In recent days a controversy caught my attention significantly.
There was a request from Mia Merrill to remove a painting of the renowned Balthus “Therese Dreaming” from the Met Museum. In Mia’s own words the image should be removed from view because it is “an evocative portrait of a prepubescent girl relaxing on a chair with her legs up and underwear exposed … It can be argued that this painting romanticizes the sexualization of a child. “
The petition is framed in a moment of special attention to the subject of sexual abuse and rape, with the media focus in the campaign of conscientization in social media called #metoo.
I really find this deviation of attention disturbing. By censuring a work of art, I do not think we help in any aspect to raise awareness about the problem of #rapeculture. As Nora Pelizzari, spokewoman for the National Coalition Against Censorship said: “Hiding potential sexualization of young girls throughout history does not help… the current conversation around sexual harassment.”
If indeed Balthus was a pedophile, we can not know. He is not alive to defend his work from the thousands of interpretations that these can unleash.
Another question we should ask ourselves is what is the moral role of the artist? And what of the work?
The sexualization of young girls is part of our history as humanity and this is reflected, as it should be, in the history of art.
Rape is a theme of art history dealt with extensively since ancient times, reflected in literature, drawings, sculptures, endless works around the world.
Also other practices previously framed in what we call normal, now are firmly rejected by the ethical social order, for example incest, can be visualized in Roman ancient vessels.
Experience dictates that “moralistic tribunals of censorship” that have operated over decades use subjective criteria and contribute very little to the discussions they claim to defend.
If indeed this picture represents a “romanticization of a child’s sexuality” would this imply an invitation to accept pedophilia?
I find it difficult to see differences between these kind of statements and those that have led to the removal of images of homosexuality in the past, for example.
When we observe a work of art we have a set of interpretive tools. We are an active spectator. And it is very good that we feel disturbed. That’s where the discussion begins.
I would like to think that Therese perhaps dreams of a world where she can sit relaxed, regardless of whether she lets her underwear show or not. A world where perhaps no one tells you to close your legs, because it is wrong, because it provokes and one must take care of bad men haunting our innocence.
I would also like that on a guided tour to the museum, a teacher initiate a discussion with her students about this.
Art is an invitation to reflect every hint of human condition, past, present and future. We need it.