Society’s great art divide

This is the title of a major editorial in ‘The Weekend Australian” newspaper of July 26-27 2008.
The author, Deborah Hope, asks whether art makes us a better people. Her conclusion is that art doesn’t have any effect. However what she doesn’t ask is whether people can make a better art.
The question has risen from community and political reaction to a photographer’s exhibition of naked adolescents. Some artists have come out in support of the use of children and adolescents as art models in any form. They have supported this notion because it happened in the past under great master painters. They also support it because they expect society will eventually move their values and accept it.
The aspects I find incredulous are the ability for prominent artists to become completely blinkered to the responsibility of adults for children, to protect said children from themselves and from adults, from exploitation. I am reminded of that great moral tale, Pinocchio. In this case the puppet is the adolescent model such as the daughter of Polixeni Papapetrou. In this case the kidnapping puppeteer is none other than the child’s parent. It is incredulous that, in this generation, the scope of the moral story, the basis of much artistic endeavour is lost on many modern artists.
It is also incredulous that these same artists would support those masters of the past. A number of these men (and they nearly all were) were mysognists, exploiters of women and children and even other men. Some were paedophiles. Did they have a great talent? Did Mengler? Did we learn from them? Did we learn from Mengler?
We, in the west have become very naive about what society is, and can be? We think we can raise children in some romantic environment. There is no such thing. People who indulge in vain fantasy, will damage the lives of children and hamper the progress of society as surely as any of the great madman in our history.
So I return again to my question, not can art make society better, but can society make better art? It is society who needs to raise the bar, to focus on high-minded objectives. The art will follow the new understanding.

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