POLITICIANS should keep out of art. Kevin Rudd all but ruined his new-found cachet with the artistic community last week by declaring that photographer Bill Henson's work was "revolting".
This is an offence, and a serious one; up there with liking Andrew Lloyd Webber, or not knowing who Patrick White is.
No wonder, then, that when the PM appeared in Parliament's mural hall yesterday to unveil an artwork by Gemma Black commemorating the national apology, he kept things fairly formal. "As a reminder of the apology, we have before us of course this magnificent calligraphic manuscript on vellum or calfskin," he informed his audience, without venturing any opinion at all on the likely effect of the piece upon young minds.
Elsewhere in the House, however, a new and fiery artistic critic found his voice. Brendan Nelson knows a bit about art, and he knows what he likes. He likes full-length portraits of Neville Bonner (he has two), and stadium rock gigs.
It turns out he does not like bawdy comedy revues with songs about a bloke "having his cock stroked at a medium pace".
We know this because he created something of a fuss yesterday about the Labor candidate for Gippsland, one Darren McCubbin, who as artistic director of the Waterwater Arts Festival last year brought just such a show to Gippsland. The show was called The Beautiful Losers, and featured blue language as well as a flyer with an inflatable sex doll on it, which was too much for Nelson yesterday.
"Mr Rudd needs to say whether he believes the Labor candidate for Gippsland, having promoted this kind of show, is the person he wants to represent the people of Gippsland," the Opposition Leader foamed.
Rudd kept his peace. A man of his recent experience in the strip-club world does not venture unnecessarily into even the most academic of discussions about blow-up sex toys.
Indeed, it was surprising to hear Nelson himself hurl the first stone, given that after the revelation last year of Rudd's adventures at the Scores club in New York, Nelson was one of the few MPs who confessed to past patronage of similar establishments.
Unfortunately for Nelson, it turns out that McCubbin's festival of filth enjoyed federal funding last year from the Coalition's Regional Arts Fund. McCubbin himself was appointed by the Howard government to the chairmanship of the Festivals Australia Committee last year, on the strength of his "extensive experience in regional arts and festivals".
And as if that weren't enough, it turns out that another festival commissioned the Beautiful Losers show - the Melbourne Comedy Festival, whose directors include the Victorian Liberal leader, Ted Baillieu.