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.

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