There’s been a long-disputed debate about whether or not pornography is art, and if it’s not, what differentiates the two? In this post, we aim to challenge both arguments to come to a definitive conclusion.
Art is subjective, which makes the controversy of what is art and what is porn even more difficult. The line becomes even more blurred when you begin to consider digital and erotic art in all its forms.
For some people, a plain nude figure is enough to be considered porn, while the others do not consider an artwork as porn until there is visible penetration. Some argue that it’s the intent that differs between the two – porn is intended to provoke erotic arousal, whereas art is to be admired rather than provoke sexual stimulation.
But, art is beginning to change and develop its form to cater to a new modern audience, and pornography laws in the UK are tightening to protect performers and the public. So, where does that leave the distinction between the two? In this article, we’ll discuss several theories about art and pornography to try to summarise the similarities and differences between them.
What Are the Definitions of Art and Pornography?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Whereas pornography is defined as “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.”
Though the forms may be similar, it’s the intent of the form of artwork that appears to be defining the two as separate identities. However, as western society becomes increasingly liberal, art becomes more experimental, and the distribution of porn gets commonplace. As a result, art and pornography continue to merge.
In the past, suppression of explicit images was often forced by conservative and religious values and fears of moral corruption. As the years have passed, feminists have also challenged objectifying sexual imagery out of fear that the spread of objectifying images is detrimental to the cause.
However, life drawing has been around for centuries, and nude models are still dominant in fine art education. What’s more, the vast majority of models are women. So, what’s the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’? And why is pornography such a taboo topic, when the female figure has always attracted the male gaze?
In Mary Beard’s BBC programme Shock of the Nude, she discusses the male gaze in life-drawing classes and renaissance art, claiming: “There are various ways culture tries to remove it and those linguistic devices are used to try to desexualise the encounter. But it’s there.”
Art as an Ever-Changing Form
There have been numerous studies on the changing form of art, and how it can adapt through the ages to cater for different groups, lifestyles, and purposes.
Though art doesn’t intend to create sexual gratification, it does act to evoke certain emotions and can connect your senses – body and mind. Therefore, it shares similarities with pornography – in the way it can make a viewer or onlook feel. The very fact that art can spur thinking, engagement, and even action, closes the gap between pornography and art.
Digital art is a fantastic example of an art form that has changed over the years to cater to technological advancement and the different needs of society. The influence of new media on contemporary art forms has been heavily prevalent and, in the 21st century, it’s being used more than ever as a corporate tool for the purpose of marketing.
Currently, the pornography industry generates $12 billion in annual revenue in the US. So, if commercial gain rings true for both entities, perhaps art’s new form shares more similarities to porn than initially thought?
The Feminist Debate Surrounding Pornography
For many, the porn industry represents an archaic and outmoded view of women. It continues to promote an ideology of objectification and submission which is considered anti-progressive. There is concern that, by normalizing sex and subjugating the actors, porn and pornographic art may go as far as encouraging sexual violence.
Conversely, several men and women have claimed that porn helps to sexually liberate women, and the normalization of porn is helping to build a more equal society. Professor of feminist studies, Mireille Miller-Young, claimed that “for some performers, pornography is a path to college and out of poverty. For others, it is a chance to make a statement about female pleasure.”
Both art and pornography can be seen as an act of expressionism, and offer women the potential for lucrative, flexible, and independent work. As such, the debate about pornography and art should not be controlled only by academicians, politicians, or religious groups; a voice should be given to the performers and artists about their complex experiences.
Do You Think Art and Pornography Are Intrinsically Linked or Are They Drastically Different?
In this article, we’ve discussed some of the similarities and differences between art and pornography, as well as discussing the biggest debates surrounding the two. Undeniably, art is changing, and digital art is a form that is the closest to pornography – with many debating that porn is a form of digital art.
One aspect that rings true for both is that art and porn are subjective to whoever is viewing them. Not all bystanders, viewers, and consumers will like the same pieces of art or pornographic clips. They will evoke different emotions for everyone, which makes the question about ‘what is art?’ and ‘what is pornography?’, all that more difficult to explore.
There is no right or wrong answer, and it’s a discussion that will continue to be had for as long as art and pornography have a place in society. So long as both forms respect each artist’s opinions and boundaries, both can live cohesively – no matter if they hold more similarities than differences.