Is it Art? Questioning Artistic Merit and Child Pornography


Photo: Justin McManus (

Artist Paul Yore.  Photo: Justin McManus (

When your art work is known for being a social commentary and has been determined both cutting edge and praiseworthy, it is only a matter of time until you find yourself in the media.  Unfortunately for Paul Yore, part of that media exposure led to criminal charges.

The young up and coming Melbourne artist was featured in the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts’ tribute show Like Mike (directed toward artist Mike Brown – funnily enough Brown was also charged with obscenity and served a hard labour term for it – quite the tribute indeed) where he installed a mixed medium piece called “Everything is Fucked.”

A complaint by someone visiting the Centre led to police removal of the “offending” work and subsequent charges against Yore for what amounts to alleged child porn – producing and possessing child pornography, in particular.  The work being referred to (part of “Everything is Fucked”) were collages of nude adult bodied with children’s heads pasted over top.

In Canada the Supreme Court (this isn’t a Canadian case, but it’s my frame of reference; further, this is still within a commonwealth country whose laws have similar basis/background) has upheld “artistic merit” as a defence to charges of child pornography.  This has been variably described as “legitimate purpose” defence, depending on the legislation being referenced (legitimate purpose pulls other defences within its ambit as well).  The opinions of experts are key in this determination, though a judge has discretion and the final say.  Yore was hailed as an artist and creative genius before this piece was completed, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Australia is standing behind the young artist as being a legitimate artist whose creative expression should be upheld.

Yore’s trial resumes tomorrow where his defence team is said to be relying on the defences of artistic merit, freedom of expression, and questioning what constitutes child pornography.  It will be interesting to see how a fellow commonwealth nation grapples with the issues of artistic merit and alleged child pornography.