A Conversation for What is Erotic and What is Pornographic?

But is it art?

Post 1

Edward the Bonobo - Gone.

A related question is "Can pornography be art?" Martin Amis once stretched the etymology of pornography to "whore art." Sexuality seems to me to be an entirely legitimate subject for art. Further - art is intended to inspire emotions: joy, inspiration, yearning, transcendence, etc. etc. Is it legitimate that a piece of art should be created with the intention of inspiring sexual arousal? And if the subject of the work is paid performers indulging in sexual acts, isn't it whore art?

I think the real issue is not the difference between the erotic and the pornographic, but between the exploitative and the consensual. Once in a city that is one of the major European centres for the production of pornography, I had a chance encounter with a guy who described himself as an "ethical pornographer". The way he put it was that he "refused to rip people off". The only contract he would enter into was a four-way equal profit split between him, his business partner and each performer. His golden rule was "they have to come to me". i.e. he would never solicit anyone into making a film, but if anyone happened to know he was in the business, they could approach him. Even then, he would not tell people what to do, but only suggest the kind of thing that would make a profit.

Now, of course, the product would then be sold on to some not very nice characters in Amsterdam. Then the end customers have a choice: If they want to be inspired by Vermeer's technique, they go to the Rijksmuseum. If they want their art to deliver sexual arousal, they buy a DVD from a dodgy shop on the Damrak. If they are careful, ethical consumers, they can make a choice as to whether the art they purchase is exploitative. In much the same way that we can choose whether or not to view Degas' famous mannequin, "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen " http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=3705&searchid=6686. In case you don't know the full story, Degas regarded his subject as street vermin, and it was originally exhibited next to sketched examples of "criminal physiogonomy". Oh...and by the way, the original nude was in a photo-realistic style, even down to the bits one can't see. Oh...and all those Degas paintings of women bathing? Well, a) they were prostitutes and b) the shallow dishes they are bathing in don't represent any kind of contemporary bathtub but are an artifice designed to show off the body to maximum effect.

And don't get me started on Victorian soft core: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/19c/Moore.asp

To leave you on a more flippant note, 2 further definitions of the difference:

If it's in focus, then it's pornography.....

(From John Mortimer) "Pornography is defined as anything that gives an elderly High Court judge a hard on."

But is it art?

Post 2


I don't know if the difference between 'exploitative' and 'consensual' can be easily broken down to the adding of a "pretty please?" I mean, there are dozens of authors who argue that consent is always illusory between two unequal parties. A down-on-her-luck woman may sign an agreement and gain profits, but does that count as consensual?

As for the difference between eroticism and pornography itself, I think intent of the author/creator ought to be the decisive factor. It is true that again, you will find many who believe that the creator creates, but it is the spectators/readers who interpret, but can you completely leave out creator's intentions?

I suppose, at the end of the day, art is anything that is
(a) displayed in a gallery
(b) been around for dozens of years
(c) by someone famous
(d) shot with a fancy camera, on black and white film.

Everything else is porn.

Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more