and one count of indecent assault.

There may well be room for debate about whether Ovenden is a paedophile or just a harmless, albeit esoteric, artist. However, I shall not address this question here; I shall assume throughout (rightly or wrongly) that the court is warranted in describing Ovenden as a paedophile. Rather, I am interested in the Tate gallery’s response to the conviction, and more generally, the questions about the nature of art to which it gives rise.

It might be claimed that if an artist is as morally flawed as Ovenden has been accused of being, then their portfolio automatically becomes morally tainted by association.  In this context, the concept of ‘moral taint’ is most readily applied when there is a clear relationship between the artist’s moral wrong and their art. The concept is thus easily applied in Ovenden’s case; there seems to be a clear link between Ovenden’s moral wrong and the art he created which makes it inappropriate for a gallery to continue displaying his prints; the prints themselves depict, and are testament to, Ovenden’s moral wrong.

However, it is not always the case that there is a clear relationship between an artist’s moral defects and their art. It seems that the art form (or style) employed by the artist is of importance here, since the nature of certain art forms (and/or styles) might make it more or less difficult for people to disassociate that piece of art from its morally questionable inspiration. For instance, if you believe that Ovenden is a paedophile, then it is probably nigh on impossible for you to disassociate his photographs of nude children from his paedophilia. Many would surely claim that they could not possibly appreciate the aesthetics of such photos in the knowledge that the artist who produced them was a paedophile. However, suppose that Ovenden’s prints were not realistic depictions of nude children, but rather abstract conceptual paintings which did not remotely resemble a naked child, but which were nonetheless inspired by his alleged paedophilic desire for young children. Would the gallery be warranted in taking down these pieces? What if Ovenden had been inspired to write a string quartet by his alleged paedophilic desire rather than to take a photograph? Should recordings of this hypothetical quartet be destroyed, and future performances banned?

I use the example of a string quartet, because there seems to be scope for claiming that instrumental music is arguably the most abstract art form. This view finds support in Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Schopenhauer claimed that aesthetic contemplation allows humans to briefly escape the suffering that they experience as creatures who are constantly striving (by virtue of being driven by an insatiable will-to-life). However, he regarded music in particular as the highest art form, because music alone depicted the will itself (and, a fortiori, reality itself), whilst other art forms merely copied ideas inherited from the world as representation.

Whilst we need not buy into Schopenhauer’s questionable metaphysics, there seems to be something to his claim that music differs importantly from other art forms. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that music is alone in the fact that it can be conceived of and appreciated in abstraction from contemplation of physical form. I am not convinced that this is the fundamental difference, but whatever the key difference here might be, it is illuminating to compare Ovenden’s case with that of a morally flawed musician.

Perhaps the most famous such case is that of Richard Wagner (who, we might also acknowledge, endorsed Schopenhauer’s theory of aesthetics). Wagner is one of the most celebrated composers who ever lived and it would be difficult to argue that he was anything but a highly proficient composer. However, Wagner was also an anti-Semite who published a notorious essay attacking Jewish influence on German culture . For this reason, although it is the subject of great debate as to whether Wagner’s anti-Semitism impinges on his musical dramas, many Jews refuse to listen to his music; none of Wagner’s operas have been played in the state of Israel. Yet they are still hugely popular outside of Israel, despite the fact that most people know about the composer’s unsavoury political views. Accordingly, it seems plausible to claim that many people seem able to dissociate Wagner’s music from his anti-Semitism.

Perhaps these people believe that Wagner’s anti-Semitism did not influence his music in any way, and that it is therefore possible to completely dissociate the two. Although evidence might suggest that this is a difficult position to maintain, the possibility of dissociation here might be deemed to represent a crucial difference between Ovenden’s case and Wagner’s. However, suppose that evidence came to light suggesting that one of Wagner’s most-loved works was undoubtedly inspired by Anti-Semitic sentiment; would such a revelation lead to the banning of any future performances? I find it difficult to believe that it would (although whether it ought to is an entirely different question). The reason seems to be that, even in the light of such evidence, it still seems possible to dissociate music from its subject or inspiration in a way that is not possible when the art work in question is a realistic depiction of something morally deplorable, or is a realistic depiction inspired by something morally deplorable. If I am right about this, then it suggests that one contributing factor to the Tate’s reaction to Ovenden’s case is the nature of his art-form, and more specifically its realism. Our position seems to be that morally tainted art ought to be banned if it is impossible to dissociate from its morally deplorable inspiration, but that it need not be if the art work and its inspiration can be dissociated. Although I offer no concrete conclusions here, this raises the intriguing question of whether such a position is philosophically valid; can we consistently agree with the Tate’s decision and find it permissible to listen to Wagner?

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69 Responses to Art and Moral Taint

  • Arthur Allen says:

    Greetings:
    Just a small thought. The selection of art in any kind of exhibit, seems to me, to be an artistic act in itself, and an imposition of someone’s subjective morality. If that subjective morality is in conflict with the morality of the market culture it is trying to please its subjectivity is brought into stark relief. If that subjective morality is congruent to the morality of the market culture it is trying to please it is not thought subjective, but seems to approximate what is perceived to be a fixed moral standard. In the end, is not the question of “should” determined solely by market forces? In Wagner’s case, the strength of the pleasure derived from his product outweighs his association to his unpleasant morality. When elements of the work are associated with that unpleasant morality then there is nothing to be weighed against and the scale of pleasure is tipped toward the unpleasant. I guess I am wondering: if his images were strong enough at evoking the innocence and beauty of childhood (probably good because as a pedophile he must’ve been obsessed with this and other aspects of youth) to cause us to ignore their association, or even re-appropriate it, would the Tate have left them up? Would we not even be inclined to redistribute them as early birthday cards? It’s I’m impossible question to ask, because we would have to determine what good enough meant. I think my only proposition is: is our willingness to separate a work from its maker determined by the benefit we receive from doing so? Just a thought. Thanks!

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    “However, suppose that Ovenden’s prints were not realistic depictions of nude children, but rather abstract conceptual paintings which did not remotely resemble a naked child, but which were nonetheless inspired by his alleged paedophilic desire for young children. Would the gallery be warranted in taking down these pieces? What if Ovenden had been inspired to write a string quartet by his alleged paedophilic desire rather than to take a photograph? Should recordings of this hypothetical quartet be destroyed, and future performances banned?”

    The obvious difference is that a string quartet etc would not entail the actual exploitation of an actual child for paedophilic purposes, as a photographic or painted portrait clearly does, if it’s intended to be pornographic (or “erotic”) in nature, as much of Ovenden’s output has been. As the saying goes, “it’s not rocket science”.

  • jonnypugh says:

    Many thanks for your comments! Let me respond in turn.

    Arthur: You make some very interesting points. Here are a couple of thoughts in response. First, I agree with your observation that the selection of a piece of art for an exhibition can itself be construed as an artistic act; however, I am reluctant to claim that the answer to the question of what should be displayed is determined by market forces. You are correct to claim that others will evaluate the artist’s subjective moral vision (manifested in his creation) by reference to their own moral judgements. However, the fact that some moral norms are shared by the majority of the audience doesn’t entail that the answer to the question of what should be displayed is determined by market forces per se; this makes the fact that these norms are shared seem too contingent. I think many would want to claim that these moral norms could have a firmer objective grounding; that is, they would want to say that there is something wrong about paedophilia over and above the fact that people tend to agree that it is bad.

    With regards to your final proposition, about whether our willingness to separate a work from its maker is determined by the benefit we receive from doing so; I think that you can understand that as being true provided you have a particular understanding of benefit. For the proposition to be true, I think you would need to acknowledge the fact that our aesthetic assessment of a piece of art (and therefore benefit that we get from beholding it) is not carried out in isolation from our conception of morality. It seems that many people will find it impossible to regard something as beautiful if, in the process of contemplating it, they are also aware of its association with evil. As such, our willingness to disassociate the art from its immoral maker will be determined by our benefit from doing so, once we adopt an understanding of benefit which incorporates the fact that most people will find it impossible to benefit from pieces of art which they can not dissociate from evil.

    Nikolas: I agree with you that if the creation of the art work involves the actual exploitation of a child then there the creation of the art involves a moral wrong. However, it is not clear to me why the composition of a string quartet would not similarly involve the exploitation of the child in otherwise identical circumstances. Suppose that the composer only felt able to write music of sufficient quality if he composed whilst observing a nude child in the same way that Ovenden did whilst photographing his subjects (incidentally, such an example is not outside the realms of possibility; many composers are only able to write their music in the physical presence of their particular inspiration. For instance, it is said that Elgar composed almost all of his music in his head whilst walking in the woods surrounding his home, and wrote down his imagined themes when he returned home). Now, in this case, it seems to me that the creation of a string quartet would be just as exploitative as taking a photo; the only difference is the art work created. The question though is whether we would, or should feel as compelled to ban the artistic creation in this case, and if not, whether the charge of inconsistency can legitimately be weighed against us. Perhaps not rocket science, but I confess that I find the question puzzling!

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “However, it is not clear to me why the composition of a string quartet would not similarly involve the exploitation of the child in otherwise identical circumstances. Suppose that the composer only felt able to write music of sufficient quality if he composed whilst observing a nude child in the same way that Ovenden did whilst photographing his subjects”

      If the creation of the musical work involved a criminal act, it should be possible to bring a prosecution against the composer on those grounds. As for the music itself, if it’s just pure music then what it’s about or isn’t about is essentially up to the listener. If it’s music with questionable lyrics or music scored for child performers, that may be a different matter. Some people (including myself) find Benjamin Britten’s music for boy sopranos distasteful because of his sexual interest in boy sopranos. But I also find it distasteful when children are recruited to sing religious songs, as I don’t believe they are old enough to be able to endorse the meanings and beliefs expressed in those songs. As an atheist and anti-theist myself, I’m quite happy to listen to religious music as long as it’s of fine musical quality, and sung by adults in Latin or some other language that I don’t understand 🙂

  • Leo Adamson says:

    Arthur Allen’s connection of morality, aesthetics and market forces hits the nail on the head in an interesting way. Many might wish, as Jonny Pugh says, that these norms “could have a firmer objective grounding”, but what would that grounding be? Christianity? Of which variety? Or some other religion? Marxism? Marcusianism? Utilitarianism? Kant’s Categorical Imperative?

    Or the self-reinforcing temporary opinion of the majority? Market forces by another name. I can imagine us having similar discussions over Oscar Wilde’s plays 120-odd years ago. The majority then was just as sure of its moral rectitude, and the plays were withdrawn. Morality in this sense (perhaps moralism is a better word) being a social and political phenomenon, it is advanced and determined by social and political means, and not by any kind of reasoned discussion. It is reinforced by loud declaration and ostentatious display, drowning out and silencing alternative voices, and characteritically marks its disapproval in forms that signify social exclusion.

    The Tate’s action then falls in the same category as a decision not to re-show old episodes of Top of the Pops featuring Jimmy Savile, or to remove Gary Glitter from the play lists … or to close Oscar Wilde’s plays. In each case, the presenter is obliged to make a conspicuous display of majoritarian moral rectitude, or face the public’s own collective display in form of boycotts or worse. I am not suggesting any similarity in the artistic quality of these examples, merely in the exclusionary impulse.

    Thus it matters little whether Ovenden’s pictures, or Glitter’s songs, or Wilde’s plays, or (in Israel) Wagner’s operas, have anything much or at all to do with their supposed or actual offences. What matters is that the artists are social lepers and their works afford an opportunity to demonstrate that, with a dubious taint passed on to the art itself. Regrettably, Jonny Pugh is not immune from this form of tainting, with his highly dubious claim that Ovenden’s pictures “depict […] his moral wrong.” Or indeed, from majoritarian grandstanding, with his use of the word “evil”. I suppose this is what a belief, or hope, that moral norms have an objective grounding leaves one vulnerable to.

    At any rate, my view of majoritarian/normative morality as political and contingent, cynical perhaps but according well with the realities of human nature and history, does suggest a good reason why Wagner is relatively unaffected by such exclusion. Except in Israel, anti-Semitism is not a popular hot button issue, as paedophilia is (or homosexuality was), and Wagner has not been making big news recently. It is as simple as that.

  • Ian says:

    There are many areas within this discussion where the responses to concepts discussed indicate themselves to be morally or ethically anchored within a particular ideology, although that is often acknowledged or responded to. In much the same way as the perspective elaborated here.

    Where beauty exists it is.
    Where ugliness exists it is.
    Should one be banned because the other is preferable. A question of that nature in life appears truly abhorrent and yet aesthetically that question can exist.

    If reactions to moral value laden words are equated to reactions to pictures within the minds eye the definitions of words indicative of morally bad things would more quickly become distorted and diluted without reflection by having other meanings applied as moral social values changed. Retaining an awareness of those changes without being emotionally fixed to the emotive rhetoric associated with the value they are laden with may serve to create a sensitivity for alterations but it may not alter the wider social associations potentially being applied. Is war art beautiful or ugly… and yet war is widely accepted as bad.

    Removing the pictures being discussed from all public display will be playing to social pressure from those who only see ugliness, retaining them would be acknowledging their originally perceived beauty and allowing others to perceive the same, disposing of them all as morally tainted would be an ugly affair.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Removing the pictures being discussed from all public display will be playing to social pressure from those who only see ugliness”

      It’s not a simple matter of beauty vs ugliness, it’s a matter of their value as art, and such evaluations inevitably involve ethical assessment. These are judgments that the directors of the Tate have a responsibility to make as part of their everyday work. Aesthetically, most of Ovenden’s “girly” pictures have always looked like a blend of fashion photography and soft porn (some are more explicitly pornographic) but they’ve been allowed space in the Tate presumably for the same reasons they’ve been allowed space in art publications: firstly, whether they count as “erotic” or “innocent” was regarded as ambiguous largely on the basis of statements made by the artist himself (who insisted there was nothing sexual about them, but at the same time was happy for them to be included in books on “erotic art”). Secondly, “erotic art” is seen as a legitimate art category, that may at times “push boundaries” that would be unacceptable in the more obviously commercially exploitive medium of pornographic photography & film. Judgment here can be very difficult and quite rightly open to criticism, but they are judgments that are as likely to be made by the police as by the art critics, as Ovenden has long found.

      In this case, Ovenden’s criminal conviction for sexually abusing his child models has pushed these pictures clearly into the realm of gross pornographic exploitation. The Tate directors have made the only ethically defensible decision open to them. Ovenden’s work was unlikely to have weathered critical scrutiny in a (rightly) more critical age anyway, but their moral and aesthetic nature is now no longer “open to a more positive interpretation”.

  • Ian says:

    “It’s not a simple matter of beauty vs ugliness, it’s a matter of their value as art, and such evaluations inevitably involve ethical assessment. These are judgments that the directors of the Tate have a responsibility to make as part of their everyday work. ”

    There is no dispute that the directors of the Tate have a responsibility using the values they set and uphold to assess the type of art they wish to display within their institution. What was and is being stated by the comment is that completely reversing a prior judgement, which one assumes was previously made against the same aesthetic ethical and artistic measures is changing one right decision for another diametrically opposed right decision as a result of a type of social pressure. The second decision be it right wrong or indifferent is then made more likely to be difficult to understand in an aesthetic, artistic or ethical frame because of a blanket lack of access to the pictures as it was stated above there is no access by appointment. This is not the same as saying they were removed because the subject(s) may now object to their display or they subsequently have been found to have been taken under ugly circumstances and to protect all the subjects they have all been censored.

    “Ovenden’s work was unlikely to have weathered critical scrutiny in a (rightly) more critical age anyway, but their moral and aesthetic nature is now no longer “open to a more positive interpretation”.”

    Quite. And no doubt other artists photographers and researchers are now unable to learn in a structured environment how the work itself crossed those boundaries unless they are verbally informed by those with established views in those subject areas where one is invariably always assured the proferred views are correct.

    Political, Moral and ethical statements have long been made by art so I myself doubt very much that today’s critical scrutiny is any more difficult than in the past probably less so in many cases. I would however agree that where such statements are made they are made more artistically covert.

  • Ian says:

    I neglected to clarify. The main reference to beauty v ugliness was to the thoughts involved as much as any artwork. Given the circumstances one is lead to assume that considerations of beauty caused the works to originally be shown but considerations of ugliness caused the works to be censored

    • Peter Wicks says:

      ” but considerations of ugliness caused the works to be censored”

      Surely it was fear rather than “considerations of ugliness”. Whatever the ethical rights and wrongs here, it seems to me overwhelmingly likely that reputational risk was then main factor leading the pictures to be removed.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “What was and is being stated by the comment is that completely reversing a prior judgement, which one assumes was previously made against the same aesthetic ethical and artistic measures is changing one right decision for another diametrically opposed right decision as a result of a type of social pressure”

      As is clear, what inspired them to look at the pictures “in a new light” was the simple fact that the artist had been convicted of sexually abusing the child models. This made a mockery of his claim that there is nothing sexual about these images.

      “The second decision be it right wrong or indifferent is then made more likely to be difficult to understand in an aesthetic, artistic or ethical frame because of a blanket lack of access to the pictures as it was stated above there is no access by appointment.”

      Many of Ovenden’s girl images can be found by anyone searching for them in Google image search.

      “Given the circumstances one is lead to assume that considerations of beauty caused the works to originally be shown but considerations of ugliness caused the works to be censored”

      I don’t think simple notions of beauty and ugliness have played a prominent role in art evaluation for some time. I would suggest that Ovenden’s work (which is technically fairly feeble – he’s a bland painter and a mediocre photographer) was accepted by the Tate largely because it was deemed fashionable, at a time when child nudity of this kind was thought “edgy”. As I suggested, it’s likely that the Tate had already grown embarrassed by its Ovendens some time before his conviction made it imperative for them to be removed.

  • Leo Adamson says:

    Jonny Pugh says:
    “There may well be room for debate about whether Ovenden is a paedophile or just a harmless, albeit esoteric, artist.”

    But in what way are these mutually exclusive categories? If Ovenden is a paedophile, does that imply that his art is bad, or that he committed the offence he was convicted of? Indeed, that it was an issue at the trial strongly suggests that, as has become normal in our times, the trial was unfair and the outcome unsafe. Surely it doesn’t matter whether he is a paedophile. Unless…

    Nikolas Schaffer says:
    “whether [Ovenden’s works] count as ‘erotic’ or ‘innocent’ was regarded as ambiguous,” but in “a (rightly) more critical age … their moral and aesthetic nature is now no longer ‘open to a more positive interpretation’.”

    Is Nikolas not confusing ‘critical’ with ‘condemnatory’? I cannot see how he can claim we live in a more critical age, but we certainly live in one that has taken to heart John Major’s call to “condemn more and understand less”. And again, how can ‘erotic’ and ‘innocent’ be regarded as mutually exclusive? Unless…

    Let us suppose, along with Jonny, that Ovenden is guilty as charged, not in fact of being a paedophile. (Or was that really it?) As I understand it, a typical offence was that a girl would put on a blindfold and lick things (to guess what they were?), including bits of Ovenden. Partly owing the blindfold, no one knows which bits. Was it fun at the time? Was there a lot of giggling? Did it turn out to be a bad idea and was quickly abandoned? We don’t know. But either way, isn’t it a silly, childish game? Is this really our age’s idea of “evil”?

    I have not seen it stated whether it happened in this case, but in many cases one reads of reassessments, typically along the lines: “At the time I thought it was just a game, but now I realise that I was abused.” Sometimes the realisation comes during “therapy”. But why should the second impression be given more weight than the first? Because it is more socially approved? Surely that it is a reason to doubt it, as a change of mind perhaps made under pressure from social attitudes that were not held at the time and are therefore arguably irrelevant. Unless…

    …unless one believes in “evil” as an active principle, and its personification in the “paedophile”. Then it begins to make a crazy kind of sense. Belief in the Devil of traditional Christianity has fallen away even among Christians, but humanity seems to crave its fix of evil to believe in, and in the West, male sexuality in general and paedophilia in particular, seem to have taken up much of the slack. Richard Webster’s book The Secret of Bryn Estyn, chapters 74 and 75, provide a deep and well-researched historical examination of this phenomenon, of how we reached what Nikolas calls our “more critical age”, from the puritan Christian Victorians who founded of the child-protection and feminist movements, through the feminist revival of the 1970s, with its fervent, evangelical belief that men systematically use rape and incest to train women and girls in submission, through the Satanic abuse scares of the 1980s and 90s to… today.

    Then one sees how similar the reassessments mentioned above are to a religious conversion, a seeing of the Light. One sees why a trial like Ovenden’s, whatever the formal charges, is presented as, and in practice becomes (the rules of evidence having been slackened to permit it) a determination of whether or not he is a “paedophile”, personification of evil, the modern form of witch. In which case the most innocent game becomes the most monstrous abuse/witchcraft. One also gets a better understanding of the obsession with imagery, the idols that need to be smashed, and with suppressing “paedophile” writings, the texts of heresy (whether with outright bans, as in Canada and Australia, or simply and equally effectively by pressuring the book trade to boycott them). One also gets a better understanding of the fervour with which all this is progressed. Weird times, good for cultural anthropologists, not so good for citizens who love liberty.

    I was a bit hard on the Tate before. (I doubt they minded, or noticed.) After all, at present I understand they haven’t actually decided to censor these works permanently, merely withdrawn them while they decide what to do — although having done that, they may find it harder to decide to them back. One might think they could have decided with the pictures still on the wall, but perhaps they think that temporarily removing them is the best way to calm the situation, and who can blame them for seeking some calm. The important thing is that they are not destroyed, so future, perhaps less hysterical ages can also make a judgment.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “But either way, isn’t it a silly, childish game?”

      Well, no. An adult male sticking his penis in the mouth of a naked, blindfolded child is an act of rape. Child rape is not a “silly, childish game” it’s a fairly horrific crime, and treated as such by the law, at least in the more civilised corners of the world.

      But it seems it’s always expecting too much for the advocates of paedophilia to acknowledge that their hobby actually involves victims.

      • Leo Adamson says:

        ‘Advocates of paedophilia’ is an over-simplification, and the action of which you accuse Ovenden (which what justification I don’t know, but I suspect not much) is far from what I described.

        I don’t think the bounds of what ‘paedophilia’ is are at all clear, and would be reluctant to advocate it for that reason alone. But one doesn’t have to be remotely in favour of anything that could be called ‘paedophilia’ to oppose hysteria and witch-hunting about it, and to support a measured and evidence-based approach to the various kinds of phenomena that get lumped under the name.

        We can agree that within those various contested bounds are some actions that amount to rape, including that of which you accuse Ovenden, falsely as far as I can see. Perhaps some ‘witches’ did actually poison people. That wouldn’t excuse witch-hunting, or unfair trials, with convictions based primarily on irrelevant evidence, and one needn’t be an advocate of witchcraft (or paedophilia, or poisoning, or rape) to say so.

        If there were some reliable way of knowing that Ovenden did what you suggest, how would that affect one’s reaction to the art? It might add an element of unease in viewing the work depicting that particular subject, since one would feel for her, which is not quite the same thing as tainting the work itself, although in practice not easy to disentangle. But, pace Jonny, the picture does not depict the offence, and if it was an object of beauty worthy of a national collection, then so it remains. His work shows that he could be respectful, even reverential, to his subjects, and would do so even were it established that there were times when he was not. That too might be of some interest, and add to the complex of reactions to the work.

        But it’s a hypothetical question only, and the art speaks against it, or at least is in tension with it, for the action of which you accuse him, at least as you describe it, is that of a boor, and the art, while it may, as some have suggested, be mediocre (pop art, to which it broadly belongs, is an odd, ephemeral genre), is hardly boorish.

        • Nikolas Schaffer says:

          “and the action of which you accuse Ovenden (which what justification I don’t know”

          The justification that he was found guilty by a court of law, in a fair trial, and now awaits sentencing.

          “I don’t think the bounds of what ‘paedophilia’ is are at all clear”

          Since you’ve spent most of your life defending paedophiles and paedophilia, I would have thought you might have worked that out by now. We are talking about adults subjecting children to sexual intercourse, and regarding it as their right to do so.

          “But, pace Jonny, the picture does not depict the offence, and if it was an object of beauty worthy of a national collection”

          Ovenden’s pictures are not works of beauty unless you regard the sexual exploitation of children as a beautiful thing. All of his works are clearly exploitive in nature and a number of them feature the sadomasochistic “bondage” theme that he liked to explore, alas not just in smutty pictures but also in real life.

          “If there were some reliable way of knowing that Ovenden did what you suggest”

          In civilised societies, those accused of sexual offences against children are entitled to fair trials in courts of law, and we regard this as a reasonably reliable way of investigating and passing judgment on such serious crimes. Which are unfortunately not at all rare, but as society becomes more sensitive to the rights and welfare of children, a higher percentage of such cases are coming to the attention of the courts and being successfully prosecuted. This is not a “witch hunt”, but a welcome sign that child welfare is being taken more seriously now than was previously the case.

          • Leo Adamson says:

            “The justification that he was found guilty by a court of law, …”

            Disingenuous to the point of dishonesty. He was neither accused nor found guilty of what you described.

            “…in a fair trial…”

            The problems with historic abuse trials are well known and need not be rehearsed here. Reports suggest that a pivotal piece of evidence was a pair of pictures he had made and discarded which had no connection with the accusations. This is quite apart from the general lowering of evidential standards in the last 20 years, which has particularly affected this kind of trial. There are strong reasons for doubting its fairness.

            “We are talking about…”

            This being the royal ‘we’? Unlike you, I can recognise when an important term is poorly defined, meaning that it is routinely used in conflicting and equivocal ways by others, not least yourself.

            “Ovenden’s pictures are not works of beauty…”

            I didn’t claim they were. I’m not sure what you are doing on a philosophy blog when you seem to be ignorant of the significance of a conditional clause.

            Personal attack noted. I will not condescend to reply except to observe that it is false and dishonest.

            Apart from that, a fine mix of the disingenuous, the prejudicial and the blatantly dishonest in every single statement. Well done! You would make a good tabloid hack.

            There’s no point attempting rational discussion with you, and besides, it would be off topic, as indeed were your last two contributions.

            • Nikolas Schaffer says:

              As for Graham Ovenden’s “tasting game” behaviour, I was merely recounting the press reports of the trial:

              “In this context, although it makes difficult reading, it is worth repeating just a part of what prosecuting counsel Ramsay Quaife told the jury in Truro this week.

              He described how Ovenden would dress the children in Victorian-style nighties before leaving them naked and blindfolded, then get them to perform what he called ‘taste tests’.

              ‘The defendant would put tape over her eyes,’ said Mr Quaife. ‘She could not see anything. The tape was black, stretchy and smelt of glue.

              ‘Although she could not see, she could hear the defendant and she could remember the sound of his belt buckle.

              ‘The defendant would tell her she would do a taste test and would get 10p for every taste she got right. He would then push something into her mouth …. he told her it was his thumb.’

              In fact, Ovenden was performing a disgusting indecent assault on the girl.”

              http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2304791/How-art-establishment-helped-paedophile-painter-Graham-Ovenden-away-20-years.html

          • Dave Frame says:

            Nikolas wrote: “Ovenden’s pictures are not works of beauty unless you regard the sexual exploitation of children as a beautiful thing.”

            I don’t think this follows at all. I can see beauty in (some of) the works of Robert Mapplethorpe without regarding homosexual sadomasochism as “a beautiful thing.” Back in the old days, we used to think that aesthetics and morals were fairly orthogonal to each other. I still prefer to think that way. It means I can admire some pieces of socialist realism, which I would not be able to do were I forced to evaluate the moral dimensions of the social contexts in which those pieces were created.

            In reply to Jonny’s question at the end of his post – when I listen to Wagner I don’t think I’m terribly focused on the fact he was anti-semitic. Just like, when I listen to Willie Nelson, maybe I’m dimly aware that he supports the deplorable practice of agricultural subsidies for developed world countries. But it doesn’t fill me with moral rage.* That’s because when I’m listening to music, I’m just listening to music. Not everything needs to collapse onto the single dimension of making moral evaluations. Some people like everything to collapse down to a single dimension, and I appreciate that there are some people for whom Mapplethorpe, Wagner and Willie Nelson will only ever be the sum of their moral (or political) actions, rather than creators of sometimes beautiful things. But they’re just low-dimensional people, who have the virtues and vices of low-dimensional thinking: simplicity; clarity; efficiency. There are settings where these are virtues, but I’m not sure the evaluation of art is one of them.

            *Arguably it should – one of those Toby Ord-ish charity calculators should work out the costs in human lives of actually existing policies (like they do when they’re comparing charities). If you actually looked at which government policies do the most harm in the world, my guess is that first-world agricultural subsidies/barriers would be up there.

  • Ian says:

    Peter,

    “Surely it was fear rather than “considerations of ugliness”. Whatever the ethical rights and wrongs here, it seems to me overwhelmingly likely that reputational risk was then main factor leading the pictures to be removed.”

    Unless the fear was about a wider contamination of an art form by association, which could be justified but is not supportive of adventurous art forms. A type of judge the person rather than the art come to the Tate.

    Nikolas,

    “As is clear, what inspired them to look at the pictures “in a new light” was the simple fact that the artist had been convicted of sexually abusing the child models. This made a mockery of his claim that there is nothing sexual about these images.”

    We seem to be in agreement that considerations were adapted to judge the work by applying different perspectives to those originally adopted then. And yet the images themselves did not change in any way…

    “I don’t think simple notions of beauty and ugliness have played a prominent role in art evaluation for some time.”

    Out of respect for the originator of this discussion and the purpose of the blog it would seem inappropriate to move this discussion from the moral/ethical questions originally raised to ones on determinations of beauty vs excellence of execution or science vs aesthetics within an art. That sort of debate would more rightly be located in an art blog and seems more reminiscent of an is photography art debate. Another reason in avoiding this is that my knowledge of art is insufficient to do justice in such a debate.

    “it’s likely that the Tate had already grown embarrassed by its Ovendens some time before his conviction made it imperative for them to be removed.”

    An art establishment embarrassed by something it had admitted as art? That is a strange word to use in the circumstances.

    Leo,

    “But in what way are these mutually exclusive categories? If Ovenden is a paedophile, does that imply that his art is bad, or that he committed the offence he was convicted of? Indeed, that it was an issue at the trial strongly suggests that, as has become normal in our times, the trial was unfair and the outcome unsafe. Surely it doesn’t matter whether he is a paedophile. Unless…”

    … if that is logically progressed all art involving children becomes paedophilia which reminds me of when parents proudly taking photographs of their naked newborn children were being interviewed by the authorities because the developers were concerned about the pictures being indicative of peadophilia. Does art stand as itself or is it measured by the artist or viewer. Many artists of old obviously expressed sexuality in part of their art within their time – that is frequently what sold it. A large majority of others were covertly sexual in their art during their time – that is frequently what sold that. Which ones should be looked upon as art today…

    “Let us suppose…
    to
    …One also gets a better understanding of the fervour with which all this is progressed. Weird times, good for cultural anthropologists, not so good for citizens who love liberty.“

    Clearly in the same way that many artists attempt to project emotion we may engage whatever emotions we perceive as necessary to progress any particular debate, however the issue has to return to the artworks themselves. They are either art or not art and including moral decisions within definitions of existing artworks appears as a clearly social act rather than an artistic one. Whilst the values of any art will inevitably involve elements from the artist mixed with elements from the audience artworks created by people incarcerated within asylums are not accepted as bringing madness into this world so why does the value given particular types of art change because of particular social perceptions at any given time. When considering how society changes that seems to be the an important part of the question being considered.

    Removing the Tates self and social interests from the originally broadly posed question and re-phrasing it as what is art attempting to achieve beyond expressing itself seems to allow the values to become separated between the expressions of the individual artist and anything they may be trying to achieve and the expressions of institutional values in the chosen displays.

    Whilst accepting the difficulty associated with looking upon an art subject as having inherent rights in their image it is interesting that nobody progressed the proffered thread that care for and the interests of the child subjects involved could in any way be part of the reason for the removal of the pictures. That does make it appear clear that the individuals were not of concern but social pressure was, a strange ethical situation indeed and although a very dangerous thread to the art world one which surely should be a cause for concern if moral values are indeed of concern when making determinations of artistic integrity….

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “We seem to be in agreement that considerations were adapted to judge the work by applying different perspectives to those originally adopted then. And yet the images themselves did not change in any way…”

      The assessment of artistic worth changes all the time. Partly this is due to fashion, but more importantly, it can be due to real cultural progress being made in the broader society and being reflected in the art and responses to art of the time.

      “An art establishment embarrassed by something it had admitted as art?”

      Happens all the time. It would be disturbing if it didn’t.

  • Peter Wicks says:

    I doubt it was “fear was about a wider contamination of an art form by association”. Far more likely, in my view, that it was an essentially knee-jerk reaction aimed at protecting the Tate from unwelcome political/public attention in the short term.

    There is, of course, an ethical question as to whether such a reaction, if done for the reason I suggest, was a good thing to do or not. Perhaps what I am really question is the extent to which the decision really raises the kind of “questions about the nature of art” to quite the extent that everyone here seems to be assuming. Perhaps the question should not be, “Was the Tate right to remove the pictures in the short term?” so much as, “Should the Tate put them back on display once the fuss has died down?” We could also usefully explore the extent to which reputational risk is an ethically legitimate consideration even if we disagree with the premises on which people would be judging them. Personally I think it is, and indeed no-one could do anything significant in public life without taking such risks into consideration, considering how deeply irrational people actually are, but there are obviously limits to this, which we could usefully explore.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Far more likely, in my view, that it was an essentially knee-jerk reaction aimed at protecting the Tate from unwelcome political/public attention in the short term.”

      And in the long term. And they wouldn’t be wanting unwelcome attention from a critical art world, either. Ovenden’s reputation is highly unlikely to be rehabilitated in the future, especially since his artistic efforts were pretty feeble anyway. Fortunately we live in a world where “the fuss” generated by child abuse is unlikely to “die down”, unless the disciples of Thatcher and the Church etc regain complete control of the culture.

      • Peter Wicks says:

        The “fuss” about child abuse may be unlikely to die down, but the fuss about these particular pictures surely will. In this linguistically hyper-stimulated world, people rarely pay attention to one issue for long…

  • Ian says:

    Peter,

    “I doubt it was “fear was about a wider contamination of an art form by association”. Far more likely, in my view, that it was an essentially knee-jerk reaction aimed at protecting the Tate from unwelcome political/public attention in the short term.”

    The interests of the Tate being served by a ethical decision(s) then. There is nothing ethically wrong in that, but they seem to have missed an opportunity to progress some of the moral/ethical issues which the display may have been intended to raise… Or did they.

    “There is, of course, an ethical question as to whether such a reaction, if done for the reason I suggest, was a good thing to do or not. Perhaps what I am really question is the extent to which the decision really raises the kind of “questions about the nature of art” to quite the extent that everyone here seems to be assuming…”

    Having so far resisted attempting to compare Ovendens art with Hensons and the debate of a similar ilk in Australia over the years (Discussed in – Craig Taylor, Moralism A Study Of A Vice, 2012) for fear of cross contamination and the reputational risk which could be associated with that following Ovenden’s conviction it now seems an appropriate time to bring it into the discussion. In my view moral judgements are inherently dangerous when applied across cultures whilst ethical judgements allow a focus which permits moral matters to be reduced to more technical questions and in doing so also facilitate viewpoints which may avoid the human essence. Whilst that may be beneficial from the perspective of a group (like, surprisingly, the Tate in this case) who may then pick the time medium and method for appropriately dealing with any particular issue. From that perspective the Tate’s decision could be viewed in essence to perhaps be mechanistic and visibly lacking some human elements but correct. Considering if the reported decision is morally right appears to be a different question with many answers available from many different moral frameworks.

    Surely as part of social life all questions and all answers involve reputational risk. The question seems to be what is the more important, a set of accurate and validated viewpoints or reputation. Dealing with irrationality seems to be a different thing so a discussion of each would probably require a different thread as this one has only begun to scratch the surface of this issue. For instance, nobody has raised one of the points mentioned by Taylor that the parents of child subjects authorise and in cases seek out the photographer – because of their artistic reputation – specifically to create the artwork. (A reputational factor which could be seen as supportive of the Tate, as an organization, taking the decision to remove his work from direct public display following conviction.)

    Nikolas,

    “Ovenden’s reputation is highly unlikely to be rehabilitated in the future, especially since his artistic efforts were pretty feeble anyway.”

    Certainly different views of art exist, I have today searched the internet and found a few of Ovenden’s artworks but have not yet considered them. It would seem likely that the rehabilitation of reputation would not happen while a conviction of that nature exists; And even if he subsequently has a successful appeal I would suggest there will be many comments continuing to denigrating his reputation; Taylors coverage of the Henson debate where it is accepted Henson’s artworks are intentionally challenging shows that, although there apparently is a continuing re-assessment of the ongoing art value, that it appears goes with that genre.

    If reputation were the key would any art ever challenge or take a view on any social values, or would art be facile sterile material merely aesthetically pleasing in its directly accurate and noncommittal representation of its subject. Wait… would that be art at all?

    There is a continual drift away from the original debate in those comments though. The original focus would facilitate debating such things as if a person subject of an artwork had an ongoing interests in artwork which represents them. Put another way are the reputations of artistic subjects not also linked and presented within the artistic representation of them. Avoiding issues like that would surely indicate a greater concern with only one side of the reputation equation than with exploring all the philosophical moral and ethical factors involved. Even given the social complexity involved a debate within this ethical forum is feasible as to my limited art awareness many art forms directly comment upon or display reputation.

    • Peter Wicks says:

      Ian,

      ” The question seems to be what is the more important, a set of accurate and validated viewpoints or reputation.”

      I disagree. Both are important, to varying degrees depending on the context, so worrying about which is more important seems unlikely to be particularly fruitful. A better question would be how far one should be willing to go to protect one’s reputation, either as a group or as an individual. Ultimately it comes down to values.

      “Dealing with irrationality seems to be a different thing so a discussion of each would probably require a different thread as this one has only begun to scratch the surface of this issue.”

      I guess one can never do much more than scratch the surface of issues in a single thread, but one of the more fruitful ways of doing so is to identify what are some of the key ideas that need to be considered, and I think how to deal with irrationality is one of them in this case. Essentially, irrationality arises when our capacity to reason fails, and this can happen either because it is inherently faulty or because our emotions are getting in the way. And this is a VERY emotive topic for many people.

      It also depends, I guess, on what the purpose of these threads is supposed to be. I’m kind of working on the assumption that the idea is not so much to resolve the various issues per se as to use them as springboards to refine our thinking about ethical issues generally. One impression I have gained over the years is that a lot of rationalists (which I think is a label that fairly describes most people who comment here) have an irrational fear of irrationality, which can interfere with their (otherwise excellent, especially when they are also ethicists) ethical reasoning. I think it is important to accept that human beings are to a very large extent irrational.

      Of course, it is also important to clarify which ethical framework we are starting from. In your comment you seem to be drawing a distinction between “moral judgements” and “ethical judgements”, but for me the one thing that “permits moral matters to be reduced to more technical questions” is to be clear about our moral or ethical (whichever word you prefer) frameworks. Mine is essentially utilitarian, with some caveats that don’t seem to be particularly relevant in this case.

    • Leo Adamson says:

      Thank you for an interesting and constructive comment, helpful not least for the reference included.

      What is the distinction you are making between ethics and morals? I have read a little on the subject, but the texts I’ve seen so far have treated the two as pretty much interchangeable.

      I tried to formulate a discussion on the possible continuing interest of subjects in their portrayals, but the ramifications span out of control! I suggest perhaps people are avoiding it because it is so complex and difficult.

      Here is a brief sketch. I am aware there are wider ramifications that make things more difficult than this.

      The main tension is between privacy/reputation on the one hand and free expression on the other. The McKinnon/Dworkin proposed anti-porn ordinances had some similar thinking behind them, but were widely regarded as excessively interfering in free expression. These accorded no special status to the subject; any woman could sue for reputational damage from any porn. But even if right of suit had been limited to the subject, I don’t think that would have sorted out the problem. Child porn law is also based on this sort of thinking. Again, the subject has no special status, though. This time, the decision is made by the state on the basis of ‘propriety’. Can or should any of this apply to images like Ovenden’s (which, as has been pointed, teeter on the edge of this country’s over-broad definition of child porn — he has had some brushes with that law, though always acquitted in the end), or to portraiture in general?

      Against, one could argue that an artwork is a product of the artist’s imagination, even if it is a portrait, and as such doesn’t affect the sitter’s reputation in any way, only the artist’s. I think the case for that is very strong indeed in the case of paintings; more balanced in the case of photographs, which Ovenden also made; but I would suggest that is a matter of degree not kind and in the end the same considerations prevail. A photo is also a composition by an artist, and does not contain its subject’s soul.

      Anyone want to run with this, or against it?

      Peter Wicks asks us to state our framework: I call mine individualist virtue ethics, which is almost an anti-framework, but on the public level does imply striving for the maximum practicable degree of toleration for individual conscience and expression. Having mentioned toleration, I had better make it clear that I am strongly opposed to the Marcusian politically correct ethics currently dominant in the West, which I think amount to a hypocritical sham of toleration.

      • sean says:

        Hi Leo.

        “individualist virtue ethics”

        That’s very close to my own ethical stance. I’m really a libertarian where intimacy is concerned (I’m far mor collectivist in my economic philosophy), but I believe a sense of ‘common decency’ is at the root of ethical conduct. We can only be ‘good’ in relation to others.

        Of course this relativism raises the problem of the society with immoral norms (eg with slavery, concentration camps etc). In answer, I would say that I have received moral instruction from people I admire more than I admire ‘society’ and my loyalty lies with them.

        Moreso, despite the feelings or impulses I might have, I’m guided by the expectations and values of people whose good will I value. Easily influenced, perhaps, but what i’m talking about is humility, not subservience. I have a steely resolve when I think I’m right, even when I’m not.

  • Ian says:

    Peter,

    “I disagree. Both are important, to varying degrees depending on the context, so worrying about which is more important seems unlikely to be particularly fruitful. A better question would be how far one should be willing to go to protect one’s reputation, either as a group or as an individual. Ultimately it comes down to values.”

    I agree, and that much of the point about values has to be unpacked in detail at some stage. The group/individual issue on protection of reputation can probably be unpacked within a discussion focused in that area.

    “Essentially, irrationality arises when our capacity to reason fails, and this can happen either because it is inherently faulty or because our emotions are getting in the way.”

    Add where circumstances impose a lack of time so an inherent irrationality may be externally perceived where none necessarily exists. In a similar sense something like augmented reality would be a prime example of rationality being presented where perceptions of limitations on time create a similar affect where none exists.

    “And this is a VERY emotive topic for many people.”

    And individuals learn to deal with their emotions by experience and reflection; With art, unless it is censored individually or socially, potentially playing a particularly valuable role by facilitating emotional involvement in what could be a safe environment.

    Refer the generic observation on irrationality to my previously verbose explanation concerning perceptions of availability of time which is sometimes also referred to as prioritising or similar. Interpreting your comments that value determinations infer and reflect those same factors may be saying the same thing. Disputes about a value conflict could always be blamed on irrationality rather than identifying how different value sets create different tensions in different areas resulting in different viewpoints producing different conclusions. Could it become simpler to define irrationality than debate confusingly conflicting and complex values? That question should not be confused with an apparent irrationality within parts of any value system in any particular set of circumstances.

    The presented meaning of moral frameworks refers to something like a religious base which only accepts certain values, so if you convert those values to a moral judgement, which did not seem to be my meaning but is a proper extension in that sense, one would be automatically accepting of the delivered value rather than questioning of it. The projected view of ethics separately used ethical thought as an overlay allowing conflicting values within moral frameworks (not restricted to religion) to be resolved by what you seem to term only as rational dialogue. Different philosophical perspectives aside a construction of that nature facilitates dialogue rather than starting from the inherent strife and tension potentially involved. The issue identified previously regarding maintaining human qualities clearly has to be included and your comments on emotion seem to belong in there, informing but not directing (those last two words require careful reflection if my meaning is not to be misunderstood).

    Leo,

    “What is the distinction you are making between ethics and morals? I have read a little on the subject, but the texts I’ve seen so far have treated the two as pretty much interchangeable.”

    See my response to Peter. Do your comments reflect my thoughts, as a mixed dialogue does seem to frequently appear in this area seemingly dependent upon a variety of causes. Considerations from the little reading undertaken here seem to make a distinction where moral value has historical (that does not necessarily mean an existing current value) validity in some way where as an ethical value may consist of historical, existing or new value or representation thereof. But the basis upon which a discussion is conducted seems to be more pertinent than the value being discussed so that judgemental issues can be limited to any tensions identified between values. If you are fond of referenced examples in this case take J. Rancière, The future Of The image, Verso, London; New York, 2009 in his literary description of typing and its development/use. That description presented no high degree of tension merely a quite emotional display of a particular object/process hidden away within his text in order to illustrate a particular technique. The whole book was not written in that way, the styles employed varied to best illustrate the subject(s) in a way which seemed suited to and reflective of the author and his values. Sadly my own inadequate use of language and words utilising and mixing elements from many areas all together are not accomplished in that sense.
    “I tried to formulate a discussion on the possible continuing interest of subjects in their portrayals, but the ramifications span out of control! I suggest perhaps people are avoiding it because it is so complex and difficult.”

    They certainly do and yes that area has to be broken down to individual elements where coherent outcomes are required rather than a presentation of uncontaminated views. The Tate’s decision can be usefully illustrative in that way, and certainly served to, perhaps unwittingly, project a visible selfishness which is rife for that type of social decision. Perhaps it is merely the reporting of the decision, perhaps such a decision was not consciously made. In any event, from my brief search of the web yesterday it appears libraries, publishers, second hand bookshops and so forth are not following the same route of banning Ovenden’s works, but some of those will be driven by other value sets, which could clearly have different outcomes to those at the Tate.

    “Anyone want to run with this, or against it?”

    My individual interest area is privacy so within that peoples images as well as nakedness and the associated values as historically and currently applied become of interest. Hence my entry into this debate.

    From that perspective my view is that reputation, although frequently socially perceived as a factor, should not be treated as the key one simply because it is seen as a judgemental issue politically, artistically, legally and too frequently emotionally. Clearly though it is one area where factors of privacy are more frequently debated publicly.

    Bearing that and similar distractions in mind so as to ignore context the most basic and generic question then seems to become; do/should individuals have any interest in how their image (in any form) is used by others?

    There is no disagreement with artwork representing the artist as much as the subject and if you then venture into a legal arena the issue becomes who has the greater interest. Equally going down a commercial route the issue is one of financial ownership but all of those things seem to me to come after that first basic question is answered and so must account for that within any answer.

    “Peter Wicks asks us to state our framework: I call mine individualist virtue ethics”

    My own thoughts are still in a state of defining confusion.

    • Leo Adamson says:

      Thank you for outlining the distinction between moral and ethical. I think I was using them correctly without knowing why!

      I would like to comment a little further on your interest in the values associated with privacy, nakedness etc. Is the concept of privacy getting tangled with that of propriety? I am drawing a distinction here between privacy (self-determined) and propriety (externally imposed). There may be better words. Consider ‘sexting’, where children cheerfully abandon their own privacy (in this sense of making nude images). Is there an issue of privacy there, or only of propriety? Can privacy be an obligation rather than a right?

      Sometimes it is argued that children (even those of sexting age) have no right to choose impropriety because that would interfere with the self-determination of the adult they will become (their whole-life self-determination if you like). But this argument is exposed as false simply by considering the converse. There is no corresponding worry over adults who regret not having been improper enough as teenagers. If such concern is added in, then the whole self-determination argument for propriety becomes symmetrically self-cancelling and void. It reminds me of the old practice (which I remember from primary school) of requiring religious observance from children, so that they would have the choice of being religiously observant when adults, if they wished. The sophistry of that is obvious, but is actually very similar to that concerning propriety and self-determination.

      ‘Inappropriate’ is a buzzword of our day that children hear a lot. It seems to mean ‘forbidden for ineffable reasons, not to know which by instinct to place oneself beyond some pale’. Inappropriateness is a concept closely related to impropriety, but extends it with this insinuation that compelling reasons exist, but they are the kind of reasons that must be felt rather than comprehended: it is anti-intellectual and anti-rational. These ‘reasons’ didn’t come from nowhere. People with a agendas associated with particular moral frameworks conducted successful campaigns to spread them.

      Getting back closer to the topic, and considering the weight that privacy/propriety should be given as against free expression etc.: assuming that in particular cases the reaction is not one of delight or admiration, does the damage a nude picture can do really exceed a little embarrassment? I know that some people become greatly bothered by these things, but aren’t they working themselves up into a tizzy by choice, when they could equally well choose to sigh, or laugh at human weakness and folly, and get over it? If that is the case, then much of the damage is self-inflicted, and only rather indirectly associated with the image; and the damage incidentally done to free expression and Enlightenment liberty generally is quite unnecessary.

      There is also the consideration that heightened protection of (this particular kind of) privacy/propriety by the state inevitably and perhaps paradoxically involves a general invasion of (other kinds of) privacy through heightened surveillance etc..

      I recommend ‘individualist virtue ethics’ (others may call it by other names). It is the idea that humans have a natural, evolved capacity for conscience, just as we do for language, and that is the source of ethics. It could be considered as extending the idea of Enlightenment religious toleration to the level of the individual conscience. Moral frameworks attempt to simulate what consciences do naturally, which implies that the framework must be judged against the conscience, not the other way round. That is not to say that frameworks are useless. Some are: generally those that involve blind following of rules, such as Wahhabism, or Marcusianism, or the law of the land. But consciences can be developed and trained, just like muscles, though they will still differ, and moral frameworks can make excellent training material. The view that moral frameworks can be informative but never definitive is, if I understand you correctly, what defines this an ethical rather than a moral system.

  • sean says:

    T H White, author of The once and Future King (on which the musical Camelot is based) was a man who easily fell in love with prepubescent boys and wrote about his sexual feelings for them in his journals. He has never been accused of any kind of offences against children and has not been subjected to the kind of public shaming discussed here.

    Given that Graham Ovenden’s outing ‘sheds new light’ on his images of young girls, the question is, if he had not offended against children but had simply been more open about his true feelings for them, would this ‘new light’ still have justified censorship of his work? It seems it is his paedophile identity that is being used to justify censorship, not his actions.

    Another paedophilic author, William Mayne, was convicted of offences against girls. He is still rated by critics of children’s literature, but has been unofficially banned through pressure on librarians and publishers. Presumably ‘new light’ was shed on his work too, although I struggle to thing of an erotic passage in any of it.

    So why is Tim White’s work still being published and delighting adults and children around the world? Surely his attraction to little boys sheds equivalent ‘new light’ on his lovingly crafted character ‘Wart’, the boy Arthur. Shouldn’t we burn those books as well?

    • Peter Wicks says:

      I think this is a very important point. Much of the hysteria around paedophilia (as reflected in some of Nicholas Shaffer’s comments above, for example) stems from, as well as contributing to, an inability and/or unwillingness to distinguish between feelings and actions.

      There is an interesting parallel here with homosexuality. Many people opposed to active homosexuality for religious or other reasons, are not “homophobes” as such, and are quite capable of distinguishing between feelings/urges and the extent to which one acts on them. We all have to suppress some of our sexual urges to some extent (for example, which heterosexual man is not, at some level, a would-be rapist?), but it is generally assumed that we do not need to be (even if we often are) ashamed of the feelings and urges themselves, but rather of lapses in our mastery of them. The same, presumably, should apply to paedophiles, whereas on practice the idea that having sexual urges in relation to young children could be in any way legitimate (in other words not something one needs to be ashamed of) is more or less taboo.

      So it’s nice to see someone breaking that taboo.

      • Anthony Drinkwater says:

        So I, Peter, as a heterosexual man, am ” at some level, a would-be rapist”? Just as at some level I am a would-be zoophile and necrophile, perhaps?
        And also a would-be torturer, or murderer or fascist or Mormon or Jesuit, or Arsenal supporter or, come to think of it, anything else that you please?

        • Peter Wicks says:

          In a sense, yes. Take any behaviour that we consider sociopathic and I think it invariably involves a perfectly normal human urge that, for some reason – most likely because of an absence in the usual compensatory mechanisms, such as empathy or shame – have got out of control.

          Perhaps I was too harsh on Nicholas Shaffer, but I think the general point – including the somewhat hysterical, if entirely understandable, nature of much of the public discussion relating to paedophilia, is an important one. It is easy to condemn, but if one wants to actually prevent bad things happening one also needs to understand.

          Do you at least agree that we all have urges that we need to suppress? Most of the time we do so subconsciously, of course, but in my view the one who has never conciously suppressed an urge has not even past the first base of self-mastery.

          • Anthony Drinkwater says:

            My point, Peter, was twofold :
            1. The ordinary sense of the expression “would-be” is something that I would like to be but cannot be. In my case a proficient double bass-player, for example. I do not include being a rapist in that list.
            2. If you extend the meaning to cover anything that I might possibly become, or could have been, fair enough. You can, like Alice, choose words to mean exactly what you like. But if you really cover everything, it becomes a fairly vacuous statement, in my view.
            Of course we have urges that we control, but this is not at all the same thing as saying that we all have all the possible urges and that we spend our lives controlling them.

            In addition, I maintain that when you start introducing terms such as “at some level” you, IMHO , fall into the trick-cyclists’ trap of knowing better than everyone else what others are “really” like. And with that as a starting point you can “prove” anything.

            • Anthony Drinkwater says:

              My last line got truncated.
              I added, as a necessary disclaimer, that being an Arsenal supporter is not in my view a sociopathological condition.
              And that the trick-cylists I refer to are those of the Viennese school. Fortunately not all pyschiatrists argue in the same manner!

            • Peter Wicks says:

              OK fair point, but beyond my sloppy rhetoric I think there is an important point here, which has to do with our ethical intuitions. It seems to me that there is a degree of moral panic around paedophilia currently, in which people are conflating their very desirable (from a utilitarian point of view) fear and loathing of child abuse with attitudes about paedophilia itself, which has as much to do with feelings and urges as it does with what one does with them. It seems to me that there is great merit, in discussions such as this, to identify such conflations and point out the harm that they can do. See my subsequent exchange with Sean below in this context.

      • sean says:

        Distinguishing between feelings and actions is one thing, but I think there’s another important process being revealed in these instances.

        First notice that the prohibition of child pornography has little to do with it having ‘victims’, since lolicon and other fictional representations of adult/child sex are also banned. The overt reasoning is that that these images will incite paedophiles to a rapacious frenzy (even though the evidence suggests otherwise).

        What is really happening is that representations that elicit or explain paedophilic feelings are suppressed because these feelings are considered invalid and antisocial. The ‘taking down’ of Ovenden’s work is removal from view of his feelings. I don’t think anyone at the Tate could have been blind to their erotic significance in the past; they’re simply responding to political pressure in the current climate. What is happening is that the white blood cells of the social immune system are attacking a perceived foreign body: sexual feelings for children.

        These attacks would not be necessary unless paedophilia were first identified as not part of the social body and if there were not a fear that it is contagious. The reaction is driven by the fear that ‘normal’ people will begin to reflect on their own potentially erotic or romantic responses to children, and begin to understand that paedophiles are not so utterly ‘other’ as they thought.

        Ironically, this is exactly what minor attracted people need to happen for them to be integrate their feelings in safe and socially positive ways. In fact, until relatively recently, the general population did have a much better understanding of paedophilia. Erasing this understanding has been part of a campaign against any kind of pleasure taken in children, and especially in their physical beauty.

        • Peter Wicks says:

          “Ironically, this is exactly what minor attracted people need to happen for them to be integrate their feelings in safe and socially positive ways.”

          This is the key point in my view. The social immune reaction that you describe is understandable, and effective up to a point, but also relatively primitive. My guess is that in the past, when people were less neurotic about this issue, there was far too much tolerance for behaviours that were genuinely harmful. But if we want to get to the next level, we need to go beyond this quarantining of paedophilia and develop tools to indeed allow minor-attracted people to integrate their feelings in safe and socially positive ways. It will be more effective in preventing genuine abuse, and it will have less negative side effects.

      • sean says:

        Distinguishing between feelings and actions is one thing, but I think there’s another important process being revealed in these instances.

        First notice that the prohibition of child pornography has little to do with it having ‘victims’, since lolicon and other fictional representations of adult/child sex are also banned. The overt reasoning is that that these images will incite paedophiles to a rapacious frenzy (even though the evidence suggests otherwise).

        What is really happening is that representations that elicit or explain paedophilic feelings are suppressed because the feelings themselves are considered invalid, dangerous and antisocial. The ‘taking down’ of Ovenden’s work is removal from view of his feelings. I don’t think anyone at the Tate could have been blind to their erotic significance in the past; they’re simply now responding to political pressure. The white blood cells of the social immune system are attacking a perceived foreign body: sexual feelings for children.

        These attacks would not occur if paedophilia had not been progressively represented as a potentially contagious alien body. The reaction expresses the fear that ‘normal’ people will begin to reflect on their own potentially erotic or romantic responses to children, and begin to understand that paedophiles are not so utterly ‘other’ as they thought. In fact, until relatively recently, the general population did have a much better understanding of paedophilia. Erasing this understanding has been part of a campaign against pleasures taken in children, especially in their physical beauty.

        Ironically, what minor attracted people need to happen for them to integrate their feelings in safe and socially positive ways is for society to understand how they feel. So long as their feelings provoke these allergic reaction, society will create a rod for it’s own back.

    • Leo Adamson says:

      “It seems it is his paedophile identity that is being used to justify censorship, not his actions.”

      I think that outside such refined fora as this the two are conflated in a way that is drenched in the fallacy of equivocation.

      This is not just an academic matter, because it has become deeply entrenched in the law, from the perceived necessity for the police to have a ‘paedophile squad’, through the justification of over-broad child porn laws on the grounds that they help to ‘catch paedophiles’ (a circularity if the reason people are taken to be paedophiles is because they fell foul of that law), to the conduct of trials, in which (supposed) evidence of being a paedophile is taken as evidence of the offence.

      That such evidence is even permitted to be presented is a disgrace that shows how far we have sunk, and that juries (including, if reports are to be believed, Ovenden’s) will convict on the basis of it, is immensely saddening for those of us who would like to have some faith in humanity.

  • Ian says:

    Sean,

    Is reputation formed by the character or the character formed by a provided reputation?

    Certainly physically burning any books, even a paedophile authors, provides material statements about the actor(s) as much as any perceptions of the content of the books. How any artwork is viewed should rightly be determined by the viewer or to put it another way Snell may provide particular measures but not material to measure as that is to be obtained and comprehended by each individual in every circumstance. For instance is nakedness or are particular areas of flesh given a particular value of any sort? Is the left hand correct for eating with or will only the other do or is the answer culture/value system dependent?

    Can an individual be comfortable enough within themselves to collect, measure, validate or even challenge any material especially when they perceive something which concerns them even if it is emotionally fraught. Surely that depends upon their own values as well as how comfortable/confident/courageous they are within the situated environment and themselves at that time, but I would suggest that does not stop others, who may not be sensitive enough or willing to make any challenging observation or statement forming their own opinions as observation alone in some environments for some purposes is sufficient. Can emotional reactions to an insensitive joke become perceived as a prejudice? Certainly the way elements of privacy are often used to construct, safeguard or project self-image or character as well as the boundaries within society make it appear people widely believe so.

    Taking clothing as a focused example of the presentation of character, is the presented fashion of the moment important in order to fit in to a social group, are utilitarian clothes best for the environment being lived in, is clothing which reflects the individual within their lived environment(s) at any particular time chosen or do financial or religious or other constraints determine the clothes. Considerations there have to lead into the questions; do the clothes determine the individual, merely indicate a particular presentation of character or are they being used to stereotype or challenge stereotypes? So it seems with reading material, should authors and titles be thrown around like cards from a pack, each one a conceptual response to the other as something that may well fit in with a particular social structure whilst assuring a necessity to keep up to date in thought and comprehension within a chosen field; Does that generate an individuals character or new ideas, or is something else required? In my view at times those same issues may also be used to mask large parts of individual character whilst projecting a particular and commitment and passion. Where does the true self or the other exist… Honesty, integrity, truth seem to form part of the expected answer to the questions you raised but clearly do not reveal all that is happening there.

    • sean says:

      “Is reputation formed by the character or the character formed by a provided reputation?”

      It’s a two way street.

      “Certainly physically burning any books [..] provides material statements about the actor(s) as much as any perceptions of the content of the books.”

      Yes, it provides evidence of the actor’s ignorance, both wilfull and intrinsic. The thing I am commenting on is the erasure of paedophilic sensibility from representation in culture. It’s important for human experience to be communicated in all of it’s variety.

      It’s about being permitted to have a voice. All kinds of arguments can be mounted against people saying what they have to say, but all of them turn out to be specious. Arguments against speech are always made in defence of privilege and power.

      Ps: sorry about the multiple posts above.

      • Peter Wicks says:

        Personally I wouldn’t go that far. Book-burning provides more information about the book-burners than just evidence of ignorance, and to what extent one thinks it is “important for human experience to be communicate in all of its variety” depends very much on one’s values, as (among other things) does whether or not one finds an argument “specious”. “Arguments against speech are always made in defence of privilege and power” seems to be clearly false.

        Furthermore, it seems to me that all kinds of behaviours that we usually regard as “abuse”, are themselves ways of communicating human experience (and in particular the urge to abuse). There are lots of things I experience that I wouldn’t particularly want to communicate, nor regard doing so as “important”. For example, should I communicate every single thought that occurs to me?

        Another point I do want to make is that “being permitted to have a voice” is somewhat vague. Obviously you are not suggesting that everyone has a “right” to have their work displayed at the Tate, but what is it, then that you suggesting has to be done in order to ensure that everyone is given a “voice”?

        • sean says:

          I think it’s pretty obvious what I mean. When and how a communication is produced or received isn’t relevant to my comments.

          I agree with you that communications can be abusive or harmful; verbal abuse, slander or breaking confidences for example. This is an argument to limit speech because of it’s effect.

          If you analyse Ovenden’s work for it’s effect, you return to my original comments. The putative reason for silencing his communications is that they might be harmful. I say putative because potential for harm here is a simply a justification for the actual reason: the paintings are communications by a peadophile about his feelings. They celebrate paedophilia, and that is offensive to some people quite irrespective of harm.

          I offered William Mayne as a second example because his work is devoid of sexual references. As far as I know, nobody has claimed his work could have harmful effects, yet it too has been silenced. I can only conclude that the fear is that Mayne be understood as a human being, thus complicating his ‘official’ representation as a dangerous monster.

          There is one potential justification for removing Ovenden’s work. If a work directly represents one of the children he has been convicted of molesting, and if that person requests it be taken down, imho it ought. Not on principle, but on specific request.

          Of course no one can demand their work be hung at the Tate, but nor should it be easy to demand that work be banished from it’s walls. To correct your dissimulating rhetoric, the latter is much closer to the situation being discussed here. Caravaggio’s ‘Amor Vincit’ is another celebration of the paedophilic gaze that happens to be a master work. Should we burn that too?

          • Peter Wicks says:

            To call my rhetoric “dissimulation” seems to imply an intention behind it that, as far as I know, does not exist.

            I agree with most of your points, but see my response to Nicholas below concerning a potential justification for banning such work (as Ovenden’s), based neither on the artist’s character nor on his or her actions, but based on the fact that it portrays children as sex objects. I’d be interested to read your views about that.

            • sean says:

              I am sensitive to the portrayal of children as objects, but trophy children turn up in contexts that have nothing to do with sex.

              Sometimes it’s necessary to realise that children are sexual beings in order to grant their humanity. Even four year olds harbour passions. It’s easy to laugh, but it’s also easy to wound such unpracticed hearts. Sex is neither here or there. Respect and empathy are what matters.

              I recommend you read Beatrice Faust’s “Women, sex and pornography”, where she makes a distinction between erotica and pornography. While not 100% successful in that context, the distinction is very relevant to this one. In a nutshell, she says that representing a person as sexual is not necessarily objectifying them, so long as that person is represented as fully human and not reduced to an object of desire.

              I’m not that wild about Ovenden’s art altho I quite like his Alice drawings. I do think he protrays his subjects as fully human. In particular, he reveals the sexual nature of young girls, which is what poeple have a problem with. But then, society has always had a problem with the sexual nature of girls, none more so than the Teleban.

              Ovenden is the messenger with a message no one wants to hear. Feel free to shoot him, but don’t try and tell me it’s the right thing to do.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    What you people seem to be ignoring is the obvious fact that Graham Ovenden’s subjects (i.e., the models he has been convicted of sexually molesting) are quite clearly presented in his works as “sex objects”. i.e., objects of sexual desire, a la the soft porn of his time. Including the soft SM porn of his time, since some of his works show naked little girls tied to chairs etc. This was always his gimmick – “I’m presenting children as sex objects, but I’m allowed to do that ‘cos I’m an artist”.

    Images portraying people as sex objects are not terribly edifying examples of art, because they’re not in any sense aesthetically, intellectually or emotionally transcendant of ordinary, vulgar everyday impulses. There’s no insight involved, no attempt at a more liberating or creative view of human nature. Ovenden’s works are soft porn for paedos, and the people who defend them are mostly philosophically unambitious paedos.

    Is there – can there be – such a thing as a genuinely worthwhile art that is at the same time affirmatively paedophile? I sincerely doubt it, partly because I sincerely doubt there is any “sexual” art that can rise above the primitive visions of the “selfish gene” and its reproductive impositions on human nature. But also because paedophilia really is a socially dysunctional sexuality that appears to have nothing to offer humanity at all. Except perhaps a reminder of how our aesthetic engagement with the world can easily be distorted by problematic chemical interactions.

    • sean says:

      “the people who defend them are mostly philosophically unambitious paedos”

      On what evidence do you base that assertion?

    • Peter Wicks says:

      Nicholas,

      I’m not exactly sure what you mean “rise above the primitive visions of the ‘selfish gene’ and its reproductive impositions on human nature”, but if I understand correctly you seem to be suggesting that when it comes to art that is elicitly sexual our genetic predispositions are just too strong and/or degrading to be “risen above”. If I am correct in this interpretation, then the claim appears to be more unsound the more I think about it. Essentially you seem to be implying that to be in any way sublime art has to be sexless. Even the idea that there is no way to sublimate paedophilic sexuality so that it has something (positive) to offer humanity seems to unduly pessimistic.

      But the point about seeing people as sex objects is an interesting one, and more generally I think we may be putting out finger on something of a wedge issue with regard to public attitudes to sexuality. I am increasingly of the view that seeing someone as a sex object is only a problem to the extent that conflicts with the important task of empathising with and respecting the person as a person. Basically, whenever we try to make ourselves sexually attractive we are offering ourselves as sex objects for the appreciation of others. I don’t really see any way of getting and that. The important point, of course, is to have clear and equitable rules (such as “look, but don’t touch”) that define the limits of the permission that is thus granted.

      Now I would have sympathy with the argument that, in the case of children, the limits of that permission must be essentially set at zero, since they are (developmentally, legally, morally) competent to grant such permission. I think argument would need to be tweaked somewhat (for example: at what age does sexually-explocit flirtation between minors become acceptable), but it does seem to provide a robust argument against legitimising any form of art that portrays children as sex objects. In this case, it would be neither Ovenden’s pedophilia identity nor his actions that provide the justification for delegitimising his work, but rather the fact that there appears to be an intention to portray children as sex objects. The problem, in other words, is with the work, and the direct intention behind it, not with the character or actions of the artist. And of this is the case, then of course they should never have been displayed.

      • Peter Wicks says:

        I meant “incompetent”, of course. Sorry for the and various other autocorrect fails…

      • Nikolas Schaffer says:

        “Essentially you seem to be implying that to be in any way sublime art has to be sexless.”

        What I’m suggesting is that sexuality is one of the less interesting aspects of human cognition, a set of primitive impulses we share with a multitude of cognitively less explorative organisms, whose life experience apparently lacks any dimension that we could equate with creative art.

        “Even the idea that there is no way to sublimate paedophilic sexuality so that it has something (positive) to offer humanity seems to unduly pessimistic.”

        This idea of “sublimation” sounds extremely unreliable to me. Are you going to let a paedophile look after your kids because he’s assured you “It’s OK, I keep my urge to sexually interact with children nicely sublimated.”

        “In this case, it would be neither Ovenden’s pedophilia identity nor his actions that provide the justification for delegitimising his work, but rather the fact that there appears to be an intention to portray children as sex objects.”

        I think the police have been clear about that all along in their various attempts to have these images “delegitimised”. But revealing Ovenden himself as an active paedophile seems to have been what was required to force his defenders amongst the art establishment to revise their assessment of the images.

        • Peter Wicks says:

          “Are you going to let a paedophile look after your kids because he’s assured you “It’s OK, I keep my urge to sexually interact with children nicely sublimated.””

          First of all, I would need to know that the person concerned was a paedophile. If the person concerned has been successfully and appropriately managing his (let’s assume it is a “he”) impulses, then I probably won’t. Even if he has not, it’s quite possible that I will not be aware of the risk I am taking.

          More generally, going after known offenders cannot on its own be the most effective way to prevent child abuse. There has to be a more balanced approach, and I would suggest that the idea of “sublimation”, which I thought was pretty well established in psychology, far from being “unreliable” is a rather essential concept, unless you think we should round up and shoot anyone whom you suspect might be among those who experience such urges.

          • Peter Wicks says:

            Especially bearing mind that we are ourselves unaware of the vast majority of our urges and emotional responses (sexual or otherwise).

            In fact, come to think of it, the need to help people become more aware of such urges and emotional responses could plaisibly provide an argument for legitimising the portrayal of children as sex objects in strictly circumscribed conditions, such as in pictures displayed by the Tate as “art”. Of course, Nicholas is correct in implying that the police would be unlikely to have much sympathy for that idea, and that information about Ovenden’s past actions was instrumental in convincing the Tate to remove them. Once again, I suspect that reputationsl risk was their main motivation for doing so, and they probably didn’t worry much about the wider ethics of their decision. (By contrast, I suspect that they probably did think quite carefully about the ethics of displaying them in the first place, not least in view of the associated reputationsl risk.)

        • sean says:

          “sexuality is one of the less interesting aspects of human cognition, a set of primitive impulses”

          In that case I won’t recommend you read Camille Paglia’s “Sexual personae”, Peter Gay’s “Education of the senses” or anything by Foucault. You’d be bored rigid. So to speak..

          • Peter Wicks says:

            Quite. In fact, everything we do is ultimately the result of “primitive impulses” (what else could it be the result of?). The trick is to manage those impulses in accordance with one’s values. That is to say, to “sublimate” them.

        • sean says:

          The police are functionaries. Are you suggesting that their activities should be read for their philosophical import?

  • Leo Adamson says:

    sean:
    “What is happening is that the white blood cells of the social immune system are attacking a perceived foreign body: sexual feelings for children.”

    …and, in so doing, attacking its own reason and liberty. Paedophile panic as auto-immune disease. Apt metaphor.

    sean:
    “until relatively recently, the general population did have a much better understanding of paedophilia.”

    ‘Better understanding’ might be going a bit far. They had things better in proportion in some ways. However, as events showed, they were ready to be panicked once people in a position of sufficient influence were unscrupulous enough to set a panic off.

    Nikolas:
    “’the fuss’ generated by child abuse is unlikely to ‘die down’, unless the disciples of Thatcher and the Church etc regain complete control of the culture.”

    Possibly meant to be a joke? Definitely silly. Thatcher took some personal interest in the suppression of PIE, for instance entertaining Mary Whitehouse immediately after the second trial, which the right-wing religious Whitehouse had attended. The fuss about child abuse (abuse here meaning contamination with sexuality), with its roots in the work of W.T. Stead and Rev. Benjamin Waugh, joined puritan feminists and puritan Christians in an unholy alliance, although it has now spread like wildfire far beyond those groups, spreading their assumptions with it.

    Until the late 1980s, it was primarily a right-wing/religious, Moral Majority style, issue, with radical feminists happy to tag along with the right’s demagogic fire power. For instance, the first UK law specifically against ‘child porn’, the Protection of Children Act 1978, was a Tory private member’s bill, which the Labour government of the day never supported, and initially declined the time it needed to proceed, on the grounds that child porn was already prohibited by the Obscene Publications Acts, and to the extent the Protection of Children Bill went beyond those, it was over-broad and threatened accepted standards of liberty. Ah, the dear dead days beyond recall, when some governments (mainly Labour) would take such a principled position. It was pushed through by a campaign in the right wing press, spearheaded by Mary Whitehouse.

    Nikolas:
    “[…] Graham Ovenden’s subjects […] are quite clearly presented in his works as “sex objects”. i.e., objects of sexual desire, a la the soft porn of his time. […] This was always his gimmick – ‘I’m presenting children as sex objects, but I’m allowed to do that ‘cos I’m an artist’.

    “Images portraying people as sex objects are not terribly edifying examples of art, because they’re not in any sense aesthetically, intellectually or emotionally transcendant of ordinary, vulgar everyday impulses. There’s no insight involved, no attempt at a more liberating or creative view of human nature. Ovenden’s works are soft porn for paedos, and the people who defend them are mostly philosophically unambitious paedos.”

    I wonder if ‘philosophically unambitious paedos’ is meant to refer to me. I know from another thread that Nikolas identifies with a ‘transhumanist’ desire to eradicate sexuality from the human condition: not just paedophile sexuality, all sexuality, partly on the dubious assumption that “most people loathe their own sexual feelings, whatever they may be.” This is certainly ambitious. However, I really can’t accept that failure to agree signifies lack of ambition, and suggest perhaps it is over-ambitious for a discussion on practical ethics.

    It does, however, harmonise well with the radical feminist position that all male sexuality is problematic (to women’s liberation) and should be suppressed, with a particular venom reserved for ‘paedophile’ sexuality. The view expressed, with admirable clarity and force, on sexual objectification, also harmonises well with radical feminism.

    Yet why should one think, unless one is an anti-sexual transhumanist or a radical feminist ideologue, that depicting someone as sexually desirable would, necessarily, drown out every other aspect of their humanity — implicitly in the term ‘objectification’, drown out their humanity altogether? Unless, as the two groups mentioned apparently do, one believes it a priori, there’s just no reason to think so. One could equally well take the view that to miss out that aspect of humanity would be to fail to capture the whole, and that to bring it to the forefront in the case of people in whom it is conventional to ignore it, is in itself an aesthetically worthwhile challenge to that conventional ignorance, one that is if anything vindicated by being found so troubling.

    No doubt it is possible to make aesthetically one-dimensional porn, but Nikolas’s claim is much stronger than that: it is that any work which displays any person as “an object of sexual desire”, as sexually desirable in other words, necessarily falls into that category. Surely that takes down a few Venuses and Davids at the very least, along with the Ovendens.

    I make no claims as an art critic and take no view on the aesthetic merit of Ovenden’s work. Yet, whatever Nikolas’s speculations over their current state of mind, the Tate originally displayed these works for aesthetic reasons, and so, while I accept there is wide room for legitimate disagreement, by some lights at least the works have aesthetic merit sufficient for a national collection. So, while they may well be, or resemble, ‘soft porn’, whatever that is supposed to mean, they are also, by standards worth considering, high art, and there is no necessary contradiction between the two.

  • Ian says:

    Sean said:-

    “The thing I am commenting on is the erasure of paedophilic sensibility from representation in culture. It’s important for human experience to be communicated in all of it’s variety.”

    And yet society says it should not be. So if culture represents a reflection of social order and society subverts or misrepresents culture in such a way as to blind itself by choice, cultural forms seem bound to react in various ways. Surely where art is allowed to flourish uncensored this would achieve the benefits everybody speaks of by informing or questioning sections of society about its choices. The difficulties then arise where any/all art is taken as life itself rather than reflections of potentialities. Which returns to the character questions and the real difficulties in maintaining a separation between art and artist/subject and object within a naturally judgemental society.

    If the argument Peter presents is viewed in those contexts judgemental decisions do become required regarding the sexuality of any art representing children (and of any other type of representation/inclusion of sexuality, or any type of art) which may then degenerate to judging the boundaries of acceptability within art rather than within society and avoids the value of all art, and that is indeed the way that argument progresses.

    Leo,

    Have certain genres of art not developed in a way reflective of the desire you interpret within Nikolas’s approach. Whilst reducing art and society into a sexual denial of humanity has to be a valid viewpoint, so is any other. Reducing both serves no purpose, only seeming to allow a separation of art from artist resulting in humanity being revealed as nothing more than the rubble and debris of strife rather than an ever confusingly beautiful reflection of the developing natural world. My words are trying to say that refined views can by their very focus and lack of responsiveness to others generate their own stereotyping blindness.

    • Peter Wicks says:

      “If the argument Peter presents is viewed in those contexts judgemental decisions do become required regarding the sexuality of any art representing children (and of any other type of representation/inclusion of sexuality, or any type of art) which may then degenerate to judging the boundaries of acceptability within art rather than within society and avoids the value of all art, and that is indeed the way that argument progresses.”

      I’m not sure I quite follow, in part because (as I’ve noted above) I question Sean’s claim, which you seem to be accepting as true, that human experience needs to be “communicated in all its variety”.

      I certainly agree that society says it should not be. But does that mean that society “subverts and misrepresents culture in such a way as to blind itself by choice”? I’m not saying society doesn’t do this, only that this does not seem to be a necessary consequence of opposing the idea that human experience should be communicated in all its variety.

      Sean has written that “when and how a communication is produced or received isn’t relevant” to the question of whether human experience does or doesn’t need to be communicated in all its variety. I disagree, and the reason I disagree is that the way experience is communicated is itself part of the experience that is being communicated. So if ALL human experience must be communicated in all its variety, then that surely must include every imaginable way of expressing it.

      Of course I agree that art can benefit society by informing or questioning sections of it about its choices, but the “real difficulties in maintaining a separation between art and artist/subject and object” are not merely the consequence of a “naturally judgemental society”. So even if we don’t see the portrayal of children as sex objects illegitimate in the context of something that is clearly recognised as art, even if we altogether remove any kind of moral judgement from the equation, we will still have “real difficulties in maintaining a separation between art and artist/subject and object”. A picture is a picture, but the picture has been produced by an artist using another person as an object. The picture is this not merely canvas and oil (or whatever was used), interacting visually with the mind of the viewer, it is also an end result of a process that used another human being as an object. While there are obviously good reasons to create boundaries (lines in the sand) between “art” and “non-art”, those boundaries are clearly porous.

      The above is not to disagree that there is a danger of allowing my argument to degenerate into “judging the boundaries of acceptability within art rather than within society”, we also need to be wary of slippery slope arguments, and “that is indeed the way that argument progresses” is a slippery slope argument. Surely it is better to accept that there is a balance to be struck, and argue – to the extent that we feel like arguing – about where exactly to strike it?

      • sean says:

        I really meant that “when and how a communication is produced” is irrelevant to it’s moral worth. By definition, a communication exists independently of it’s source, so I guess it needs to be judged on it’s own terms. That’s the gist of formalist critical theory anyway.

        While it’s true that biographical details can give new insights or ‘shed new light’ on the production of a work, as in Ovenden’s case, these data are more typically used to establish a pretext or enable some kind of prejudice. This is why so many female novelists published under male pseudonyms in the 18th and 19th centuries.

        Gaining an understanding of another person’s life to the extent that it can be used to inform their deliberate speech is a painstaking task. In effect it is claiming to know authors better than they know themselves. The one dimensional cartoon of the ‘paedophile’ in popular culture can only ever obscure the meaning of work like Ovenden’s — contrary to Nikolas’ assertions that biology offers an exhaustive explanation of it.

        • Peter Wicks says:

          I certainly agree that biology doesn’t offer an exhaustive explanation of art, although I personally think we need to be careful about reference to the “meaning” of work. Perhaps this is a somewhat philistine point of view, but it seems to me that art will “mean” different things to different people, and that really isn’t a “truth” of the matter. (This is related to my moral subjectivist meta-ethical stance, and indeed I see morality as ultimately an aesthetic response.)

          I am ignorant (whether blissfully or not I have yet to judge!) of formalist critical theory, so I can’t comment on what it says about the relationship between communication and its source, but the use of the word “independently ” seems jarring to me. I can see that it is useful and meaningful to distinguish between an act of communication and its source, but “independent” seesm to imply that the communication would still exists even if the source were absent. What is clear is that the source is causally prior to the communication. Do you mean that the communication can persist even after the source has disappeared? That would certainly seem correct (those distant galaxies may indeed no longer exist).

          In any case, my intuition tells me that when and how the communication is produced MUST be relevant, at least potentially, to its moral worth. Art works by having an impact on the minds of the recipients, and assuming that it is that impact that primarily determines its moral worth (which seems to me to be fair), and that that impact is likely to be influenced by knowledge of when and how it was produced, then the latter becomes relevant to the former.

          In a way, this discussion reminds me of debates about whether it is ethical to make use of scientific knowledges gained through unethical means (such as that carried out by the Nazi regime). Of course in the case of science the ethics of how it was arrived at cannot influence its accuracy, but if we are talking about moral worth we are playing a different ball-game. And obviously, we need to be considering what kind of message is being told to, and more importantly what kind of message is likely to be received by the audience. In my view, the problem is not so much that they are “naturally judgemental” or are “blind[ing themselves] by choice”, as that many people fail to distinguish properly between emotions/urges on the one hand and actions on the other. I certainly think it is possible to overestimate the social value of showing pictures of naked girls, even as art.

          • sean says:

            “art will “mean” different things to different people, and that really isn’t a “truth” of the matter.”

            Yes, it was a poor choice of words. Perhaps I should have said ‘significance’..

            Also, yes I mean production of a message is causally prior but consequentially independent. Science done by the allies during the war is also a consequence of the same war, so do we pretend not to know about that? Deliberate ‘unknowing’ is a nonsense anyway, so it’s academic.

            Also, it’s possible to overestimate anything, however in the current climate I think maybe we’re in far greater danger of underestimating than overestimating the social value of the child nude.

      • sean says:

        I think the answer to your question Peter is that, in striking that line, we must all tolerate a great deal more than we feel comfortable with (including paedophobic hate speech) and in casting anything, especially public speech (aka, ‘art’), beyond the pale, we have to be alert to unitended consequences.

        Let me use the parallel example of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). This is an organization of criminal justice professionals who are seeking to end all drug prohibition in the US and globally. They claim the current laws, especially the ‘war on drugs’, do far more harm than good. Prohibition is a simplistic approach to a complex problem, driven by fear and ignorance and overly obsessed with apprehension and punishment. Against this, LEAP insist that drug use is a personal choice and ought to be managed through regulation of supply and public health education. Portugal is one country that has already abandoned all drug prohibition laws and has seen a massive reduction in drug use and drug related crime. This is for the simple reason that addicts can now seek treatment without fear of arrest and drugs no longer represent a cash cow for organized crime.

        Similarly, if we could abandon the fear and panic around paedophilia and understand it as a natural variant of human sexuality, perhaps we might also understand that it does not bear any simple correspondence with child sexual abuse and cannot be eliminated by decree.

        Art like Ovenden’s may offend some people but it is part of the picture that needs to be drawn, or at least needs to be tolerated, if a balanced public understanding of paedophilia is to exist. Ovenden’s art celebrates the erotic aspect of his orientation, which is why it has come to public attention. Intimacy, nurturing, bonding, affection, mentoring, paedagogy, even love, are also aspects of the experience of paedophilia and all of these would join with eroticism in any authentic public discourse.

        I believe that paedophilia is a socially positive instinct. Integrated with a connected and responsible persona, open in it’s expression of affection for children, paedophilia can shed it’s stigmata of otherness and threat. Society would benefit from such a revision because individual expressions of attraction to children would no longer need to be twisted into a secret shoe box at the back of the wardrobe and inevitably filled with shame, guilt and dodgy pictures.

        If they weren’t scripted as monsters and outcasts but allowed to own their feelings, paedophiles could be themselves and yet remain a part of their community, with a motive to act in accordance with it’s mores. Paedophilia is not about sex with children so much as its about meaningful social engagement with them. Children need adult’s in their lives, so adult’s (especially men) who need children in their lives should be able to find a niche where they can contribute in a positive way. This niche has been closed by an overly simplistic response to child sexual abuse and an associated misrepresentation of paedophilia in public consciousness. It’s time to allow paedophiles to describe their feelings in public without shame and to reestablish the niche they have occupied since the dawn of humanity.

        Sexual abuse is always problematic, but if sex play between adults and children must remain an issue of contention then it ought to be discussed rationally, and not at the eye of a vortex of hysteria and outrage. In anglophone countries nowadays, sexual conduct between adults and children isn’t tolerated and may never be, but its possibility cannot remain the sole determining factor in the understanding of paedophila. Most paedophiles never have any kind of sexual contact with children. It is a question of secondary importance to them and it needs to be put to one side..

        All of this may seem like an arcadian vision but actually it is very obvious and simple. It’s like drug prohibition: so long as enforcement is the dominant paradigm, other solutions are excluded and seem unrealistic.

        So the line in the sand? Wrt speech, there ought not be one.

        • Peter Wicks says:

          Yes, I indeed have a lot of sympathy with that. I still have the feeling that there may be a stronger case for prohibition-type responses than you are admitting (and I say this from the standpoint of my preferred utilitarian ethical framework), but obviously there are empirical issues at play here (as illustrated by your Portugal anecdote).

          Perhaps what we can most clearly agree on is, as you very well expressed it, that issues of contention ought to be discussed rationally, and not at the eye of a vortex of hysteria and outrage. In fact, to pursue that analogy further, one might regard discussion fora such as this one precisely as such “eyes”, where a sufficient measure of calm can prevail to allow rational discourse. Perhaps, if we have a valuable mission to fulfil by posting and commenting here, it is to demonstrate that such discourse can arrive at workable, practical conclusions, and thus help our civilisation(s) to advance and become more resilient.

      • Ian says:

        Peter,

        “I’m not sure I quite follow, in part because (as I’ve noted above) I question Sean’s claim, which you seem to be accepting as true, that human experience needs to be ‘communicated in all its variety’.”

        To me you are conflating too many things into experience. For instance to experience a fiction you would rely upon a form of fictional art. Fiction can produce insights which would otherwise never exist just as any art may.

        A reflection upon an art work may assist us eventually arrive at understanding where words previously failed to illustrate a fuller understanding of meaning. This is inevitably also rather reflective of personal perspectives so forgive me for that.

        Damien Hirst’s ‘Cow and Calf’ considered in its originally gallery venue although I have never been to view it. Was that at the Tate?

        http://myartspace-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/cow-tipping-damien-hirst-style.html

        Considering that artwork within its original display space, which if memory serves correct it was reportedly made specifically for.

        Initial considerations.

        A visual art form
        Half a cow and half a calf suspended within tanks of formaldehyde. Is that production art? Was the death of two living creatures worth this?

        Immediately obvious views expressed as bullet points for those fond of that type of approach:-

        People
        A large room with artwork
        Glass or are they Perspex cases
        Dead animal carcases
        Clinically precise
        Cow
        Meat
        Formaldehyde

        Immediately linking interpretations

        Formaldehyde
        The main visible objects held within a vessel of fluid
        Humanity as a bag of water
        Expression of humanity
        Meatspace
        Hidden expressions of sexuality

        How many people stop there to merely wonder about that level of artistic expression without going beyond to see the humour or and another view of themselves expressed as audience and actor.

        Further interpretations

        Why so clinical in the presentation. Is that a deliberate comment.
        What are the dimensions of the tanks, how do they relate to the room.
        Dead meat, where did that first appear as an artistic form. Goya Go Ya oh yes very funny, listen to the audience, Ya, this art really is beginning to transcend its own form as it perceives and pre-empts part of the audiences engagement with itself.
        What other representations are there. Mother and child as a continuity, but they are only half formed.
        Formaldehyde, ah the other half, hidden but there, expressive but not seen. Like the wind as defined in the poem Privacy of the Wind by Perie Longo.
        Is the artist recognizing and representing individual privacy or merely private communications.
        The art may be recognizing and representing social privacy or individuality in the firmer outer layers of the cases but that transparency.… Are the cases glass or Perspex, thinking about the gender of the objects probably glass would have been chosen unless there is also a comment upon gender differences contained within.
        Art engaging with the audience as performance art, what else is there.
        The Room, yes definitely the audience has been considered, eyes looking at the artwork, security cameras surveying the whole, the building beyond, the gallery people watching, people reacting bringing the art out of the gallery engaging with the world as it exists within each of the different audiences. Is there a deliberate comment on a transparent clinical society, the new surveillance culture or is that merely the eye of the beholder.

        Considerations separately now about the artist.

        Which of the those issues noticed were intentionally chosen, how much of the lived lifestyle and character of the artist went into the art and how much is pure artistic observation and representation. What social issues really impinged upon the artist and were reflected within the art without the artists awareness.. where does the artists awareness of representation end and reflection begin.

        Other visible perspectives may be seen.
        Is it art, Yes. Does it transcend itself, Yes. Is it beautiful art, surprisingly Yes. What genre of art is itt…

        Now consider a fictional painting in the style of one of the old Dutch Grand Masters.

        A person stands by a wooden table upon which peacocks have defecated, a rasp is visible on one side of the table, having just been used to clean the surface by the person who is now shelling peas onto the table top. Does that represent the living style of the day, a need for cleanliness, paedophilia, or something else the artist attempts to allow an audience to see.

        All of that is what my contributions have attempted to portray within this aesthetic ethical discussion of art and artistic representation. From some perspectives, in the same way as has appeared as the case with child art photographers all teachers are paedophiles as they lovingly care for the minds of their students. So just as many logically structured minds can often be easily pointed to seeing no more than difficulties in reproducing within a new form the structure they value only as a problem with that new form rather than expressing inherent difficulties with the original. Not a matter of stamping a die but seeing beyond the die and its contents to the raw materials used to form the die and its supporting structure. Yes blindness can be created by the self and may be blind to itself but it does not have to be and can be perceived if one is willing; For instance my to read someday list contains a book Martha C. Nussbaum’s ‘From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law Inalienable Rights’ It is there not because of any of the variants of sexuality, or any legal material within but because it probably holds further observations from another sphere about my own chosen area of focus.

        Denying, censoring, or otherwise hiding away any artwork only serves to hinder members of the wider society in their search for truths. Balance becomes no more than an answer to a paradox rather than an acceptance of paradox. Neither argument about the artwork is wrong unless your worldview accepts society only needs its wrongs to define its rights.

        Thank you for the discussion. Being away for a few days I will have to catch up on any final entries following my return.

        • sean says:

          Hmmm. Yes. What?

          No matter. I agree that Nussbaum offers insights that are key to this discussion.

          As so happens online, I’m writing in non sequiters. What I said earlier was The thing I am commenting on is the erasure of paedophilic sensibility from representation in culture. It’s important for human experience to be communicated in all of it’s variety.

          Important why? Nussbaum provides the answer to that.

          What she is writing about in “From Disgust to Humanity” is the process by which groups are cast outsides the sphere of common humanity; that ‘disgust’ is an emotional response to and maintainer of the fear of contamination, and that the source of contamination is identified by its unfamiliar culture and practices.

          What I am saying is that othering is allied with silencing; that speaking of personal (ie, interior) experience is necessary for the recognition of a common nature. By forbidding the speech of a group of people, society enables exclusion of that group from common understanding, effectively denying it’s humanity.

          This creation of ‘out groups’ is very relevant to any discussion of the place of paedophiles in society. By silencing the artisitic output of paedophiles (even those like Mayne whose work has no sexual content) society is reinforcing the belief that it shares no common expereince, allowing itself to treat them as less than human.

          This is the process by which pogroms and extermination camps come about.

          Finally, I don’t care what ‘art’ is. To me it’s just a word. This is a discussion about free speech, not aesthetics. Anne Frank is not remembered for her prose styling, but because her voice prevailed.

          • Ian says:

            Sean,

            “What she is writing about in “From Disgust to Humanity” is the process by which groups are cast outsides the sphere of common humanity; that ‘disgust’ is an emotional response to and maintainer of the fear of contamination, and that the source of contamination is identified by its unfamiliar culture and practices.

            What I am saying is that othering is allied with silencing; that speaking of personal (ie, interior) experience is necessary for the recognition of a common nature. By forbidding the speech of a group of people, society enables exclusion of that group from common understanding, effectively denying it’s humanity.

            This creation of ‘out groups’ is very relevant to any discussion of the place of paedophiles in society. By silencing the artisitic output of paedophiles (even those like Mayne whose work has no sexual content) society is reinforcing the belief that it shares no common expereince, allowing itself to treat them as less than human.

            This is the process by which pogroms and extermination camps come about.”

            Yes. We are speaking of the same issues from different perspectives. Clearly privacy boundaries often form and intersect with many of the points you directly observe. Thank you for the brief summary on Nussbaum that will definitely be useful for me to read.

            Taking only one perspective of silence misses the point, silencing when done by the other is frequently a difficulty, but there appear to be circumstances where both silencing and reticence appear as necessary evils within social structures. It is the inappropriate use of either of those that becomes problematic in the senses in which you appear to speak.

            Discussing art as nothing more than free speech whilst important, seems to me to be missing a large part of the common experience being spoken of, and whilst I agree the ongoing social process is dangerously supportive of pogroms (as Arendt’s and Jung’s writings illustrate) – as well as slavery, the counter to those tendencies appears to be an appreciation of (or as you say sharing common experience or seeing the) humanity.

            Reducing perceptions of art merely to a single word and remembering a person because of their prevailing voice appears concerning to me in the sense of seeing and appreciating common experience and humanity though. Referencing to Hurst’s work once more two other obvious interpretations involve observing the milk in the artwork and considering the potential religious links; hence a wider recognition of common humanity becomes more than an expression/representation of meaning other than by words. Limiting those interpretations to only one word merely representative of a whole sphere seems to deny what you appear to promote. The same arises out of the comment regarding Anne Frank. She is remembered because of her writing which was identified as worthy of publication by others who in doing so provided the voice you speak of to a wider audience. It seems to me that a particular focus is being followed by those two comments which serve to illuminate part of the difficulties in maintaining any social structure intended to fulfil a particular function without restricting wider appreciations of humanity. A sort of the loudest voice prevails or information is power message is given which will eventually degenerate to the damaging scenarios mentioned if left unchecked. I apologise if that view is my interpretation rather than an intended message.

            Re-reading the last paragraph appears to promote political correctness but that is not intended in a strict sense. Muting the message is not what is meant, openly discussing any perceived interpretations and progressing a common understanding is.

            N.B. My apologies for my previous double post, noticed today, which was probably due to difficulties in posting being experienced here at that time.

  • Ian says:

    Peter,

    “I’m not sure I quite follow, in part because (as I’ve noted above) I question Sean’s claim, which you seem to be accepting as true, that human experience needs to be ‘communicated in all its variety’.”

    To me you are conflating too many things into experience. For instance to experience a fiction you would rely upon a form of fictional art. Fiction can produce a recognition of feelings which would otherwise never exist just as any art may.

    A reflection upon an art work may assist us eventually arrive at understanding where words previously failed to illustrate a fuller understanding of meaning. This is inevitably also rather reflective of personal perspectives and milks that so forgive me in advance.

    Damien Hirst’s ‘Cow and Calf’ considered in its originally gallery venue although I have never been to view it. Was that at the Tate?

    http://myartspace-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/cow-tipping-damien-hirst-style.html

    Considering that artwork within its original display space, which if memory serves correct it was reportedly made specifically for.

    Initial considerations.

    A visual art form
    Half a cow and half a calf suspended within tanks of formaldehyde. Is that production art? Was the death of two living creatures worth this?

    Immediately obvious views expressed as bullet points for those fond of that type of approach:-

    People
    A large room with artwork
    Glass or are they Perspex cases
    Dead animal carcases
    Clinically precise
    Cow
    Meat
    Formaldehyde

    Immediately linking interpretations

    Formaldehyde
    The main visible objects held within a vessel of fluid
    Humanity as a bag of water
    Expression of humanity
    Meatspace
    Expression of sexuality

    How many people stop there to merely wonder about that level of artistic expression without going beyond to see the humour or and another view of themselves expressed as audience and actor.

    Further interpretations

    Why so clinical in the presentation. Is that a deliberate comment.
    What are the dimensions of the tanks, how do they relate to the room.
    Dead meat, where did that first appear as an artistic form. Goya Go Ya oh yes very funny, listen to the audience, Ya, this art really is beginning to transcend its own form as it perceives and pre-empts part of the audiences engagement with it.
    What other representations are there. Mother and child as a continuity, but they are only half formed.
    Formaldehyde, ah the other half, hidden but there, expressive but not seen. Like the wind as defined in the poem Privacy of the Wind by Perie Longo.
    Is the artist recognizing and representing individual privacy or merely private communications.
    The art may be recognizing and representing social privacy or individuality in the firmer outer layers of the cases but that transparencyy… Are the cases glass or Perspex, thinking about the gender of the objects probably glass would have been chosen unless there is also a comment upon gender differences contained within.
    Art engaging with the audience as performance art, what else is there.
    The Room, yes definitely the audience has been considered, eyes looking at the artwork, security cameras surveying the whole, the building beyond, the gallery people watching, people reacting bringing the art out of the gallery engaging with the world as it exists within. Is there a deliberate comment on a transparent clinical society, the new surveillance culture or is that merely the eye of the beholder.

    Considerations separately now about the artist.

    Which of the those issues noticed were intentionally chosen, how much of the lived lifestyle and character of the artist went into the art and how much is pure artistic observation and representation. What social issues really impinged upon the artist and were reflected within the art without the artists awareness.. where does the artists awareness of representation end and reflection begin.

    Other visible perspectives may be seen.
    Is it art, Yes. Does it transcend itself, Yes. Is it beautiful art, surprisingly Yes. What genre of art is it…

    Now consider a fictional painting in the style of one of the old Dutch Grand Masters.

    A person stands by a wooden table upon which peacocks have defecated, a rasp is visible on one side of the table, having just been used to clean the surface by that same person who is now shelling peas onto the table top. Does that represent the living style of the day, a need for cleanliness, paedophilia, or something else the artist attempts to allow an audience to see.

    All of that is what my contributions have attempted to portray within this aesthetic ethical discussion of art and artistic representation. From some perspectives, in the same way as with child art photographers all teachers are paedophiles as they lovingly care for the minds of their students. So just as many logically structured minds can often be easily pointed to seeing no more than difficulties in reproducing within a new form the structure they value, only to see any problem as a problem with that new form rather than expressing inherent difficulties with the original. Not a matter of stamping a die but seeing beyond the die and its contents to the raw materials used to form the form of die itself and its supporting structure. Yes blindness can be created by the self and may be blind to itself but it does not have to be and can be perceived; For instance my ‘to read someday list’ contains a book Martha C. Nussbaum’s ‘From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law Inalienable Rights’ It is there not because of any of the variants of sexuality, or any legal material within but because it probably holds further observations from another sphere about my own chosen area of focus.

    Denying, censoring, or otherwise hiding away any artwork only serves to hinder members of the wider society in their search for truths. Balance becomes no more than an answer to a paradox rather than an acceptance of paradox. Neither argument about the artwork is wrong unless your worldview accepts society only needs its wrongs to define its rights.

    Thank you for the discussion. Being away for a few days I will have to catch up on any final entries following my return.

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