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When good art turns bad

By 16 July 2014 8

burning-art-book

I received a letter from my daughter’s school some time ago letting parents know that the board had met and decided that should Rolf Harris be found guilty, a painting of his would be removed from display at the school. They have since removed the painting and returned it to the ACT Government, for them to decide next steps.

There are a further two paintings under question in ACT schools. Other artworks of Harris have been removed from Bundaberg and Perth schools and institutions.

Memorabilia belonging to Harris (a jacket and wobble boards) were removed from the National Museum last year, although this was conveniently aligned with a standard ‘refresh’ of museum content.

Although I understand the instinctive reaction to these artworks, particularly given their location (in some instances) within schools, I can’t help but wonder whether there is some shame in taking away the art.

Is it no longer good art? Viewed with a more distasteful understanding of the artist perhaps, but the art itself hasn’t changed.

And what happens when the performance of Harris with the Wiggles comes on our beloved DVD? Should I be preventing my children from singing ‘Tie me Kangaroo down sport’ or one of their previous favourites, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ Rolf style.

I can’t help but wonder if the reaction has more to do with us feeling an ownership over Harris, as an Australian and whether the reaction to existing artworks of his have been as strong in other countries. Although the portrait Harris painted of the Queen has apparently gone missing, so maybe not.

Maybe I would feel more strongly about this if I had a Harris original hung on my wall that now felt distasteful – particularly as the value would have plummeted (a 90% drop since the verdict according to the radio times).

To me, art is art. I’m not an art expert and wouldn’t really know a post-modern piece from a Renaissance, but I know what I like. I liked Rolf Harris’s art before (although I wasn’t such a fan of him) he was found guilty of these awful crimes. I still like his art. Surely there is still appreciation to be found there? Lessons to be learned for future artists?

Maybe we all feel a sense of frustration or guilt. Harris was a national treasure for such a long time – loved and encouraged, exalted in our ‘export success stories’. Maybe removing his art is a punishment to ourselves as a society for not revealing his true character sooner, to the detriment of so many young women.

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8 Responses to When good art turns bad
#1
bd8411:26 am, 16 Jul 14

To be honest it’s an overreaction. The kids would have no idea who the artwork was made by, and would be too young to care. Most people would look at it and see a picture, rather than standing there pondering this person’s life story. Many artists have chequered or criminal histories. I would be hanging on to them because their value will probably increase substantially.

#2
JessicaGlitter1:22 pm, 16 Jul 14

It could be a good teaching tool for the kids to learn that sometimes good people do bad things, or bad people do good things, but nobody is all good or all bad all the time.

The cult of celebrity is so powerful that it’s time to address it head-on and teach kids that a work of art, scientific theory or object should be evaluated separately from the personal characteristics of the person who produced it.

#3
justin heywood2:17 pm, 16 Jul 14

Good question. Everyone is racing to get rid of anything ever touched by Harris. Yet Roman Polanski still makes successful films and Donald Friend’s works are still at the NGA. In fact, both artists have been defended by many any their respective fields.

I think the reaction to Harris has been so strong partly because many of us felt we knew him. He seemed simple, uncomplicated, loved by all. We expect pedophiles to be dark and disturbed, predatory and duplicitous. It seems Harris was all those things, of course, but it certainly wasn’t obvious to those of us who knew him only as an entertainer.

Having said that, I’d be removing his work from display. I think a lot of the interest in his work was related to the nature of the man himself; a lovable bear of a man who was entertaining to watch at work with a brush. To my mind, the fact that his lovable nature was a lie largely diminishes the value of his work.

#4
miz4:08 pm, 16 Jul 14

Do people still listen to the Rolling Stones (Wyman had ‘affair’ with 13 year old), Jerry Lee Lewis (married underage girl) etc etc? Art is art. Lots of artists are esteemed for their art even though their morals, by today’s standards, were dodgy to say the least.
If anyone wants to get rid of anything by Rolf because it offends them I would gladly take it off their hands.

#5
dungfungus5:14 pm, 16 Jul 14

miz said :

Do people still listen to the Rolling Stones (Wyman had ‘affair’ with 13 year old), Jerry Lee Lewis (married underage girl) etc etc? Art is art. Lots of artists are esteemed for their art even though their morals, by today’s standards, were dodgy to say the least.
If anyone wants to get rid of anything by Rolf because it offends them I would gladly take it off their hands.

I always thought there was something dark about the lyrics of that Rolf Harris song which had the first line “tie me kangaroo down sport…..”

#6
Listers_Cat8:31 pm, 16 Jul 14

Rolf’s “art” is sub-par IMHO. If a school or anyone else chooses to remove his “art” from public display, I’m not going to quibble about the reasoning and just be thankful that standards have improved ever so slightly.

#7
curmudgery10:56 am, 17 Jul 14

The Judge is sending me down, sport
The news is all over town
They’ve taken me best paintings down, mate
An’ me name’s been trod in the ground
(All together now …)

#8
dungfungus8:49 pm, 17 Jul 14

Burn the wobbleboards!

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