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.