Art Versus Porn – What’s the Difference?

 

Nadine Thornhill leads a discussion about the line where explicit fine art becomes pornography… and back again.

This week I’ve been enjoying an e-mail exchange with Canadian, Muskoka-based Beverly Hawksley, an artist who wrote asking for my thoughts about where one draws the line between art versus pornography.

As a photographer who occasionally does fine art nudes, I am wondering where and how the line is drawn between porn and erotic fine art. Yes, I know—depends on the audience. But there must be some informal rules—what galleries are willing to display and what crosses the arbitrary line defining what is considered ‘respectable’ art for public display and that considered ‘indecent’.

As I told Hawksley, I’m a fan of both fine art and porn but have nothing resembling authority on either subject. It’s hard for me to speak to what distinctions fine art society does and/or should make. But I can tell you what I think. So this post may include some small sprig of knowledge but that’s just garnish for the main course—a generous portion of Nadine And Her Random Opinions About Stuff.

Regarding pornographic film, the Ontario Film Board defines pornography or “adult sex films” as a film that has, as its main object, the depiction of explicit sexual activity. Those films are distributed with a special porn identification sticker. And that, gentle readers, is the extent of my knowledge about what defines porn. Time to get opinionated!

Maybe I can draw a similar line between fine art and pornographic images. Porn are explicit photos of people engaged in sexual activity. Full frontal boners, lubricated fingers in places…and so on. Meanwhile artistic images are more discreet. Nudity but no erections or penetration. There may be implications but in reality there’s no actual sex happening during the shoot. Hm.

But I don’t love that distinction. Like I said, I know nothing of photography or art. But I do know I’ve seen what I’d consider artfully realized pornographic film. And while I accept the practicality of a film board rating to restrict age and alert the consumer to the content—it also irks me that a well crafted movie forfeits inclusion as part of “art ” because it shows people having actual sex. Similarly it seems kind of sex-negative to define a photograph as porn-not-art simply because the subjects are getting it on. So in the words of Winnie The Pooh, “Think, think, think.”

Perhaps a distinction based on skill. But I’ve been lucky enough to work with some pretty kick-ass photographers. I imagine most of them could take a picture of two people engaged in explicitly sexy things that would be a hundred times more artful than any photo I might snap of a more modest scene. In fact Hawksley himself sent me a beautiful photo of a woman performing fellatio. We opted not to post it at the model’s request, but it was a striking image. It was also reasonably modest, with only the subjects’ hair and limbs visible. Yeah, but…

Separating art from pornography by saying the former requires skill, still kind of implies that the latter is inherently less good and less valuable. I fully concede that porn is not something that everyone enjoys or wants to see. But so are some of the world’s great works of art. No, I don’t think that porn becomes art simply by virtue of being provocative and controversial. But where I’m landing on this question right now, is that there is no line. For me at least. This gal’s opinion is that pornographic images, like any other creative endevour run the gamut from mindless dreck to artistic genius. As for which works fall into what category, there will probably never be consensus. With art there almost never is. I for one am happy to include the type of porn that I find beautiful in my every-woman definition of fine art.

Now–enough of my opinion! I know some of you picture takin’, art makin’ probably know a lot more about this subject than I do. Is there a line between porn and erotic art? Where do you think it lies? Whether you’re a respository of knowledge, chock full of opinions or both, I’m eager to hear what you think!

 

Originally appeared at Get Lusty for Couples
Nadine Thornhill is a sexual health educator, playwright, poet, burlesque performer, partner and parent living in Ottawa, Ontario. The plays and poetry she creates tend toward subjects such as clitorises, vibrators and non-monogamy.

She enjoys candy, fashion and dreck television. She does not care for pants. Find her on Twitter @NadineThornhill. She also blogs on the Adorkable Undies. Find her blog on Facebook and Pinterest.

 

 

 

Photo Credits:

Statue in repose courtesy of Flickr/Flo’s shots 4 me

Nude in Frame courtesy of Flickr/Ed_45

Nude with Cat on Chair courtesy of Flickr/angrylambie1

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Comments

  1. Vicki Ghist says:

    I do not see were nakedness becomes porn.

  2. Porn can be artful. I think it probably turns to porn when the focus is on sexuality but even then it’s subjective. A vulva is artful, but also sexually arousing for some. A chest is both as well. Maybe porn should just be limited to sexual acts? A woman spread eagle lying back may not be porn but if she’s spreading her labia then that probably is porn.

    I never really liked the porn vs art debate, I think porn can be art however good or bad it may be (skill wise, lighting, etc).

  3. Good perspective about art, sensuality, and porn. I wrote about Sensual Photography as my post-graduate thesis and I also explained the difference between sensuality and pornography there.

  4. Why? What’s the point of the question? What does one gain by making a distinction if one isn’t a censor?

    As far as I’m concerned, they’re two non-exclusive categories: some art is pornographic; some porn is artistic. Some of each isn’t the other, and it doesn’t matter a whit.

    All I care about is whether images and films entertain me, make me think, get me off. Some (the stuff i like best) does all three.

    • Very good point. It’s not clear that attempting to separate the world of images or sculpture into two clearly marked and distinct boxes marked “art” and “porn”.

      One of my favorite examples was always Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Teresa”. No doubt this is fine art, and a spectacular work of sculpture, by one of the masters. According to Bernini, it’s an image of religious ecstasy, but, really, we all know what Teresa is up to (just have a look at a closeup, like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/7827270176/).

      So, is this porn? Sure. Is it art? Most definitely. Is it important? Not at all. It’s a spectacular piece – I’d certainly encourage anyone visiting Rome to go visit the Santa Maria delle Vittoria church to see it.

    • That was my reaction to–who’s interested in drawing the line except prudes and anti-porn crusaders, whose opinion doesn’t matter anyway?

  5. How about this? If it’s something that without explicit nudity and/or sex would be called entertainment rather than art, then with explicit nudity/sex it is pornography rather than art. Of course, the entertainment/art line is itself utterly fuzzy and controversial (with plenty of overlap), but I think it’s probably fuzzy and controversial and involves overlap in about the right places to match up with any remotely interesting porn/art line.

  6. You can watch art with your Mother.
    You can hang art in the guest bathroom.
    You can leave art books out on the coffee table.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    It’s partly a question of time, isn’t it? Let enough time pass, and any bit of porn will become art. What makes something “porn” is, in part, its newness. Let any piece of creativity, no matter how petty or juvenile, get moldy long enough, and it becomes “historical” or “classic” or “emblematic” of a particular style.

  8. There are many great masterpieces which were originally pornographic. When we think of the Italian Renaissance we usually think of Madonna and Child, but there countless paintings, sculptures, plates, chests, you name it that were commissioned to get people going. Most consider the Titian’s Venus of Urbino to be the first known commissioned porn (pretty different from now huh?). And a lot of art referencing homosexual love or lust had to be done very subtly. If sex is human instinct and we haven’t given up on still images why is it that we still get turned on by Greek pottery? Is it context? Does a porn video or image shown in a museum or gallery strip it of it’s title as porn? Is it time?

    Some of my favorite exhibits regarding sex: Met Museum–Love and Marriage in the Italian Renaissance
    Leopold Museum–Nude Men
    Hide/Seek–National Portrait Gallery, Brooklyn Museum, Tacoma Art Museum

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