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Art or Porn?

29 May 2014 5 comments

“In ancient Greek mythology it was important for a woman to feel the strength of a man in her labyrinth”. This is how the plaque read below a large painting of a unicorn mounting a naked woman. She was thrusting her slim hips forward whilst leaning back over a boulder. There was desire and a sexual urge in her eyes. And the unicorn was about to penetrate her with his huge phallus.

A number of years ago I was invited to the opening of an art exhibition at a well know gallery in Perth. The gallery wasn't far from one of our adultshop.com stores. As soon as I arrived I was introduced to the owner. She immediately proceeded to drag me through the crowd to one of the rooms whereby she thrust me in front of a painting featuring a unicorn mounting a naked enticing woman. I remember I had to stand back a few metres to take the expansiveness of the painting in perspective. The owner was eager for my feedback but I was in shock as it was quite confronting. My head was spinning with confusing provocative emotions.

After much discussion about the painting the gallery owner offered me the opportunity to hang the artwork in our nearby store, however I declined. I explained to her that whilst the artwork was hanging in her gallery it was deemed art (well it certainly was from the many admirers I spoke to at the exhibition that night). I also told her that I believed that if I were to display it in one of our stores it would be deemed porn and probably bestiality. Possession of bestiality in Western Australia is a criminal offence punishable with jail time (which I agree with). What makes this painting art and what makes it porn? Opinions obviously differ.

I've provided the example above to help demonstrate the hypocrisy and the subjectivity of an age old argument – is it art, or is it porn? When assessing a painting that depicts eroticism or nudity, should one try to be objective and perhaps consider community standards, or should one impose their own personal and subjective views when assessing if it has any artistic merit?

Erotic Art 2006 Erotic Art 2006

Could we argue it’s all about definitions? Eroticism for instance relates to sexual arousal and sexual desire. Something that arouses one person may not stir the loins of another and vice versa. The Random House Dictionary definition of pornography is: obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit. The World English Dictionary however doesn’t use the term obscene when defining pornography. They say the definition is simply: writings, pictures, films, etc, designed to stimulate sexual excitement. The use of terms like obscene and sexual excitement create uncertainty when considering what pornography is. What you find obscene may be different from what I or society considers obscene. Similarly what sexually excites some may not excite others. It’s totally subjective!

Playboy magazine features tasteful, one might even say artistic, photos of nude women. In Australia the magazine is classified by the government as M15+ meaning that fifteen year old teenagers can buy them. As a teenager I used to buy them because they sexually excited me (they still do). Does that mean Playboy magazines should be deemed porn because they have the power to sexually excite their readers? If so then is it acceptable to sell the magazines to fifteen year old children if they’re considered porn? I don’t believe Playboy magazines should be defined as pornography nor should the definition of pornography include the use of the term sexual excitement (for many reasons). You can see the dilemma, because of the subjectivity, in defining what pornography is.

Back in 2006 I was approached by an organisation in Perth that was planning a black tie gala event with the proceeds going to a charity for sick children. They gave me, along with a number of other Perth people – like ex AFL footballers, a 3 foot high canvas, some oil paints and brushes. The plan was for us to put brush to canvas and create something that could be auctioned off at the gala event. My initial enthusiasm waned rather quickly when I realised I had little artistic flair (art and music were the only subjects that I failed at school).

Erotic Art 2007 Erotic Art 2007

I had a photo that I thought I could create an erotic art piece from so I sat with a graphic designer and stepped them through what I visualized. Whilst I can’t use Photoshop software I did know what I wanted to create. The end result ‘My Penthouse Pets’ attracted the highest bid on the night and sold for $3,500. On the big night I vividly remember walking into the foyer of the event and seeing the 3 foot canvases on easels with a few admirers lingering close by, then seeing my 5 foot canvas with a crowd of people milling around – probably debating whether or not it was art or porn.

The following year I was approached by the same organisation to provide them with another painting. This time I didn't take the canvas, paints and brushes as again I’d decided not to paint something but instead to create an erotic art piece using another photo. My artwork sold for $4,000 on the night leaving both myself and the organizers relatively satisfied with the result. I, of course, was happy doing my part to help a charity out.

In 2009 the organisation asked me to participate a third time. This time I used a black and white photograph to create another erotic art piece on a 5 foot high framed canvas. Whilst giving direction to the graphic designer I laboured over whether or not to remove, or obscure, using a tool in Photoshop, the ‘outy’ part of the blonde’s labia. Michelangelo was comfortable leaving the penis in full display with his famous renaissance sculpture of David (it stood over 5 metres tall and was created in 1501). Given it was acceptable for Michelangelo I decided to leave the labia as it was, rather than obscure it.

Erotic Art 2009 Erotic Art 2009

A few days after I dispatched the artwork to the event organizers I was disappointed to receive a phone call from them saying they couldn't accept it. Apparently they deemed it porn and not art. When I questioned them on why they thought it was porn, noting it wasn't too dissimilar to the earlier artworks I'd created for them, their response was the visibility of the blonde’s labia was the problem. I mentioned that I’d considered obscuring it whilst working on the piece. In their opinion if I had have obscured the visible labia then they would have been comfortable in defining it as erotic art and not porn. I had the piece sent back to me where I have it hanging in my office and a copy in my apartment. The exercise left me rather annoyed. It also further demonstrated to me that the difference between art and porn is often simply a person's personal views and perceptions.

In 2006 and 2007 adultshop.com, in collaboration with ARTRAGE, held SEX - an erotic art competition and exhibition of the artworks. Each year adultshop.com offered a prize of $10,000 for the winning artwork. The exhibitions featured a diversity of works that interpreted sex, sexuality, erotica and porn with entries ranging from the bizarre to the beautiful. One of the objectives of the competition was to foster debate within the community as to what was art and what was porn. On the exhibition opening nights I gave a passionate speech where I delivered my views on Australian classification and censorships laws (including the inconsistencies and ambiguities), community standards as to what defined pornography and the blurring of lines between erotic art and porn.

I'm planning to hold another erotic art competition soon where I’ll limit the entries to photography and digital artwork.

In this week’s post I've only briefly touched on the topic of art or porn. If I had the time I could write volumes on it. Next week I'm planning on continuing on the subject but focusing on films.

As always I’d like to hear your views especially on such contentious topics as what is defined as art and what porn is.

Delivering passion and pleasure.

Mal

muenster 30 May 2014 at 8:24 am
Thanks for starting a really interesting and vexing discussion. I look forward to your great blogs each week!
ian 30 May 2014 at 11:56 am
one thing that I think is the place that the art is displayed must be cionsidered in this discussion I have seen magnificent peices of art displayed inapropriatley I believe gallerys have to take responsibillity for what they display and inform the public approriatley this includes alot of other art to not just erotic art
scoobydoc 31 May 2014 at 10:59 am
i think anything showing "rude bits" - nipples, penis, vagina be classed as pornographic....but then this opens up another can of worms about child porn/art as with that photographer a few years back. I think its a touchy subject and the artist needs to be very careful with their subject.
Kayt 8 June 2014 at 3:57 pm
I don't think anyone has the right to state what the difference is between art and porn. It is all subjective as you said. The fact that a labia makes an image pornographic is ridiculous as it's a natural part of the human body. I think some porn can be considered art and some art can be seen as pornographic (in a great way!) Keep the thought provoking topics coming!!
7 September 2018 at 9:05 am
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