Pictures of Innocence
The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood
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If any book of art criticism has the potential of becoming a bestseller, Pictures of Innocence is it. With her customary clarity of both thought and prose, Anne Higonnet, author of a biography of Berthe Morisot and Berth Morisot's Images of Continue
If any book of art criticism has the potential of becoming a bestseller, Pictures of Innocence is it. With her customary clarity of both thought and prose, Anne Higonnet, author of a biography of Berthe Morisot and Berth Morisot's Images of Women, examines childhood, cultural ideals, and popular and artistic images of children. She is both brilliant and careful in her analyses of paintings, photographs, and sculptures and the times in which they were made.
Pictures of Innocence--with l00 illustrations that range from Caravaggio's raunchy Cupid to Edward Weston's luminous, analytical nude studies of his son Neil to anonymous family Christmas-card snapshots--is the kickoff title in what is billed as "a new series of books about controversial themes and issues in the arts that cut across traditional disciplines." Higonnet marshals masses of material to develop her argument that the way we look at children and childhood is changing, and that this change affects our judgment of art, freedom of expression, sexuality, privacy, consent, exploitation, and child abuse.
"Pictures of children are at once the most common, the most sacred, and the most controversial images of our time," Higonnet writes in her introduction. Her concerns are not confined to the most obvious ones. In chapter 1, "The Romantic Child," Higonnet writes, "The image of the Romantic child replaces what we have lost, or what we fear to lose. Every sweetly sunny, innocently cute Romantic child image stows away a dark side: a threat of loss, of change, and, ultimately, of death."
In "Photographs Against the Law," Higonnet points out that "since the early 1980s, photography has been increasingly implicated in the crime of sexual child abuse." Carefully tracing this thread, she asks at one point, "Why photography? Because photographs can and do document actions." It comes down to the fact that a photograph (in this case, one by Dorothea Lange) "originated in the act of clicking a camera at a real person."
This complex, brilliant book will educate anyone who reads it. In its balanced, minutely detailed discussions of difficult issues, it illuminates issues that have heretofore been swamped in passionate but subjective rhetoric. --Peggy Moorman