Art or Pornography?

artgallery.jpgOn the 22nd of May this year, the opening night of artist Bill Henson’s 2007-2008 exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, police swooped and the exhibition was canceled. The action came after Hetty Johnston, a child protection campaigner, lodged a complaint about the exhibition with the New South Wales police.

The police action was based on concern over several photographs of a naked 13 year old girl.

Since then many people have voiced their opinions on whether the images are art or pornography.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd condemned the images saying, “I find them absolutely revolting, and whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff – frankly I don’t think there are any – just allow kids to be kids.”

Where do we draw the line between what is appropriate and what isn’t? Art is all about pushing the boundaries but can the boundaries be pushed too far? Were they pushed too far in having an adult male photographing a naked 13 year old girl?

The girl involved and her parents had given Henson their consent and were willingly involved in the photo shoot. Does that make it right? Does that make it OK to put the resulting images on display in a public gallery? Many are saying yes, many others disagree.

There have been cries of censorship and some have accused those who agree with the police action as being wowsers who don’t understand art.

What do you think?

I need to be honest and say that no matter what the artistic merit of the finished product, I find it disturbing that producing the images involved a naked 13 year old girl being directed into poses by an adult male who was taking photos of her. I’m not suggesting that Bill Henson is a pedophile or that he took the photos for anything other than artistic reasons; I just feel that what happened is an inappropriate interaction.

My regular Wednesday morning guest on 98.5 Sonshine FM is Ross Clifford who is the Principal of Morling College in New South Wales and current President of the Baptist Union of Australia. Each week we chat about a range of issues relating to spirituality and belief.

Today we looked at where we draw the line in such situations and whether we have the right to intervene and say that a line has been crossed.

Click the play button on the audio player at the bottom of this post to listen to our discussion.

Do you think some of your friends would enjoy reading Art or Pornography?? Please use the buttons below to share the post. Thanks.

About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

View all posts


  • Thanks for dropping in, Jade. I’m interested in your opinion on Henson’s work.

    Do you think that artists should be free to express whatever they feel regardless of community sensitivity? Is it the job of the artist to push boundaries? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • I blogged on this issue a few days back, after seeing the headlines and reading some very pro Henson blogs. (this news I don’t think have reached our television but I saw it on the net).

    I will say here what I said on those very pro Henson, pro children nude blogs:

    “If we lived in a perfect world, nudity on anyone wouldn’t be an issue.

    Look around. It’s not perfect, not even close.
    The authorities are doing the right thing, protecting the children.”

  • Hi Barbara (and Rodney, of course). I’m not convinced that in a perfect world there would be no clothes. In fact, while the first clothes were made because of shame, there is a good argument that the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve experienced through eating the fruit would have been theirs eventually. I personally think clothes are not just to cover, but are also appropriate for adult interaction with people who are not your spouse – sin or no sin.

    I also wrote about this issue (but without the above commentary on clothes).

  • Barbara, I think you’re right to return the issue to the main concern – protecting our children. The arguments over whether the images are artistic is very much secondary.

  • The classification board has just cleared the uncensored photographs. They’d previously cleared the censored material.



    05 June 2008



    The Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalitions is dismayed that the Australian authorities have cleared for publication an uncensored nude photograph of a 13 year old girl. This closely follows the Classification Board’s green light for photographers to take pictures of naked under-age models after backing down on an investigation into a fashion magazine. Australia is closely emulating Japan in its failure to regulate indecent images of children.

    The decision by the Classification Board is in violation of Australia’s obligations under the UNCRC, CEDAW and ICCPR. This is the first occasion anywhere in the world that a nude photograph of a female child who was subject to a police investigation relating to a sexually motivated crime has been cleared for publication. This decision is also a fundamental breach of Australia’s reponsibilities as partner nation of the Virtual Global Taskforce.

    /// END

    Gregory Carlin


    Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition
    4 Downfine Walk
    Northern Ireland

    (UK) 44 (0) 2890 963164


    U18 topless photographs are classified as child pornography in the United Kingdom.

    The IATC was a consulting partner with the UK govt. in relation to the SOA 2003

  • Thanks for visiting, Gregory, and for providing the information about the Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition’s response to the Henson issue.

    I am surprised and dismayed at the amount of people who see absolutely no problem with the photos and the exhibition because it’s done in the name of art. I can usually understand other points of view, even when I don’t agree with them, but this one has me scratching my head. I really don’t understand how anyone can defend photographing naked 13 year olds, whatever the stated reason.

  • Thursday June 5, 2008


    Australian Authorities Permit Publication of Nude Photo of 13 Year-Old Girl

    By Tim Waggoner

    CANBERRA, Australia, June 5, 2008 ( – Australian officials have cleared for publication an uncensored nude photograph of a 13 year-old girl and have issued it a PG rating. The Australian Classifiers Board found that the “image of breast nudity…creates a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context…and is not sexualised to any degree”.

    The decision has outraged anti-child-pornography activist Gregory Carlin. “Material which is child pornography in Britain, is now considered child friendly viewing in Australia,” Carlin, a U. K. campaigner against child pornography, told today.

    Numerous controversial photographs featuring nude girls as young as 13, which were taken by photographer Bill Henson, have been under investigation since Australian police confiscated many of the photos from an Australian art gallery on May 23.

    After the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) received a complaint from Carlin regarding the image of the nude 13 year-old girl, they referred the photo to the Classification Board, which deals with official classifications. Upon a brief review, the board stated that “at the time of ACMA’s investigation, the content…was not prohibited as defined by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the Act).”

    The act reads, “Under the Act, the following categories of content (other than content that consists of an eligible electronic publication) are prohibited: (a) Content which is classified RC or X 18+ by the Classification Board, including:…child pornography.”

    Carlin says that many are left wondering what constitutes child pornography.

    The Commonwealth of Australian Law website states under the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005, that, “depictions of nudity involving minors under 18 generally warrant a RC [refused classification] as they deal with matters of sex…in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.”

    It continues by saying, “the Code states explicitly that publications which describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offense to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not) will be classified RC.”

    The board’s decision comes only two weeks after they deemed acceptable nude photos of a 16 year-old girl found in Russh magazine. After investigating the pictures, which depicted the girl sharing a bubble bath with a 15 year-old boy and included four champagne bottles in close proximity, the board said the publication “does not need to be classified.”

    Carlin says he is particularly alarmed and disturbed by the board’s findings because they convey the message to publication companies that child pornography is acceptable.

    “This is the first occasion anywhere in the world that a nude photograph of a female child who was subject to a police investigation relating to a sexually motivated crime has been cleared for publication,” commented Carlin.

    As reported by, Federal Youth Minister Kate Ellis, was also unsettled by these recent events.

    “The sexualisation of children and young people in magazines and advertising is disturbing,” she said.

    In light of these decisions, police wishing to prosecute Bill Henson will now face a tougher task in convincing a court that the “artist’s” photographs precipitate “offence to reasonable persons.”

    Furthermore, Carlin alluded to the fact that the confusion about what constitutes art and what constitutes pornography throws a veil of deception over the photographs of “artists” such as Henson, making prosecution of a blatant offense a laborious and possibly futile chore.

    See related coverage:

    The Creeping Push to Legalize Child Porn as “Artists” Defend Nude Photos of 13 Year-Olds

    Nudes in Sculpture and Painting vs Nudes in Photography and Film



    Copyright © This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives License. You may republish this article without request provided the content is not altered and it is clearly attributed to “”. Any Internet re-publishing of original LifeSiteNews articles MUST additionally include a live link to Republishing of articles on LifeSiteNews that have come from other news sources as noted is subject to the conditions of those sources.

  • Rodney, I am with you…and I suspect you are at least in part speaking as a father.

    In the age of Google Image, what sort of a parent would allow someone to take nude photos of their children?

    It may well be a honest expression of art, but the risk of exploitation is too great. As is placing something on your daughters resume which she may well regret later in life.

  • You’re so right, Mark. I’m extremely careful about posting any photos of my kids online. I shouldn’t have to be, but the world being what it is, I need to be.

    I think it’s our job as parents to protect our children’s innocence until they’re old enough to make their own decisions.

  • When a window to new material opens, it will get more business in a few days that O’Hare Airport, that is a lot of wicked people, out there. I just think flooding the net with difficult images, as art, is so very unwise.

    The Associated Press – 7 hours ago
    The investigation was triggered after a hacker posted 99 child porn images on a European Web site, which attracted 12 million hits in just 76 hours,

    There’s a lot.


  • Didn’t this same sort of thing happen years ago in the U.S. with Brooke Shields?

    I’m all for freedom of speech and expression of art but there is also a line that should not be crossed.

    A 13 years old girl should be giggling in middle school and gossiping about the Jonas Brothers or something but not doing nudes! Seems like every time you see one of these kids doing an interview years later they talk about the horrors of that day.

    I hope the exhibit never makes it to the U.S.

  • I have to say, I’m a little torn on the subject, and have been since I saw it on the news last week.

    I think it is inappropriate that the photos were taken in the first place – as many here have said, there are many things 13 year old girls should be doing and none of those are posing for nudes. I can’t help but wonder what morals this instills to be selling your body – which it is, as classless as it may be – at such a young age.

    But on the other hand, I find it repulsive that the police became involved and that the exhibition was cancelled. Whilst the photos should never have been taken, I can’t help but feel like what was done was a massive breach of freedom of speech and shouldn’t have happened.

    I think the problem here is that the photos were allowed to be taken; not that the photos were shown. Stopping the exhibition isn’t preventing the damage – I find it hard to believe that these images would ever have been used as ‘pornography’, considering the context of their viewing – because I feel the damage was done to the girl in the act of photography.

  • There is no freedom of speech in Britain in that respect, it is not protected expression, I think your problem is the ‘criminalization’ concept. Similarly, I am not allowed to burn toothless old ladies as witches as live art or an aid to tourism.

    It is not that unusual to make ‘something’ illegal, at a wild guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a breach of the Queen’s peace or public order, for me to set fire to your garden shed. That might seem unnecessarily restrictive, art being what it is, but I’d have to accept it, should it be illegal.

    What’s more important, your garden shed or a 12 year old girl?

    With the SOA 2003, (which was a re-vamping of our child pornography laws), it is what it says on the tin, you can’t do little girls and little boys. The Protection of Children Act does not allow for defences of context or social and cultural merit.

    There are exceptions and being a good photographer, or Bill Henson simply isn’t one of them. Mr. Henson, as Hetty Johnston was saying on your TV & Radio can’t do it in Great Britain. She is one hundred percent correct.

    Indecent photographs of children (Sections 45 and 46)

    Section 45 amends the definition of a ‘child’ for the purposes of the Protection of Children Act 1978 (which makes provision about indecent photographs) and the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (possession of indecent photographs) by raising the age of the child from under 16 to under 18.

    There *are* a number of exceptions:

    * Under section 1 (1)(a) of the 1978 Act taking, permitting etc, section 1(1)(b) distribute or show and section 1(1)(c) possession with a view to distribution, it is for the defendant to prove that the photo was of the child aged 16 or 17 and at the time of the offence charged he was married or lived as partners in an enduring family relationship;
    * It is a defence under section 1(1)(b) or (c) where the defendant proves that the photo was of the child aged 16 or 17 and at the time (s)he obtained the photo (s)he was married to the child or lived as partners in an enduring family relationship;
    * The above only apply where the photo shows the child alone or with the defendant;
    * Once the defendant has proved the marriage or other relationship, there is an evidential burden on the defendant to raise an issue in relation to the child’s consent to the taking or making of the picture, and a reasonable belief in that consent;
    * In relation to the showing or distribution offence, it is a defence, unless the prosecution proves that the photo was shown to anyone other than the child;
    * In relation to possession of the photo with a view to distribution, the defendant has an evidential burden to show that the child consented or reasonably believed the child consented to his or her possession of the photo;
    * The same exceptions apply to possession of photographs under section 160 of the 1988 Act;
    * Where the indecent photograph is made for the purposes of prevention, detection or investigating crime or for criminal proceedings in any part of the world (section 46);
    * Prosecutors should be aware that the consent of the DPP is still required.

    The pseudo-image legislation is still a work in progress. WE still need to sort that part of the equation out.

    Possession of Indecent images of children under 18 is criminalised by the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and Public Order Act 1994 and also the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

    The latter raised the age limit from 16 to 18. This includes computer imagery and simulated imagery, but not drawings and paintings.

    With the SOA 2003 it is what it says on the tin, you can’t do topless little girls, films. The Protection of Children Act does not allow for defences of context or social and cultural merit. The effect of the SOA 2003 is retrospective, applying to all such images, regardless of when they first came into circulation.

    Pornography (Sections 47-50)

    A person is involved in pornography if an image of the child is recorded.

    One is intending to change ( via of friends in Parliament) part of the legislation to criminalize the transmission via the internet of material allowed by marriage, or relationship factors.

    That’s a bit of a tweak,


Join the conversation