Breathing Life Into Art: Auguste Rodin’s Man and His Thought

(Last Updated On August 11, 2019)

There are a handful of post-Renaissance painters that nearly everyone knows by name—van Gogh, Picasso, Whistler perhaps—but for modern sculpture there is really only one name that non-art geeks consistently recognize: Auguste RodinThe Thinker is easily Rodin’s most recognizable piece, and one of the most famous artworks of all time.

One of Rodin’s lesser known works is Man and His Thought, which depicts a powerful adult male figure “kissing” the chest of what appears to be a young adolescent girl.  Radical feminists and professional outrage-mongers who fail to grasp the symbolism implied in the work’s title might propose this to be little more than a three-dimensional image of an adult male sexually abusing a young female.  That would be wrong (in both senses of the word).

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (1)

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (2)

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (3)

Several of Rodin’s works deal with man’s—and especially artists’—relationship with his own creative impulses.  This piece is one of them, as the sylphic being half-emerged from the stone represents both the source of creation (inspiration) and the creation itself (art).  Like the myth of Pygmalion, to which this work alludes, the artist breathes life directly into coarse dead stone, and out of it emerges a figure of lithe feminine beauty, shown as a young girl because she is not yet fully formed, an artwork still in the process of being born.

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (4)

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (5)

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (6)

This is not to say that there is no sexual element here at all.  Does the artist have an erotic relationship with his own work?  Certainly Pymalion did.  Other women failed to satisfy him, and so he created his own in Galatea, who is both his metaphorical child and his lover.  (Indeed, there is even a blatantly incestuous interpretation of the myth by poet and classical studies scholar Robert Graves.)  That might be enough for some critics to advance the idea that Man and His Thought justifies parent-child incest.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Rather, it implies that an artist’s relationship with his creative output is inherently incestuous in a psychological sense.

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (7)

Auguste Rodin – Man and His Thought (1896-1900) (8)

Though the two figures are mismatched in size, they seem to fit together quite snugly, suggesting that they were made for each other the way Pygmalion and Galatea are.  Well, certainly one of them was made to fit the other!

Bonus: Here is a lovely illustrated tribute to Rodin’s sculpture by Sharon C. McGovern:

Sharon C. McGovern – Tribute to Rodin’s ‘Man and His Thought’

Maiden Voyages: August 2019

(Last Updated On August 3, 2019)

Editorial Control: There has been some talk among the staff about having an official policy on comments. This may at first seem sensible so that our readers can be clear on what is allowed and what is not. But it is impossible to always anticipate the tone of a discussion without creating an undesirable bias. I usually like to allow readers to express themselves so long as they make cogent statements. Sometimes the comments or arguments are ones we’ve seen a hundred times and that is all right so long as they do not become too tedious. Therefore I feel it is important to make two points right now regarding comments: 1) We, the staff, have editorial control over all discussion and it is in our purview to edit, delete, censure and/or rebut any comments that are made based on our own judgment. 2) This is an educational site and readers should make remarks with that intention in mind. It is all too easy to come to hasty superficial conclusions based on emotional impulses. Belaboring these conclusions when there is scanty evidential support, at best, demonstrates arrogance and a lack of respect for the educational purpose of this site. Human beings are not well-adapted to our current post-industrial, co-ed civilization and we have a long way to go (and a willingness to handle hot-button issues head on) before it makes any sense to make policy proposals. So please remember to approach Pigtails in Paint with an attitude of a student, not a pedagogue!

The Rectification of Names: Understandably the subject of pedophilia comes up on this site. In common parlance, it is a poorly-defined term and so gets thrown around rather recklessly. However a new term came to my attention recently: ephebophile. At first, I felt this term made a pedantic distinction but, after some thought, we do need to be more precise in our use of language so that we may make some real progress in our discussions. There is an interesting article called ‘The Rectification of Names’ which helps make this distinction and, after reading it, I realized that it is not really a subject we deal with on Pigtails in Paint because it falls outside of the age range of girls we cover. But I would like to mention that ephebophilia  is not merely an extension of pedophilia. Upon puberty, girls/women experience a kind of quantum leap in their sexual development, both physically and psychologically. Therefore, issues involving pubescent girls require an almost completely different set of guidelines than those governing little girls and we should take care not to confound the two ideas.

Dedicated to Child Photography: An associate brought to my attention a blog dedicated to the photographers of children. The site’s mandate is to share installments of submitted photos, offer awards and conduct monthly and annual contests. The winners are published in an ebook which visitors can download.

Random Images: Mike Berceanu

(Last Updated On July 28, 2019)

Leafing through some of Pip’s backlog of random images, this one kind of popped out at me. Mike Berceanu is a commercial artist operating in Sydney, Australia. But no matter how skilled a technician one is, there is always an artistic impulse to be satisfied; this is one of Berceanu’s.

Mike Berceanu – Dangerous Vision (2003)

Although the photographer gives an excellent account of his technical methods in producing this image, he does not make any mention of his psychological motivations. All he says is, “In working up an image, [the] first thing I always do is to sketch the idea, in part to crystallise my thoughts but also to create a usable layout.” But what were those thoughts and what is so compelling about a little girl in peril? Like for many artists before, she may be an autobiographical representation of the most vulnerable aspects of the man himself. The ironic part is that Grey Nurse Sharks were used for the composition but they have never been known to attack humans.

Berceanu is quite generous in sharing the technical details of constructing the piece. I suspect the reason some artists are less forthcoming about their “secrets” is the fear that someone may copy them. But the fact is that, whatever expertise one may have, the final result is still a matter of a lot of hard work and why would anyone willing to follow through be discouraged?

Random Images: The Goebbels Children

(Last Updated On July 22, 2019)

The death of children is always heartbreaking. And there seems no end to the atrocious ways they reach their demise. The most poignant cases do not have so much to do with the manner of death, but the reason for its necessity. In the case of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, and Magda, their offspring—five daughters and a son—were the victims of fanatical ideology.

The children’s upbringing seemed pleasant enough with their own ponies and a little carriage in which to ride around. Joseph was photographed in public with some of his children on several occasions and set up a concealed camera to film them as a “healthy” contrast to the handicapped children in a propaganda film. In 1942, the children appeared 34 times in weekly newsreels, participating in pleasant everyday family activities. Goebbels was presented that October with a copy of those films. The children were moved around to put them out of harm’s way of advancing troops toward the end of the war. By April 22, 1945, the Goebbels moved their children into the Vorbunker, connected to the lower Führerbunker where Hitler and a few personnel were staying. Goebbels in an act of personal loyalty refused to flee Berlin and in a note stated that the children would have supported the decision to commit suicide if they had been old enough to speak for themselves! The plan was to have the children injected with morphine so they would be unconscious when the cyanide was administered. Magda was apparently contemplating the killing of her children a month beforehand. Her rationale was that she did not want them to grow up hearing that their father had been one of the century’s foremost criminals. The bodies were discovered by Soviet troops dressed in their nightclothes, with ribbons tied in the girls’ hair.

Graham Ovenden was inspired to write a poem commemorating this tragedy.

Graham Ovenden – Now six are dead … (poetry broadsheet) (date unknown)

Random Images: Contenido Magazine

(Last Updated On July 25, 2019)

Here is an interesting picture which appeared on the cover of the Mexican magazine Contenido (Contents) in January 1979. The photo was shot by Mexican photographer Miguel Angel Romero, of whom there is almost no information.

Miguel Angel Romero – Contenido Magazine (January 1979)

The purpose of the image was to introduce specifically the subject of sex education in contemporary Mexican schools. The photograph was taken in a domestic setting as evidenced by the closet behind the children. It seems the image was composed strategically as to not display the genitalia but, most remarkable, is the confident, care-free attitude of the children despite being naked. I am told that even at that time, this frank display of nudity in Mexico was quite unusual, even among widely-distributed sex-education texts. Today, just like in the US, cartoon portrayals of naked children are the norm in Mexico.

Signs of Normality: Photographs of a Rural French Priest

(Last Updated On August 3, 2019)

The Catholic Church has much to answer for which is not surprising for an institution that has wielded so much power and wealth for such a long time. However, The Church should be given some credit for its attempts to survive in an ever-changing political climate. In the case of the Nazi Occupation of France, The Church’s error was placing their bets on the losing side. When the Nazis were finally defeated, there was a strong desire to reinvigorate French customs, rituals and institutions. One such effort was the photographic work of a rural priest, probably operating in the Auvergne.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (1)

So many amateurs have embraced new technologies and used it to try their hand at one artform or another. Photography—and later, videography—has been a panacea. After the war, an unidentified rural priest documented the pagentry of the children of his parish in the manner of local traditions.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (2)

When the roughly 50 photographs were discovered in 2002, this priest was counted among the many skilled amateurs of Found Photography, discovered work later to be coveted by collectors. Because of the Catholic Church’s history with children, the seller considered the work disreputable and was reluctant to identify the priest or say exactly where the photos were produced. They were found among the priest’s personal effects a few years after his death. The entire collection was purchased by the Charles Nes Gallery in New York and about half the images were exhibited in Manhattan from November 7–December 17, 2003.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (3)

And any photographic gesture, repeated often enough, begins to look like obsession. Yet the pictures don’t tell a story of prurient manipulation. Above all, they reveal how complex a role photography can play, even as a mere hobby practiced in an out-of-the-way village. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (4)

The collection is comprised mostly of girls aged 4 to 16, but there is also one album with boys. Given the range of ages, all the children were probably classmates in a one-room school, then common in rural France. Many would have been in the priest’s catechism class. He knew them all very well and they knew him.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (5)

Whatever he may have been as a curate, as a photographer the priest was a careful and affectionate amateur, experimenting with props, poses, backdrops and even print formats. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (6)

He experimented with different picture sizes and formats, posing them in complete shade for even lighting. It seems likely that the images were meant to be displayed and perhaps distributed to the respective families. Engaging in this photography may have been a private indulgence, but they provided an important public and ceremonial presence.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (7)

Nearly all the girls are posed either in dance postures, in half-curtseys or in religious tableaus, dressed in angels’ wings and in costumes of the Virgin Mary. Given the widespread disruption in France after World War II this may have been an effort, conscious or otherwise, to reassert French culture, not only in the aftermath of Nazi occupation but in the presence of American and British influence afterward. According to John Merriman, professor of French history at Yale University, the photos can be seen as an attempt to strengthen the local credibility of a church tarnished by its support for the Nazi-backed Vichy government. “The priest could be trying to place himself at or near the center of rebuilding French institutions in the widest sense,’’ said Merriman.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (8)

Unless the subjects—who would now be in their 70s or 80s—come forward after seeing themselves in these pictures, we will never know the exact circumstances of their creation. Nonetheless, the priest was a serious amateur evidenced by the results that went beyond mere documentation. He used props as photographers did nearly a century before: posing the girls with prie-dieus, high-backed chairs and oriental rugs.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (9)

Some have compared his efforts with those of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) but, quite opposite to Dodgson, he preferred that his subjects have a taller stature by balancing them on a rock or book. Rexer felt that he served as, “part anthropologist, part yearbook photographer, part aesthete.”

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (10)

And the girls were not only subjects; they make the pictures come alive. Perhaps because the priest knew them all and—if the pictures can be taken as evidence—had a deep affection for them, they engage the camera with a directness and joy that is common in snapshots but so rare in art. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (11)

The purpose of the album may be personal, and ultimately indecipherable, but throughout its pages the images are a wondrous curiosity centred on faith. Charles Nes Gallery Press Release, “Oui, Mon Père”: A rural priest’s photographs of children c.1950, 2003.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (12)

When the article was published, Lyle Rexer was in the process of publishing How to Look at Outsider Art (2005). Unfortunately, because the book does not cover photography, it does not discuss this work. However, there was some interesting information on Morton Bartlett and Henry Darger to be covered in a future post.

(Photographer Unknown) – (Untitled) (c1950) (13)

Daddy’s Girls and Beautiful Boys: Children’s Sexual Encounters in Graphic Media

(Last Updated On July 19, 2019)

WARNING: The following article contains images of child sexual abuse which may offend sensitive viewers. Not recommended for children under 18. 

You’ll have to excuse me, because this article will be long. But I think it’s warranted and long overdue.

I must confess, my recent discussions with a respondent to our blog who goes by the deceptively mundane, everyman moniker “a parent” has gotten under my skin in a big way. The underlying accusation, though not put into these words exactly, is that Pigtails in Paint is guilty of “sexualizing” children. This we do, according to “a parent”, by repeatedly claiming—whether doing this directly or indirectly he does not say—that children are worthy objects of the sexual attention of adults, or in terms of art, by attempting to “normalize” what some critics refer to as the “pedophilic gaze.”

Let me be absolutely clear here: I object nearly outright to the concept of the “sexualized” child, as well as to “normalization.” These words are loaded language, armchair psychobabble/political spin designed to instill by default the opposite notion that the “normal” child is by nature asexual, a being entirely without carnal thoughts, feelings or motivations, their minds and bodies veritable blank slates upon which only pubescence justly and impartially writes the erotic code that makes them into what we designate in our culture as a full-on adult.

The problem with this viewpoint is three-fold: first and most obviously, there is a ton of evidence that contradicts this supposition, as almost any reputable expert on children can tell you; second, it neglects to incorporate the fact that authorities—parents especially—control the dialogue and shape children sexually whether they believe they are doing so or not; second, it ignores the reality that the moral panic surrounding child sexuality, child sexual abuse and pedophilia (which are related but not inseparable issues) have grown in strength over the last few decades, to the point that we now have an aegrescit medendo situation where children and adults alike are being harmed as much or more by the overreaction of society as by the folk devils to which it is responding.

In one of my replies to “a parent” I held up as evidence for this two major examples: the side effects of conservative regions where girls are more likely to get pregnant because of lack of decent sex education, lack of access to birth control, and so on (not to mention getting stuck with a baby before she’s ready thanks to harsh anti-abortion measures in those places), and kids themselves getting arrested as sex offenders after being caught up in sexting cases. I will add to those the following:

  • The sex offender registry, which has resulted in more problems than it’s solved, foremost among them that it creates a perfect hit list for legal, physical and social persecution.
  • The courtesy stigma, name-calling, threats, and educational shutting-out and funding issues that many scholars and researchers face when exploring these issues, especially when their conclusions do not match social and cultural expectations or feed into the biases of politicians.
  • The growth of a powerful and unduly influential victim culture surrounding sexual abuse which often exploits the moral panic for its own gain at the expense of many innocent people and organizations.
  • The blatant exploitation of the sexual abuse moral panic by political entities and demagogues, particularly on the right but also on the left, utilizing it as propaganda against their political rivals. (See: Pizzagate and Qanon)
  • The largely unhelpful “stranger danger” myth, which invests in children a lifelong dread of mostly benign strangers and takes the focus off the real source of most sexual abuse, the child’s own family.
  • The unhealthy guilt complexes, body image issues and fear of intimacy that many children learn as a result of being taught that good/normal children are sexually (read: morally) pure, a personification many of them are simply unable to live up to, and which our society goes to great lengths to enforce, one way or another.
  • And, of course, the irreparable harm that has been done to artists such as Graham Ovenden and Jock Sturges and their subjects, forever tainted by their names being dragged through the thoroughly raked muck—not to mention art as a whole, the entire history of children in art being reinterpreted through the child pornography/child exploitation lens, and many artists unwilling to tackle what has traditionally been a favorite subject for them, the nude child or youth, due to fears of social stigma and/or legal reprisals.

There are others, but these are quite sufficient, I think, to get the point across. We at Pigtails are primarily concerned with the last one.

The thing about “a parent” is that he comes across as quite reasonable in general, and that concerns me more than a thousand trolls posting death threats or idiotic insults ever could. Those types of people tend to be so broadly ignorant and clownishly obnoxious that their take on these matters cannot be taken seriously. On the other hand, “a parent” has positioned himself as an admirer of simple child nudes, which is understandable. As I have said on a number of occasions, child nudity cannot be equated with sexuality across the board. The conflation of those two things is mainly a Western conceit, predominantly in the Anglophone West: Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States. So far, so good.

Another thing is that “a parent” does not believe in the asexual child (or so he claims), and so none of what I wrote above is directly applicable to him. But he plays into this prejudice regardless, because one cannot extricate the idea that children are asexual from the position that they should be seen as such when we look at art featuring them. How is “a parent” able to compartmentalize these two conflicting ideas? His argument basically boils down to this: the artist and the art observer can think such things in an abstract way, but an artist who acknowledges this directly in their work is in violation of the all-important taboo and that must remain forbidden lest it endanger children. In essence, then, intellectual recognition of this scientific fact is fine, but woe to the artist who explores this concept directly in his or her work, who has the unmitigated gall to present the sexual child in imagery. That can only be, according to “a parent”, a sign of a pedophilic wet dream expressed on paper or canvas. Artists who present children erotically must be pedophiles, or why else would they create such work? Moebius? Pedophile. Tamburini and Liberatore? Pedophiles. Neil Gaiman? Obviously a pedophile. I mean, not only did he create the Lantiman of Sauk, he also wrote a rather stirring defense of lolicon with his essay Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech? on his web journal.

Examples of the traditional arts (drawing, painting, sculpture—I’m purposely avoiding dipping into photography here) that either play with eroticism or where children and sexuality meet in some sense are Paul Peel’s A Venetian Bather, Jules Marie Auguste Leroux’s The Mirror, Egon Schiele’s Mädchen mit Federboa, Donatello’s David, Louis Ricardo Falero’s The Planet Venus, works by the Die Brücke collective featuring Fränzi Fehrmann, and Ramon Casas i Carbó’s Flores Deshojadas (Depetaled Flowers), to name a few. But what I want to focus on here is what all of the links in the paragraph above this one have in common: they all feature work from comics artists and writers.

More than any other medium, these have been the target of would-be censors. It’s probably no accident that the one time in American history where an artist was actually convicted on obscenity charges it was for his comics, a medium that has long been viewed as little more than children’s funny books or superhero fantasies by ignorant snobs who don’t understand it. In any case, Mike Diana‘s story is fascinating and should be studied by anyone with an interest in free speech issues and legal precedent. In the late eighties and early nineties the teenage Diana wrote and drew a series of comics with extremely gruesome content—graphic violence and mutilation, rape and child sexual abuse, incest, and likely the most damning offense in the small Florida community where he lived and worked, religious blasphemy—published them in very limited runs at his own expense, and sold them via mail to about three hundred customers around the US for two dollars a pop. Diana had the bad luck of producing his ostentatiously subversive and distasteful work at the same time as the Gainesville Ripper was operating. Diana even became a suspect in those murders, though he was eventually exonerated there. Still, the obscenity charges stuck.

While I cannot defend Diana’s work on its merits (I’m not going to share any of it here; just google it if you’re curious—honestly, it’s so badly drawn and noxious in content that it makes my head hurt to even look at it), the idea that an artist who created something which involved no actual children and that’s about as far from erotic as one can get seems patently absurd to me. I mention this case because it is the extreme, and because, far from accomplishing the goal of “protecting” children from Diana’s work, which almost certainly would’ve been ignored otherwise and slipped into obscurity, all his Kafkaesque trial and conviction really accomplished in the end was putting the spotlight on him and his atrocious art, and now any child who has access to the internet can google it for free. Diana has even had his work shown in international museums. Ho-hum.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s get to the examples (besides the ones I’ve already linked to). Here is a single panel from a comic I will wait to identify. Out of context, all we can really discern about this image is that it is sexual. The female in bed is performing fellatio on a man, who hovers over her. I will clarify further, because it may not be immediately obvious: the female is a child. Take a good look at it, and withhold judgment if you can. Is this the sort of thing “a parent” would have the government censor?

Now I will identify this image. It is a single panel from the Ignatz Award-nominated semi-autobiographical comic Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Dreschler. This image comes from my own copy of the comic, the square-bound softcover first edition published in 1996 by Fantagraphics. It’s a comic that deals frankly with a young girl’s sexual abuse at the hands of . . . well, a father (not “a father”) during the late fifties and early sixties. In between episodes of sexual abuse, the girl’s life is filled with moments of irony and pathos, such as when her parents take their four children to present gifts to a poor black family during Christmas. The fact that the comic is not subtle about the abuse and does not shy away from depicting it gives Daddy’s Girl a disturbing power that simple fiction could probably never achieve. By design, you cannot look away or consider the abuse as an abstraction. Dreschler forces you to confront it head on. Here are a few pages of this sequence—called Visitors in the Night—for context.

Debbie Dreschler – Daddy’s Girl (1)

Debbie Dreschler – Daddy’s Girl (2)

Debbie Dreschler – Daddy’s Girl (3)

Debbie Dreschler – Daddy’s Girl (4)

I ask again: is this the sort of image that “a parent” would have the state censor? Perhaps. He says:

So my view is that this particular highly specific kind of expression (a drawing graphically depicting sexual abuse of a prepubescent child) should be illegal, even where there’s no proof of direct harm.

He offers a specific set of criteria by which he judges what should or should not be illegal. Many of Dreschler’s images would fall into that category by default. That would be a huge shame, because the work would lose much of its shock value without these scenes. In fact, I’d say it would be nearly impossible for this comic to exist as what it is without such scenes. Maybe “a parent” would differ on that point, but there can be little doubt that these scenes make the work more disturbing than it would otherwise be. And that is the point of them.

Says “a parent”:

Suppose, for example, there is a pen-and-ink drawing in comic-book style of graphic sexual abuse involving an older adult and a prepubescent child. And suppose the artist did not work from photographs or live models in making this drawing, so it can be claimed that there was no “real, direct” harm done. (I’m pretty sure such a thing would be illegal under our current laws, but I’m not absolutely certain, and I’m definitely no expert.) Besides serving as child pornography, what’s the purpose of such a drawing?

I offered an example which fits this description exactly. (And no, such images are not illegal per se, at least not in the US—this has been tested multiple times, and with the exception of Mike Diana, all those artists won their cases.) So, what is the purpose of such drawings? According to “a parent” they can only serve as pornography to stimulate pedophiles. I wonder what Dreschler would think of such an accusation? Maybe I should ask her.

Here is another example from a different comic, Phoebe Gloeckner‘s A Child’s Life. This too is semi-autobiographical . . . and disturbing. Gloeckner’s character Minnie Goetze is a thinly disguised stand-in for her, though Gloeckner herself has never confirmed this, referring to her work simply as fiction. That’s understandable, as she doesn’t just tell her own story—she recounts events from other girls’ lives as well, including a girl called “Tabatha”:

Phoebe Gloeckner – A Child’s Life (1998)

Is this image erotic? Would it turn some folks on? Possibly. But that is not the intent of the artist. Calling this or Dreschler’s blatant depictions of sexual abuse “child pornography” is ignorant and insulting to both of them. Alright, “a parent” might say, so biographical work which clearly isn’t designed to titillate the viewer might get a pass, but what about examples which are less obviously negative?

Okay, let’s take one from Neil Gaiman’s (that perv again!) multiple award-winning series The Sandman, from the one-off issue Ramadan, drawn by the fabulous P. Craig Russell. (Side note: I have the first three of Russell’s Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde books, and they are absolutely gorgeous.) Ramadan is not really about child sexuality or abuse (you can read a summary of the story here if you’re interested, though I recommend reading the actual comic), but it does feature a relevant scene which I remember being somewhat controversial at the time the comic came out in the early nineties:

P. Craig Russell – The Sandman – Ramadan (detail)

Here is the full page for context:

P. Craig Russell – The Sandman – Ramadan

So now we have an example of straight fiction, nothing autobiographical here. There is a single panel (with an inset) in the whole of the story that fits our topic, and unlike Dreschler’s or Gloeckner’s comics, it does not portray it negatively. In fact, the description written by Gaiman makes the “beautiful boys” sound quite appealing. We see no actual sex there, but arguably the boys are drawn sensuously. Is this, then, child pornography? Of course it isn’t. The drawings reinforce the text, but the intent here is certainly not to arouse the viewer. They are presented as part of a larger tapestry, a lovely scene to reinforce that the narrator is a man who enjoys the pleasures of the flesh, be it women or boys. Since the story’s point-of-view character is Haroun al Raschid, the caliph of a medieval-era Middle Eastern city, it makes absolute sense that his perceptions are not modern, and that Gaiman and Russell, presenting us this scene through Haroun’s eyes, would give us boys that are sexually provocative, not presented as victims but as willing and knowing partners, even if they are technically sex slaves. Now, I’m quite sure Russell does not approve of child abuse, and I know Gaiman doesn’t. Nevertheless, it would’ve been ridiculous to offer this scene judgmentally, through modern eyes. It would’ve been obvious and clumsy, taking the reader out of the story.

“Okay, but why include the images at all? Surely they weren’t necessary,” I can hear “a parent” grumbling now. That is beside the point. It is not an artist’s job to go out of their way to avoid triggering sensitive readers. No one doubts that the abuse of young boys occurred in harems like the one described. That’s a historical fact. To gloss over that detail is to feed into political correctness, and the more artists do that, the more they will be expected to do that, until they face arrest for not doing it. Censorship will not stop where “a parent” thinks it should. It doesn’t work that way. It never has. As Gaiman himself said in Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?:

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don’t. This is how the Law is made.

Whether I find any images of children sexually provocative or not (some might find that image by Dreschler to be arousing; I certainly don’t), my tastes should not be the deciding factor on whether something is illegal or not. Nor should the tastes of “a parent”, nor should the tastes of any particular person or group of persons.

Says “a parent”:

Well, I feel that freedom of expression is very, very important. But it’s not really freedom of expression that’s at issue. It is freedom of a highly specific and narrow range of expression, namely depiction of children as objects of sexual desire. Out of all art and ideas, I think this is an exceedingly tiny slice of a huge pie. Any legislation in this area would leave the vast, overwhelming majority of artistic expression completely unimpeded.

I doubt very much that “a parent” actually believes this, or that he would stand against it if, say, adult porn was on the censor’s chopping block. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I doubt it. He adds, in defense of his view:

It’s critical to realize that child pornography is not on even ground with other “ideas.” We not talking about appealing to the thoughts or the emotions. Appealing to sexual urges–particularly to urges that must harm children if they are fully gratified–is a different basic kind of thing from other types of expression.

Okay. Disregarding for a moment the fact that this is special pleading, I have to ask why is “child pornography”—remember, we’re talking about drawings here—different? Because it is the image of a crime? No, I’ve seen actual photos of murdered children (I wish I hadn’t, but they’re out there)—those are also images of actual crimes, yet they aren’t outlawed. But images of violence do not encourage some unspecified fraction of humanity to commit more crimes, right? Do we know this for a fact? I mean, there have certainly been murderers who have claimed that violent imagery pushed them towards their own murder sprees. Who’s to say it isn’t true? Ah, but it’s a very small percentage of humanity who would be influenced to those ends, eh? Well, “a parent” himself says that pedophiles are such a meager minority that censoring images that might influence them shouldn’t be considered on the same level as other sorts of images, and he says “normal” people, which he defines as the vast majority of humanity, is appalled by such images, and certainly aren’t turned on by them. In other words, not only is he guilty of special pleading, he’s also spouting the bandwagon fallacy as a defense.

Are there folks who get off on violent imagery? Unquestionably. But “a parent” suggests that sex is somehow very different from other provocative concepts like violence, because it doesn’t appeal to thoughts or emotions. Well, what the ever-loving fuck does it appeal to then? A base drive? Is violence not a base drive in us too? Are some people not compelled by their lizard brains to violently destroy that which they hate and fear? Of course they are. But that’s different, because . . .

Because why? Because it doesn’t appeal to pedophiles. That’s it. That’s all it comes down to in the end. They are a tiny minority says “a parent”, and children are too precious and vulnerable to risk them being abused by those few weak souls who might be (not have been, not definitely will be, but might be) encouraged to offend. Look, the only reason to outlaw actual child porn is because it’s consumption encourages the production of more, and we are talking about actual abuse in that case. Children are offended against for the explicit purpose of the production of child porn. In other words, it can only exist because sexual abuse has been committed, and the producer(s) did so with that express purpose in mind. But to extend that argument to drawings, paintings and the like where no real children were actually harmed in its production, on the grounds that it might cause a few people to act out on their sexual urges, is a clear example of thought-crime. You can argue that pedophilia is more than thoughts or feelings all you want to. Hell, I’ll even agree with you on that. But the fact is, when you get right down to it, you are outlawing a thought, an idea, a concept. Make no mistake: if we can outlaw erotic drawings of kids on the grounds that it might cause some people to commit sexual abuse, then it’s not a stretch to suggest that adult porn could likewise be outlawed because it might push some people into rape (sex drive, right?), but we don’t outlaw it on those grounds. Not in America anyway.

Ah, but that’s not why adult porn exists, “a parent” will say. And around and around the circle we go. Most artists, even those who deliberately draw pedophilic erotica, aren’t sitting there thinking, “Ha! I’ll make drawings in order to push people into molesting kids! Mwa ha ha ha!” To make that argument is to assume that anyone with the least bit of interest in such content is inherently immoral, prone to abusing kids and seeking to make others like them. “A parent” says if such content is allowed to exist, kids will be abused because of it. He states it as fact, yet offers no evidence to back it up. Well, I know of a country where a great deal of such content exists, is legal for purchase, indeed is found in comics and magazine shops all around the country. I don’t think I even need to name it. And yet there isn’t scads of child rape and abuse happening there. In fact, that country has low crime rates all the way around. Moreover, many studies show that where porn exists legally, sex offenses tend to plummet. Why would it be any different for child erotica? After all, sex with kids is forbidden across the board, unlike sex with consenting adults. Clearly, having such outlets is more beneficial than harmful. But, by all means “a parent”, offer me evidence which demonstrates that I’m wrong and I’ll reconsider.

Finally (whew!), I will offer this. Here is a comic which actually condones child abuse, brought to you by way of the Kids Tract Club. You reckon it’s been influential?

Artist Unknown (Kids’ Tract Club) – Lil’ Bess (1)

Artist Unknown (Kids’ Tract Club) – Lil’ Bess (2)

Achieving Unity in a Painting

(Last Updated On July 7, 2019)

I am delighted at the rapport that has developed between Graham Ovenden and myself. Although we both look forward to these annual visits, I do feel a bit guilty that my presence interferes with Graham’s painting routine. But not every stage of the painting is equally complex and so I was treated to a demonstration of glazing.

1. Contemplating a plan

I was told that I was the first person to witness this process. Certainly this is an expression of trust. But even if another painter were to watch, it would not necessarily have affected his own technique. Another artist, Adam Fuss, has openly expressed irritation when asked about his techniques. His reply was always something like, “Why, are you going to try this at home? What difference does it make how I do it?” Although there is value to a formal education in painting, each artist has his own vision and has to accomplish it in his own way. Psychologically, this is a very interesting point. As far as technique is concerned, the artist must find a conceptual comfort zone on how he is to achieve his vision. (Please excuse the English language’s proclivity for sexism. I, of course, am referring to female artists as well when applying the marked pronoun.) In the case of Graham Ovenden, his paintings—both figural and landscape—are constructed in several layers that create an effect that is hard to fathom when merely viewing photographs of his work. This terracing is a way of introducing subtle psychological depth to what we are looking at. From a pragmatic perspective, it gives the image some dimension while, perhaps more importantly, creating the impression of translucence.

The consequence of this particular method is that paintings cannot be produced in a hurry. Each layer must be completely dry before the next can begin. That way if there is some kind of error or the artist changes his mind, that layer can be cleaned off cleanly without damaging the foundation.

Glazing is the process of introducing a uniform layer to the canvas. Besides adding some depth, Graham says that the single color provides a unifying effect on the overall composition. In other words, it brings together the components into a radiant whole.

2. Mixing the colors

Graham is not the only artist who uses glazing. Some artists who wish a very faint glaze will use thinning agents. Graham does not do this but mixes his paints at full saturation. Out of necessity operating in a small flat, he has discovered that using a sheet of plate glass makes a most effective palette. It is strong, does not wear out and can be cleaned completely preventing any subtle contamination of colors that may have been used before.

3. Applying the glaze

He applies the paint by troweling it on with a small metal instrument.

4. Complete coverage

All the layers of the painting are quite thin and must be highly uniform. In fact, the texture of the surface is so important, Graham avoids using cloth canvases because it biases the proper build-up of the terraces. When examined closely, the painting is constructed almost in the fashion of an etching.

5. Smoothing

When the area is completely covered, the glazing is wiped off with rags to remove any inconsistencies in thickness. Any remaining blotches are individually dabbed off with a quick patting from the side of the hand.

6. Touching up remaining splotches

Some fine-tuning with a more precise instrument accentuates certain contours giving the final desired effect. Once the glazing is complete, it will be several days before it is safe to paint on the canvas again.

7. Some finer touch-ups

8. Glazing complete

Note: Please understand that I am not a painter, so please forgive me if I did not use the proper terms of this craft. -Ron

Maiden Voyages: July 2019

(Last Updated On July 3, 2019)

I have returned from my visit to Graham and because he has shared some goodies with me, that means I will in due course be sharing them with you.

Revisionist History? I was informed that for some unknown reason, archive.org (The Wayback Machine) is no longer allowing Pigtails’ posts to be archived. Without more information from that organization, the assumption here is that archive.org has bowed to political pressure to censor us at this point. Those wishing to protest and demand an intelligible explanation are encouraged to do so by emailing to  info@archive.org. I have so far not even received a perfunctory response to my request for more information.

Absolutely Mortifying: When someone offers a lead on an artist, especially one who is living, I like to support these artists with a little publicity. I also assume that the person making the recommendation has some personal knowledge of the artist and can vouch for his legitimacy. On February 6, 2015, I produced a short post on Kye Tanson, a photographer featured in an Australia exhibition—an event that suggested that he was above board. I am mortified to learn that Mr. Tanson was in fact a confidence man who repeatedly took advantage of children. I am inclined in this environment of witch-hunting to question such charges. However, in this case, Mr. Tanson plead guilty to 60 counts of various sex offenses against children. Given these circumstances, I find it unlikely that this was a show trial as Mr. Tanson was not a well-known figure so politicians would not have made any political hay out of making an example of him. Under these conditions, I have decided to remove the Tanson post from public view. Although he does seem a competent photographer, I do not want Pigtails in Paint contributing to any further trauma of the subjects who may have modeled because of undue coercion. You can read more about Kye Tanson’s case here.

Conservative Extremists Are All Alike: This is bit of an older item but still worthy of note. An ultra-orthodox Jewish leader has reportedly banned girls aged five and up from riding bicycles, claiming it is ‘immodest’. The rabbi in question, of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahloat, issued the stringent decree to his followers in synagogues in the area. Read more here. This hearkens back to a time when bicycle-riding first became popular among women in the Unites States. Due to concerns about modesty, they were required to wear special bloomers or similar leggings to avoid accidentally showing a naked shin!

A Brave New World for Girls: In a recent commentary discussion, climber Selah Schneiter was mentioned. It is heartening to learn that very young girls continue to  make great strides in the arts and athletics. You can read more about Miss Schneiter here and here. Of particular interest in the commentary was the fact that however amazing a child’s accomplishments may be, the active presence and support of parents is an important contribution.

Passing Seasons: Graham Arnold

(Last Updated On June 28, 2019)

One of the many delightful things about visiting Graham Ovenden every year is that I sometimes get to meet some of his engaging friends. I had hoped that Graham Arnold (1932–2019) would be among them one day. He, along with Ovenden and a tightly-knit group of artists, established themselves as The Ruralists. Unfortunately, Mr. Arnold passed away a couple of months ago so now we can only offer some of the work of an artist who brought the world his crisp and distinct style. Whenever Arnold did depict the figures of girls in his paintings, they were usually adolescents or young women, but there were a few exceptions.

Graham Arnold – The Eclipse at Clun (date unknown)

Amongst the numerous Ruralist exhibitions that featured the work of Graham Arnold was one that played on the theme of Lewis Carroll’s Alice.‭ ‬We display two of his works here,‭ ‬devoted to this subject,‭ ‬which shows the beauty and individuality of Arnold’s vision.‭ ‬These works were not only shown in a number of museums in Great Britain but also,‭ ‬to great acclaim,‭ ‬in Tokyo,‭ ‬Japan. -Graham Ovenden, 2019

Dream Child is a depiction of Alice as she falls down the Rabbit Hole.‭ ‬The design is a homage to the great Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca who was deeply loved by Arnold.

Graham Arnold – Dream Chlid (1990)

Alice Balancing shows the prismatic nature of much of Arnold’s work:‭ ‬the importance of color,‭ ‬geometry and draughtsmanship,‭ ‬all held in a unity.

Graham Arnold – Alice Balancing (1992)

Arnold’s knowledge of music was more than considerable and in many respects the motif of youthful feminine beauty,‭ ‬which is apparent in many of his paintings and collages,‭ ‬are the creation of a mind in harmonic unity with its chosen subject.‭ ‬This is a quality also found in his paintings of‭ ‬still life,‭ ‬which like his numerous collages place him at the fore of twentieth century innovation, but one unpolluted by the morés and fashions of modernism. -Graham Ovenden, 2019

Garden Box is an example of Arnold’s mastery in the art of collage.‭ Included among the i‬mages is a photographic portrait by Ron Oliver.

Graham Arnold – Garden Box (date unknown)

In an effort to coordinate their efforts, The Ruralists would agree upon particular themes and prepare works of art concurrently with that theme as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice above. Another such subject was that of Ophelia.

Graham Arnold – Ophelia (date unknown)

A few complimentary overviews of Arnold’s work were published after his passing. Take a look here and here.

Thanks go to Graham Ovenden for his rapid preparation of background materials so that we may share this small taste of Mr. Arnold’s legacy in a timely fashion. Currently in production is a considerable volume of Graham Arnold’s life work to be published by Garage Press. It will include written commentary made by the artist himself as well as a foreword by Jerrold Northrop Moore.