The Old King, a Criminalisation for Blasphemy remains on the Irish Statute.
The image of the Old King is by french expressionist/fauvist painter Georges Rouault who was accused by the predecessors of this Irish Government of both blasphemy and incompetence. His paintings, mainly of religious themes, were refused exhibition in Dublin. A spirited defence of Rouault was undertaken by Louis Le Brocquy in which he accused Fianna Fáil of chocolate-box sentimentalism in their refusal to appreciate art. I believe it is worse than that.
The development of the Arts in Ireland has since 2003 (the O Donoghue Arts Act) been atrophied by the concerns of ministers more interested in sports and who appoint our Arts Council. The all-embracing silence of artists and thinkers on the criminalisation of blasphemy being a pointer to an inability to discuss anything outside of very narrow two-dimensional concerns of output and finance, which isn’t really about the realm of ideas and the intellect at all. It presents a paucity to our future generations in terms of leadership and discussion. We are not making art to reflect our ideas or for our children, we are making it to echo the narrow and constipated concerns of Government !
There were to be two referendums in October 2010. I have commented elsewhere on the postponing of the Children’s Rights Referendum which was to occur on the same day as the blasphemy referendum. It seems that alone in the developed world, we in Ireland have now got an entirely superfluous blasphemy amendment (2006-2009 Defamation Legislation) which will for the forseeable future remain on our statute. Last week Barry Andrews TD confirmed another Referendum postponement, until 2011. (Edit: second anniversary of this innovation occurs Jan 2012 – no sign of the promised referendum)
This criminalisation for blasphemic utterance is based not in the definition of blasphemy but in the offender’s ability to generate outrage! As the Roualt controversy showed, it is quite easy for outrage to be generated in Ireland and that the Arts are indeed subject to the manipulations of governments whose inability to lead is propped by unnecessary legislation in order that debate does not occur. Debate generates ideas and discussions which create fear and are thus anathema to would-be leaders.
I have on my studio wall a wonderful early reproduction of the Old King, which stops people in their tracks because the observer can actually see the brush-strokes. I put it there in it’s simple wooden and glass frame as a reminder of the folly of the Rouault controversy and how simple it is to fall into a laughing-stock by virtue of personal vanity.
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- Blasphemy and the Arts in Ireland 2009-2010
- Roualt in the NYT
- The Arts Act 2003 PDF
- Incentivising blasphemy in Ireland , the first anniversary of the blasphemy amendment.