Monday, 13 April 2009

Art denied

If a work of art is impressive, does it really matter that it was created by a child sex killer? Does a serious character defect invalidate everything else the person does?

London's Royal Festival Hall has been forced to stop exhibiting a sculpture by Colin Pitchfork, currently in jail for raping and killing two 15 year old girls.

The mother of one of the girls fears that such positive acknowledgement of his creative skills might lead to his 30 year sentence being reduced. But surely he will only be released early if he is considered no longer a danger to other people, and his artistic talents will be irrelevant?

I can't see how offenders can ever be rehabilitated if their offences mean they can never be given credit for anything they do, however mature or responsible or inspirational. They have no incentive to better themselves or atone for what they did.

Many brilliant works of art, including literature and music, would be lost to us if we rejected them because of the creator's personal vices. Anything by an alcoholic, drug addict, wife-beater, homophobe, racist or womaniser would have to be thrown out for a start.

Writing off a person's entire life with no attempt to distinguish between good and bad is absurd and blinkered. Even the most barbaric historic figures have had their virtues along with the horrors.

I read that many of the original entries for the Oxford English Dictionary were submitted by a murderer, Dr W C Minor. Should we remove all these entries because of his criminal record? The idea would be laughable.

Photo: "Bringing Music To Life" by Colin Pitchfork.


  1. I can understand the mother's reaction although I agree that his talent won't (or shouldn't) lead to a reduction in his sentence. And as someone who is waiting to go in and work on writing with prisoners of course I hope that art is therapeutic. And again I agree that if the artist's character and life were judged before his work could be shown/appreciated, we'd have very little art at all in the world.

    But if the artist had killed my daughter I'd want to kill him!

  2. I'm a mother and can see both sides.

    Locking people up is no good unless they learn from it. I am all for encouraging talent.

    But on the other hand if it was my daughter....!

  3. Liz - That's it, if an artist's personal life had to be exemplary, there wouldn't be much art left. But yes, if I had a daughter, my feelings might be a bit less charitable....

    Grannymar - As I said to Liz. I agree, people shouldn't just be locked up, there should be some serious attempt to rehabilitate them and encourage whatever positive talents they possess.

  4. Like most artists I imagine he invests much of himself in his creation.

    Burn it while he watches.

    I have no tolerance for that sort of sick and twisted animal.

  5. This is not an easy one, Nick, I would want to put this guy on a pike if he hurt one of my daughters so can totally sympathize with the victim's mother.
    Is he profiting from this? And if so coudl there be some sort of foundation where the money would go to help victims of such crimes?
    It seems repugnant that he should gain some positive notoriety from this.

  6. I don't have a problem with him exhibiting as long as he doesn't profit from it. We have laws here that prevent anyone who is incarcerated from profiting by selling their personal stories, novels or art! Of course once they're out,they can profit from what they like. I too see both points of view but would hope that your justice system isn't going to shorten his sentence just because it does a bit of oragami!

  7. Thrifty - Okay, all opinions welcome etc. But I don't think burning it would help anyone at all, mothers included.

    www - Not clear whether he profited. The RFH bought it for £600, I think from the Koestler Trust, which promotes creativity in prisoners. Whether he got some of the money I don't know.

    Baino - I think British prisoners can still make money from anything they produce, though there's talk of changing the law. As I say, I can't see that some artwork would be a reason for cutting his sentence.

  8. Don't see what the art has to do with his crime. I certainly don't think it needs to be removed from an exhibition. When exhibited it's much more about the people looking at it than the personal life of whoever made it I tend to think.

  9. Conor - I think an artwork can say a lot about the artist, but the reactions of spectators can be fascinating as well. Interesting that when nobody knew who the artist was, they weren't bothered.

  10. I think I understand both points of view...

    I hope that he serves his full 30 years. However, if someone wants to buy a piece of work described as art then they have the freedom to do so.

    Hopefully he won't profit from this.

    It's always the reactions of the viewers that is most interesting...having taken children to Art Galleries and had my eyes opened by their observations....

    I suspect that most great art (what is that?) is made under some form of stress or by someone suffering some illness...I don't know.

  11. Magpie - I'm always fascinated by my own reactions to art, never mind other people's. Yes, the old maxim is that all creativity flows from a deranged mind but I don't agree - it can flow from a sane mind just as well.

  12. It's hypocritical to say NO DON"T BAN IT. Don't just the man's art by his hideous crimes! And then to turn around and say if it were my child.
    Guess what, I say the same, wow, that's some great art, let him do what he does and exhibit his artwork. Perhaps it will help his re-hab, and art should be respected for what it is.
    Would anyone want his work to be exhibited if it had images of "sexy" children or young girls? (pls do sense sarcasm) I don't know, art has a very broad coverage, nudity is art, art involves nudity. But in the case of a sex killer, a CHILD sex killer, what is everyone, even the most liberal LET HIM DO HIS ART supporters would have an opinion on where the line would be drawn as far as what his artwork is about, or wouldn't they?
    I am all for art, regardless of who has created it... BUT...
    On the other side of the coin, if it were my child he killed I'd want him dead... Not exhibiting his art. Or would I? Wouldn't you? But we don't know do we.
    People who haven't had someone dear to them hurt/killed by a crime, will not really know how they would really respond to or feel about the criminal's artwork being exhibited...
    Only that mother knows that pain, caused by this man...

    It is also unfortunate that this posts picks to defend the artwork of criminals by giving an example from the art of a child sex murderer, a very sick man. Very sensitive, in my opinion, than murders committed during robbery, a brawl, drink driving. There is chance for rehab for many criminals. I don't think sex offenders fit into this category, child sex killer? *shudder* The balance here is tipped by the example you picked, whether it is meant to be or not.

    These are my thoughts on this this early a.m.

  13. Gaye - Thanks for that long comment. A good point about the art's content. I for one would object to something that related to sex or children, given what he's in jail for. I would want to draw a line there.

    You're right that if we had lost a child or loved one in this way, we might judge him very differently, and violently. Also true that the example in my post is an untypical one, a bit different from art produced by, say, an alcoholic. So it's harder to defend.

    Can child sex killers be rehabilitated? I think in some cases they can, but how can you ever be sure they're safe on the streets? We all know how many fatal misjudgments have been made about that. Probably a risk that should never be taken.

  14. I like to think of myself as deeply believing in redemption - for myself and others. But I must agree with comment that no one of us can know what it would be like to be a mother in that situation.

    The mother of a child, killed in so horrible a way, has every right to ask that the world have no opportunity to see the murderer as anything but a murderer. I look at my own child and doubt I could honor his redemptive qualities for the sake of art. Or, for any reason, really.

    I do think it's good that you can see the other side. Keeps the rest of us digging a bit deeper for our truth.


  15. Gayle - Clearly anyone who is a mother sees this very differently, which is understandable. If your child is gone and will never come back, is it surprising if you just feel hate and fury and violence and just want the murderer to be locked up and forgotten about? Obviously what he did is appalling, but art is not a crime.

  16. Do you really trust the authorities not to release him unless he is no longer a danger to others? I certainly don't. Parole boards are dominated by liberals who are champing at the bit to find an excuse to release people, and this man's art is an ideal opportunity to claim that he is reformed.

  17. Philip - I don't trust authorities at all, they're always pursuing their own hidden agendas. But I don't think they would seriously claim that a bit of art signified a newly responsible individual.