Children being cute as a metaphor for superficiality. The new image of the child being born in innocence and the painter to capture that ripe moment of angelic realm before the inevitable gradual tarnishing of the soul. It was a fallacy of course. But it sold. French Salon art and its other English, European and American equivalents produced the most contrived, simpering, mincing pictures of childhood; the most offensively coy images in the history of painting.
Children were still being abused and exploited, perhaps more so in the industrial age, but children were a new painting subject for the masses, not the Diego Velazquez school to be sure, but more anecdotal gimmick for the beginning great age of the common citizen, the consumer in the arcades and the art form of mediocre taste mixed with mass production and mundane conceptions became tied into middle class morals and “values” the bourgeois themes of ethics that flattered the sense of moral probity and cultural elevation through the form of the ravishing novelty effect.
Halpern ( see link at end):While we often think of innocence as originary—a quality we enjoy as infants and that tarnishes as we grow older—this view is a relatively recent one, largely a product of the nineteenth century, which fostered a sentimental cult of the child. For almost two millennia before that, Christianity held that we were born in original sin, inherited from Adam. Children unfortunate enough to die before baptism were not wafted on angels’ wings to heaven but consigned to limbo. The seventeenth-century poet and preacher John Donne put it vividly: “There in the womb we are fitted for works of darkness, all the while deprived of light: And there in the womb we are taught cruelty, by being fed with blood, and may be damned though we be never born.” When, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud brought the unwelcome news that even small children harbor sexual and violent fantasies, he managed to shock middle-class sensibilities, but he arguably did no more than revive and affirm an older form of theological wisdom. Our sense of Rockwell’s world as an innocent one has a great deal to do with the prominence of children in it, but childhood innocence is less a fact than a construction by “adults.” Read More:http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/314405.html
I always thought this cult of the child was in part a perversion of the idea of the prodigal son or daughter; a kind of dumbed down, mass produced, generic model for people susceptible to sentimental moralizing and intellectual pretension that reduces the individual to trite formulas. The underside of this was a novel like The Prodigy by Hesse which showed the tragic side of gifted youth crushed, and more recently, the use of a Shirley Temple icon in bad economic times as palliative of the rich who are unwilling to be truly engaged with the development of children and whitewash the issue with the child angel as subsitute for “charity”:
( see link at end): A longtime industry professional recently reminded me that “Even when times are tough, people need entertainment.” She was referencing the Shirley Temple effect. It isn’t every movie star that has a business trend named after them, but Shirley Temple was not just any movie star. She was all the rage in the 1930s, more popular than William Powell, Carole Lombard and Joan Crawford. However, it wasn’t Temple’s box office popularity alone that made her significant.
It was during the Great Depression that audiences flocked by the millions to Temple’s movies. One of the highest-grossing stars of the day, with films like “Curly Top,” “Dimples” and “The Little Colonel,” she is often credited with single-handedly keeping the newly formed 20th-Century Fox studio solvent through those bleak years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “It is a splendid thing that for just 15¢ an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”
What is interesting about Shirley Temple’s unparalleled success is that the films were written specifically for the young star. Movies then, as now, were not recession (or Depression proof). The general public still wanted reasonably priced entertainment, but it wanted a very specific kind of entertainment. They very much wanted to see cuteness, a few tap dancing numbers and youthful optimism melt the heart of some curmudgeon. And somehow they dug down and came up with the 15¢ to see it. Read More: