Art, expression or child abuse?


My attention was caught by two articles in the Sunday Times magazine, completely unrelated, but I felt there were some resonances between both as well as some thought provoking ideas and contentions.

First piece was about Casanova, and I noted the easy, laid back ‘guys are guys’ style of writing and an understanding of his sexual proclivity. I felt that the writer was telling us, ‘There’s more to this guy, he was a cleric, a lawyer, a businessman’, The man who supposedly thought only with his penis was actually a distinguished intellectual and prolific writer whose passion for literature almost eclipsed his passion for women. During his lifetime he published more than 35 works of fiction, drama, history and literary criticism; he was an accomplished linguist who spoke fluent Latin, French and Italian as well as his native Venetian dialect: his repartee in all of those languages captivated both women and men. Well, if he was this clever, we really ought to put aside the fact that he was a sexual predator.

I was willing to give that a shot until I read what he had written: ‘I have never been able to conceive how a father could tenderly love his charming daughter without having slept with her at least once,‘ Although his wife Donna Lucrezia did her best to keep him away from their daughter, Casanova and Leonilda eventually consummated their relationship, a liaison that almost certainly resulted in the adventurer fathering his own grandson.

I always thought that was incest, if not paedophilia, and was less than impressed by the argument to elevate Casanova to hero-like status because he could read, write and find a G-spot.

This atricle was followed by one called Taking Candy from Babies. The photographer Jill Greenberg took photographs of children to whom she had given lollipops and then taking them away. In her photographic exhibition entitled ‘End Times’ , she intended her images of sobbing babies to be a metaphorical commentary on what she sees as the evils of the Bush administration and the dangerous influence of the evangelical religious right. The results are indeed quite extraordinary, and looking at the distress caused to the children certainly makes you stop and consider what can be excused in the name of art. Ms Greenberg came in for extreme criticism with a blogger, Andrew Petersen writing ‘Jill Greenberg is a sick woman who should be arrested and charged with child abuse.” He went on: “She is taking babies, toddlers under three years old, stripping them of their clothes and then provoking them to various states of emotional distress, anger, rage, etc, so that she can then take photos of them this way to ‘illustrate her personal beliefs’. We should all be outraged by this horrible woman.” It has also caused a stir on various blogs, and apparently remains a very heated issue at present.

Ms Greenberg has been riding a vicious storm at the moment, and hundreds and thousands of letters of outrage have been recieved.

So where does it all leave us? Casanova is a cool guy, perhaps because he was a guy, and we should look kindly on his exploits cos he was intelligent and well read? Jill Greenberg is a child abuser for taking lollipops from kiddies, under controlled circumstances and in the name of art?

Take a read of the articles, and see what you think. All the photographs don’t seem to be available on-line, although I have found one. They certainly make the story more powerful but you should get the point.

  • Green Ink

    Casanova today is an inflated mythologised oddity to whom there is very little to add. Any blokey admiration for him is precisely that, blokey admiration. We cannot undo his acts, but we can agree to the hideousness of paedophilia, and retrospectively applied such a sensitivity renders a great many historical figures unpalatable.

    Greenberg’s work is like a paedophile’s coffee table book. Make no mistake, this is deliberately salacious. These are not reportage photographs. These are the deliberately rarified images of children who were deliberately upset by their own mothers (for a fee). Look at the drool from the child’s mouth, hanging just so. Look at the lighting, the hair, the artifice of the image. An image can be pornographic without being overtly sexual, and this is as good an example of the pornographic gaze as I’ve seen in a long time. Greenberg uses the classic opt-out of the exploitative artist:
    “A lot of the people who’ve been upset are men. I don’t know if it’s because they project their own desires on these images and they don’t know what to do with them and blame me.”
    In other words, I am incapable of defending the premise of my work so I’ll blame the viewer.

  • Rory

    What can I add? Green Ink has said all that I might have and with incisive eloquence.

    Cassanova and his ‘art’ are long behind us and he and the mores of his time are beyond any critical remedy of ours. Ms Greenberg however remains alive, well and, apparently, thriving from the success of hers.

  • Donnacha

    What they said. I think the distance of time has softened Casanova’s image, in the same way that it has softened some other less-than-savoury characters. Even the monsters of history hold little more terror than fairy tales because of the time element. Who is scared of Ivan the Terrible now, or Gilles de Rais? The fact that Ms Greenberg has also left us with photographic evidence of her “art” doesn’t help her case. And Rory’s point about contemporary mores vs the temper of the times is also well made.
    As an aside, call me old-fashioned, but if anyone made my kids cry like that they’d be going home with their teeth in a hankie.

  • sevenmagpies

    I’m wondering what the response would be if she was tormenting animals in this fashion for the purposes of artistic expression?

  • Miss Fitz

    Sevenmagpies
    Actually, her next project is with bears.

    I think you make an excellent point, and although I was going to keep out of such a good discussion (as if), I think it opens another dimension of this issue

  • Green Ink

    Can’t wait to see what happens when she tries taking lollypops from bears!

  • Rory

    Perhaps Miss Fitz might take the candid shots, Green Ink.

  • Miss Fitz

    Well you take the shots Rory, and I’ll hold your lens

  • Rory

    No thanks, Miss Fitz. I might supply the caption but I honestly think that the imagery that Green Ink provoked could never be captured on film or on page. Best to leave it in the mind, unless some of the old Warner Brothers cartoonists are still alive.

  • Penelope

    *shudder*

    ditto… what Green Ink said

  • Yokel

    Child abuse my arse, its just crap art.

  • GrassyNoel

    WHAT A TOTAL AND UTTER LOAD OF COMPLETE BOLLOCKS

    OK now I am really convinced that the world has gone COMPLETELY insane.

    ‘TORTURE’? ‘CHILD ABUSE’?

    What in the F*CK are people on about here?

    If this is abuse, then every parent who has ever forbidden to give their child every single thing they have ever wanted whenever they wanted it is guilty of child abuse.

    Grow up, for f*ck’s sake.

  • Animus

    I think there is a difference between child abuse and rudeness. I don’t think the ‘artist’ should be arrested, but what she’s done is rather mean-spirited.

    The next time I take something from my child (he likes pointy things and expensive consumer electronics) and he throws a strop, I must get a snapshot and then sell it. I thought I was introducing boundaries, but perhaps I could spin it to something a little more lucrative.

  • Rory

    It is one thing if a parent decides ro deprive a child of something for its own good and that results in floods of tears from the child. All parents have to do it and endure watching the child cry but to deliberately provoke tears in a child by first giving it a treat and then withdrawing it in order to photograph the child’s distress for gain is simply wrong and yes it is abusive. Furthermore the resulting picture is a lie, a fake, a con-trick on the viewer’s sensibilities and imagination and in that sense demeans it as art.

    To argue that it was all done to highlight the pain caused by Bush and the fundamentalists is crass indeed when the photographer stoops to the same justification as her supposed targets by explaining away the distress caused as for the greater good. Much the same as Bush justifies the butchery in Iraq.

  • GrassyNoel

    What about the kids caught on camera crying in a football stadium after their team has lost a match or been relegated to a lower division for the forthcoming season? Is the manager or the players on the winning team guilty of ‘torture’ or ‘child abuse’? Or is Rupert Murdoch, on top of everything else he’s been accused of, now some kind of ‘sick pervert’ because Sky Sports zooms in on a 6 yr-old crying his eyes out after his team has lost 2-0 in the FA Cup final?

    People please…let’s get back, back, BACK TO REALITY.

  • sevenmagpies

    “Is the manager or the players on the winning team guilty of ‘torture’ or ‘child abuse’?”

    Only if they played and won the game for the sole purpose of tormenting children.

    Likewise, parents don’t refuse their children stuff for the sole purpose of watching them cry.

    I presume you understand the difference?

  • Eddie

    In her photographic exhibition entitled ‘End Times’, she intended her images of sobbing babies to be a metaphorical commentary on what she sees as the evils of the Bush administration and the dangerous influence of the evangelical religious right.

    Huh? WTF does taking lollipops from children have to do with GWB and the whacko religous right? What a load of BS. And “artists” wonder why no one pays any attention to them and their “art.”

    Oh, FWIW, Casanova’s a pervert.

  • First off; thanks for the link!

    Secondly, thanks to Rory and sevenmagpies for deconstructing the extremely obtuse argument provided by GrassyNoel.

    To drive it into the ground further; that every parent causes their children to cry, that children occasionally cry when their team loses, etc., that life experience may bring sorrow or pain into a child’s life in now excuses all of those things happening so this animal may make a profit from those experiences.
    It IS abuse. It IS torturous. It IS unacceptable.
    To argue any other perspective is to forgive every transgression against every person by every other person for any reason. Period.

    Civilized society is so because we are willing to point to those who do things so offensive that everyone should see and know about them.

    And yes, Rupert Mudroch is sick, but that’s a whole different discussion…

  • That was supposed to be “in no way excuses”, not “in now excuses”

  • GrassyNoel

    Fair enough if you want to believe my arguments are being ‘deconstructed’ but I honestly believe the over-reaction to this photoshoot is a very worrying sign of the direction in which our society is heading.

    Would none of you consider it one of the most basic lessons one has to learn in life, no matter what age, that nothing can ever be taken for granted? And so what if the woman took photographs? What lasting damage does this really do to the children? If this is the worst thing you think will happen to them during their childhoods, then I can assure you that they are extremely lucky people. Or maybe you all grew up in some kind of warped paradise. Some of us, however, still live in the real world.

    And what’s the big hullabulloo about Casanova? Because a bunch of Italian wenches thought he was Johnny Depp and now some 21st Century Liberals don’t like the fact that he ‘took advantage’ by humping every slapper who threw herself at him, we should denounce him as a scumbag 500 years later? I’m sorry, I cna begrudge with the best of them, but I’m not buying into that nonsense.

    Reality Check: Every man alive is a sexual predator, it’s just that some man are much more successful at it than others.

  • GrassyNoel

    Corrections

    1. I CAN begrudge with the best of them etc…

    2. The words ‘sexual predator’ should have been in inverted commas/quotation marks as I did not originate use of the term to describe Casa’s exploits in the context of this thread.

  • GrassyNoel

    …and obviously I don’t condone paedophilia but what does it say about the society of the time that he could not only do this and get away with it, but brag about it afterwards in his writings?

    Their values must have been almost as skewed back then as people today who will scale the heights of hysteria and lead cyber witch-hunts to denounce someone as a child abuser just because she photographed some children crying after (briefly) taking a lollipop away from them.

    Did any of you cry on your first day of school? What about the parents who think MMR vaccine injections cause autism? What must they think of parents who, in their eyes, not only consent to their children being given injections which not only can cause a serious disorder, but also… (gulp) makes their children cry?

  • “Would none of you consider it one of the most basic lessons one has to learn in life, no matter what age, that nothing can ever be taken for granted?”

    This is not even remotely similiar! This is strictly a case of abuse for profit! There were no “object lessons” being taught these children, and if there were, shame on the bitch photog for being so arrogant as to think she has the right to, and the parents for allowing her to be the one to teach them this particularly brutal lesson.

    “What lasting damage does this really do to the children?”
    I don’t know. But I doubt that question was ever considered. Which is the biggest part of the problem!

    “Because a bunch of Italian wenches thought he was Johnny Depp and now some 21st Century Liberals don’t like the fact that he ‘took advantage’ by humping every slapper who threw herself at him, we should denounce him as a scumbag 500 years later?”
    This statement is very telling of your attitudes about many things, but this particular protion of the statement;
    “21st Century Liberals”
    says just about everything…

    “Their values must have been almost as skewed back then as people today who will scale the heights of hysteria and lead cyber witch-hunts to denounce someone as a child abuser just because she photographed some children crying after (briefly) taking a lollipop away from them.”
    And how skewed are your values for attempting to draw a parallel between the alleged condonation of pedophilia and those who are concerned about the possible abuse of children?!?

    “Did any of you cry on your first day of school?”
    Yes. How’s that relevant? I wasn’t sent to school for the express purpose of being made to cry so someone could take photos of that crying and make a profit from it.

    Great big difference. Not surprised you can’t see it.

    After all, it’s just the bleatings of some 21st Century Liberals concerned for some children who are probably lucky to be treated so well…

  • GrassyNoel

    Vern, in all I’ve read about this since last sunday I haven’t yet seen one word that even attempts to explain what exactly this woman did that can seriously be described as ‘abusive’ and/or why. This is pure hysteria. Nothing more, nothing less. Everybody who’s been jumping up and down flapping their arms around saying “oh but your missing the point, it’s not that the kids were crying, it’s the reason they were crying, it’s OK to make a child cry as long as you have a valid reason for doing so” – this is hypocritical bullshit in my view.

    There have been some vicious attacks on that ‘Supernanny’ as well because she tells parents not to always give into their kids’ tearful tantrums and she also has been denounced as cruel and sick etc. Hollywood directors have been making toddlers cry on cue for decades. Is THAT a valid enough reason to make a baby cry?

    This is all 21st Century psychobabble. Kids cry ALL the time. I don’t have kids of my own yet but I’ve babysat my sister’s kids enough to know that they will cry if you take anything away from them that their attention is fixed upon.

    I agree 100% with whoever said earlier that it’s crap art, I myself think the photos are rubbish to be honest. But the arguments that have supposedly blown up all over the internet because of this photoshoot are just ridiculous. That’s why I’m not going to participate any further in this one.

    And I still don’t get why Casanova’s antics are of any relevance?.. It is a simple fact of life and of nature that some men seem to possess a natural talent for seducing women, and those that do usually go on to have a multitude of partners throughout their lives. That was true 10,000 years ago, and it’ll still be true 10,000 years from now. Big deal. And yes, sleeping with his daughter(s) was pretty sick. but according to the article, he was thrown in jail for sleeping with a nun, and on the run from the law for conning a rich widow, yet was able to boast about his incest in his memoirs without fear of penalty. So I’d say whatever society he inhabited at the time was pretty depraved.

    I’ll get me coat.

  • Rory

    Okay, GrassyNoel, I will try one last time.

    The photographer did not simply take shots of children crying in distress. She caused children to cry in distress and then photographed the distress. She cropped the shot we see artfully to allow the viewer to consider the possibility that the child may be unclothed. She justified this as her desire to show to a wider audience the distress caused by Bush and Fundamentalism.

    A serious photo-journalist with such concerns may have easily, by going into the the many areas of her country where the victims of Bush/fundamentalism live and suffer have found any number of real subjects the better to illustrate her point.

    Thank God she was not active and interested during the Vietnam War when she might have found it interesting to soak a naked child in burning gasoline and have her run in terror down a country road for the sake of her art. Perhaps with a lollipop after for comfort – and a hundred bucks to to the mother.

  • “it’s OK to make a child cry as long as you have a valid reason for doing so”

    You’re right; that is bullshit. And I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything approaching that because it’s an asinine proposition.

    What I did say that you obviously missed was this; it’s NOT ok to make a child cry for profit. If a PARENT makes a child cry in the course of RAISING that child, you can NOT draw a parallel between THAT act and making a child CRY FOR PROFIT!

    “I don’t have kids of my own yet but I’ve babysat my sister’s kids enough to know that they will cry if you take anything away from them that their attention is fixed upon.”

    Not having childern is irrelevant; I know many people who don’t have children and agree this was abusive. Furthermore, if you ever decided to start tormenting your nieces and/or nephews just to get a laugh I would imagine your sister would be quite displeased.
    But, even more importantly, and the point you refuse to acknowledge; this was not a parent taking something from their child because they felt that was an appropriate life lesson; this was someone deliberately causing anguish in a child so as to make a profit from that anguish.

    NOT THE SAME THING!

    People like you ARE the reason people like Bush and people like bin Laden are able to amass their power; you tell everyone “those guys aren’t really a problem” when they’re nobodys, and you’re likely “the first ones up against the wall” to quote Douglas Adams when the shit comes down.

    Let me know when you have your own children. I’d be more than happy to sit them for you. Just don’t ever get mad at me if my actions make them cry.

    Of course, I’ll have to photograph them, which will absolve me of any real responsibility or wrongdoing.

    Right?