"Literature isn't innocent."... - Roberto Bolaño

*Butterfly  - 080111

Nor is art or life.  Innocence is just a part of the spectrum of the world and the things in it.  When we look at all of the world (both concrete and abstract), most things can be innocent or exist innocently until innocence is lost, but are rarely innocent forever.  Innocence can be lost through many means direct and indirect, good and bad.

I did a quick online search of "What is the opposite of innocence."  The answers depended on how I chose to define "innocence" or innocent."

If I defined it as "blameless" then the antonyms were: badness, blame, corruption, evil, guilt, and sin.

If I defined it as "harmlessness" or  "naivete "then the antonyms were: experience, impurity, knowledge, treacherousness, wildness.

Another writer offered a more elaborate pairing of words:

I have a much used metaphor of comparing many of life's things to drugs.  Drugs are neither good or bad, it is how we use them that are on the spectrum of good to bad.  Drugs are not innocent either.  The same thing can be said of sex, money, humor, power, porn, art, propaganda, politics, cars, travel, humility, confidence, and love. Innocence itself is neither good, nor bad.  It is how it is used or removed (lost) that is good or bad or just is.

"Literature isn't innocent."  The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolaño

When I was a teacher, we were supposed to plan our classes for the lowest level learners, yet provide content for higher level learners.  If I looked at mathematical innocence (naivete) versus knowledge, I had to make sure my content addressed both.  The same is true for so many other publicly consumed items.

The number one rule for a comedian is "know your audience."  Are they expecting clean comedy like Jerry Seinfeld, political comedy like Tina Fey, or ribald comedy like Bob Saget, or thought provoking, personal, and explicit comedy like Louise C.K. or Sarah Silverman.  In my opinion, all of their comedy is good, genuine, and appropriate for the right audiences.

Comedy is definitely not innocent though.  Clean comedy is not innocent.  It points out bad behavior, bad people, the human condition, and tough subject matter.  It just doesn't have all the fucks, shits, assholes and other expletives.

Art is not innocent either.  It is up to the creator's intent whether it is innocent.  Some people make innocent art.  Children drawing flowers, rainbows, and puppies is about as innocent as can be, but not all children's art is innocent.  A teacher friend of mine saw a child's crayon drawing that showed a grown up hurting a child.  After contacting the counselor and asking questions, they reported the incident to Child Protective Services as a possible abuse case.  It turned out to be a severe abuse case.  This young boy definitely created art that was not innocent.  It came from knowledge and experience.  This is an example when non-innocent art was the most important art that boy could create.  It may have saved his life.

If a child's drawing is not innocent, can a piece of art featuring a nude figure be innocent?  It depends on the artist's intent.  It also depends on how each individual viewer of the piece interprets it.  That is true for all art I guess.  What I may see as innocent rainbows, butterflies and leaves could be interpreted completely differently by someone else.  Why would it be interpreted as possibly loss innocence?  I believe it is the artist or viewers own life knowledge, personal psyche, and other experiences that shape that view.

There are many forces out there on all sides of the political spectrum trying to squelch artistic expression that is not innocent.  Some use religion or profit or politics or power or prejudice or many other reasons to bury non-innocent expression.  Is there ever a time when it is right to censure for innocence?  I am sure there are a few, but only a very few.

Sebastiao Salgado creates amazingly beautiful photos using the finest craft to make a finished fine art print.  The composition is perfect, along with the tonality, framing, and other artistic aspects.  The subject matter though is often tough, charged, sometimes tragic, and often painful.  It is not innocent.  He is sharing the loss of innocence of humanity through showing starvation, slave labor, war, and other catastrophes.  The perpetrators of the evil depicted would probably like to censure him.

**Bernini's Ludovica - Rome - Jan 2010
I gave up trying to make purely innocent pretty art a few years ago.  I appreciate those who can make it and know I don't want to and am kind of lousy at it.  I  enjoy making aesthetically beautiful photos, but they are not innocent.  My art lost its innocence because I have lost mine as well.  Some of my lost innocence resulted in knowledge, guilt, experience, corruption, and even fun.

My art is not anywhere near the importance or impact of Salgado's.  While we share that our art isn't innocent, that is about the only commonality.  This is good because there is already one Salgado and one Karl.   I've learned that art hates redundancy.

To believe things like art, literature, music, and other creative endeavors of life are or should be only innocent actually takes away any  realistic hope of it being innocent.  By demanding it being innocent, we force it to become ignorant.  We are censuring what it is.  There is a growing battle between purity, innocence and simple thoughts against wisdom, exploration, hedonism, expression, and progress.  We all will need to decide which side we lean to in this culture war and how far we are willing to advocate (or fight) for it.   Just by how I stated those words, I guess I tipped my hand on which side my beliefs stand. All artistic outlets shouldn't have to be innocent to survive and succeed.  Life is not innocent, nor should art be artificially innocent either.

*Taken in my innocent days of photography.
** Was Bernini capturing a non-innocent moment?  Did my photo of it make it lose its innocence? 

Don Henley - The End Of The Innocence by jpdc11


  1. I love that song. I used to listen to it endlessly when I was going through my second divorce. It seems when we're young we can't wait to grow up - to lose our innocence - and when it's gone we keep trying to reclaim it. What's done is done. You can't go home again. I will keep searching for beauty in the work that I do, but that's not necessarily the same thing as searching for innocence. At least I don't think it is. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  2. Joe - Thank you for your comment. You are right, there is true beauty in things that aren't innocent. Not all loss innocence is ugly or bad.


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