The Northern Territory News begins its article on the current Art Monthly cover with the screaming headline NUDE GIRL ART OUTRAGE and concludes with an implied whine about arts funding, of the kind you get on the blogs of adolescent male libertarians. In the middle they brag that the Arts Monthly editor Maurice O'Riordan is a Territorian and former art critic for the paper. Confused much?
Not that I think putting the offending (!) photo of the then six-year-old Olympia Nelson on the cover was any kind of a good idea. It may have been meant to be a daring and defiant gesture and I am in sympathy with the various principles behind it, but in terms of smart arts politics it was a really, really stupid thing to do.
Among other things it has the Prime Minister, who during the Bill Henson furore revealed through his attitude and choice of language to discuss it that he understands nothing about the arts and presumably cares less, now harrumphing about requiring the Australia Council to direct its funding in accordance with his personal quirks. Remind you of any other Prime Minister we know?
When I first read this report of Rudd's plans for the Australia Council I was reminded of two things. One was his announcement that he personally will have the final word on the lucrative new Prime Minister's Literary Award, something the judges weren't apprised of until after they'd been offered, and accepted, their positions as judges; presumably he means to continue as he began, making arts policy on the run by fiat when he clearly doesn't know his chiaroscuro from his elbow.
And the other was an image of the entire Australian arts community represented by the outraged figure of Daffy Duck in one of many classic Loony Tunes cartoons: 'Of courthe you know thith meanth war!' [UPDATE: Bugs said it too.]
In the wake of the Henson debate there was urgent need for the arts community and the PM to mend their fences but this is just going to make it worse. You'd think, wouldn't you, that an Arts Minister worthy of the name might step in at this point and do something intelligent.