THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORNOGRAPHY AND EROTICIM
‘MALE BONDAGE’, OIL & GOLDLEAF ON CANVAS, 2011 – COPYRIGHT OF NANCY PEACH.
MOST PEOPLE CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE …
…between eroticism and pornography, they think that they are one and the same thing! In this article I take a closer look at, what is meant by erotic art, how you might define it and if it is possible to distinguish it from pornography.
By Grith Stagaard Gough for EROTIC ART LOVER
Sculpture by Kasper Holten
'Ta' mig hvis du tør' -‐ Pottery figure. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Does Erotic Art = Pornography? Earlier this year I paid a visit to a couple of different exhibitions, both of which were marketed as promoting and selling erotic art. The first exhibition I saw was the ‘Art Erotica’ in January of this year, arranged by Cork Street Open Exhibitions and following that, I went along in February to the exhibition ‘Erotikkens Kunst’ (The art of Eroticism), arranged by Bettina Sinnet Fornitz owner of Gallery Eros.
Docken where Erotikkens kunst was held.
In both of these shows the organizers felt compelled to distinguish and differentiate between art and pornography, perhaps in order not to discourage those who do not like pornography or disappoint those who do. The art that was chosen to go on show for both the exhibitions reflect just how wide the range of art is which is displayed in the name of eroticism. Yet, in my experience many people do not stop to consider whether or not there is a difference between art and pornography, they just assume that when you say erotic art, you actually mean porn. Perhaps I have been unlucky but when I tell people Composite Sculpture – Orc3 No.3 of 4 by Jas David. that I work with erotic art, a good number have Art Erotica 2012. said: “Oh, do you mean pornography?” I tell them no, but I do not blame them for asking the question, because there is no easy and universally accepted objective definition of erotic art. The reason no such objective definition exists, is that the interpretation and understanding of the many aspects that play a role in erotic art, such as aesthetics, sexuality, sensuality, morality and taboo, differ substantially. Our perception of what makes a piece of art sensual or sexual, morally acceptable or obscene, comes down to our social and cultural upbringing, C-‐type print -‐ A shade above which forms our subjective beliefs. (II) by Chris Cook. Art Erotica 2012. Shunga -‐ Photography -‐ by Thomas Hodges. Nancy Farmer -‐ Drawing -‐ The Fairy Ring. Art Erotica 2012 Art Erotica 2012
Etymology So if it is difficult to clearly and objectively define erotic art, can it be separated from pornography? Let’s take a look at the original meaning of the words erotic and pornography. Erotic: 1620s (implied in erotical), from Fr. érotique (16c.), from Gk. erotikos "caused by passionate love, referring to love," from eros (gen. erotos) "sexual love" (see Eros).
Back to Front -‐ Mixed media on canvas by Beverley Bourne. Art Erotica 2012
1857, "description of prostitutes," from Fr. pornographie, from Gk. pornographos "(one) writing of prostitutes," from porne "prostitute," originally "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably of "female slave sold for prostitution;" related to pernanai "to sell," from PIE root per- "to traffic in, to sell," cf. L. pretium "price") + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). Originally used of classical art and writing; application to modern examples began 1880s. Main modern meaning "salacious writing or pictures" represents a slight shift from the etymology, though classical depictions of prostitution usually had this quality.
Looking at the etymology of erotic the implication is that, when you speak about eroticism you must be referring to love or sexual acts of lovemaking. Love, of course, is itself a broad term and love can refer to an emotional experience as well as a spiritual experience but also the physical act of sexual love and they are neither mutually exclusive nor inclusive. Etymology furthermore shows that pornography from ancient time refers to sales of sexual services, services in the form of prostitution but also as the sale of naughty pictures and writings meant to act as an aid to sexual gratification. So it seems you cannot speak about pornography without speaking about eroticism. But is it possible to speak about eroticism without speaking about pornography? When I initially set out to explore and investigate the field of erotic art, I truly felt and believed that I with my knowledge of the arts and my, admittedly limited, experience of pornography, would be able to make a distinction between erotic art and pornography. You could say that I almost felt a kind of urgency in separating the two from one another. Why, you might ask? Well, my experience of pornography consisted primarily of ugly still and moving images, hard and unemotional action, very poor acting or stilted posing and very little imagination. Erotic art, I felt, offered something entirely different.
Anonymous -‐ Shunga print. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Shadow in the moment of your hearts nervous twitch-‐ Filmed wax on-‐ mini t.v. inside peep box by Eliza Bennett. Art Erotica 2012
In erotic art I found beauty, imagination, creativity, storytelling, titillation and emotion. In short, I felt stimulated on different levels and in particular by the artistic quality. Hence, I made a conscious effort to separate the two, because I didn’t want to be seen as a proponent of pornography, a genre with which I felt a complete lack of affinity. In my own head I created a divide between erotic art and pornography based on their defining and dividing aims. I believe, like many others, that the central aim of pornography is to stimulate sexual arousal in the audience. This contrasts with the primary aim of erotic art, which is not to stimulate sexual arousal but rather to draw attention to aesthetic qualities, emotional responses or intellectual ideas. I did not reject the possibility that a physical response of a pleasant nature might also occur, but it was only acceptable as a side effect. Chinese painting -‐ silk? Erotikkens Kunst 2012 Admittedly, I was first and foremost taking the intellectual approach of an academically trained art historian when judging and evaluating the works I came across. Nevertheless, I (now) think it is a shame if anyone rejects the potential for a stimulating bodily experience when viewing erotic art, as eroticism after all often plays to the physical and tactile. Sometimes though, eroticism only figures as the underlying theme in the artwork and in such cases erotic art does not show graphic scenes of sexual behavior (see my post about ‘Birth-‐day’ by Sam Winston). Still in a lot of erotic art the reference to love and sexual Birthday by Sam Winston relations are more or less visually obvious and hence easily recognizable as a piece of erotic art. As I have seen more and more erotic art, I have found the lines between erotic art and pornography beginning to blur. Some works of art I have seen are distinctly graphic in terms of sexual content, yet may still possess a high degree of artistic quality in terms of aesthetics. Jan van Rijn’s works are preeminent examples of this. So how do you determine whether content or form comes before the other? Sometimes it is impossible to determine whether it is the artist’s intention to arouse sexual stimulation or whether it is a desire to draw attention to formal qualities and provide an aesthetic experience that comes first. Faced with this conundrum my solution was to label this type of art pornographic art 1. Untitled -‐ by Jan Van Rijn 1. I recently came across a description of the term pornographic art in Dr Hans Maes’ essay ‘ART OR PORN: CLEAR DIVISION OR FALSE DILEMMA?’ (Warning: This is not light reading!).
Nevertheless, I realize that the application of a term such as pornographic art is also subject to debate, because people vary greatly in what they find sexually explicit and indeed what and when they consider something a pleasing or interesting aesthetic experience. Things are rarely as black and white as I might like them to be. I have experienced this on numerous occasions. For instance when I have been out to speak about erotic art and people have told me that they perceived various works of erotic art presented in my slideshow as pornography rather than erotic art. Gilberto Giardini’s picture of a man sucking on a baby’s bottle is always an image that creates controversy. Although I do not personally find it the least bit sexually arousing, I do find it artistic and very clearly erotic in its visual reference to the connection between oral stimulation and sexual satisfaction. To me this is an interesting erotic image and not least because I have seen this image cause outrage and heard accusations of pornography slung at it.
What will be perceived as boring or plain uninteresting to one set of eyes, might just be the right amount for arousal and stimulation for another or too much and outrageous for a third person. It all comes down to perception and personal preference. Which brings me back to the two shows ‘Art Erotica’ and ‘Erotikkens Kunst’ (The art of Eroticism) that I saw at the beginning of the year. Both of these recent exhibitions have highlighted just how difficult it can be to separate the erotic from the pornographic. Art Erotica 2012 _________________________________________________________________________________ On the evening of the private preview for the Art Erotica exhibition, I overheard one guest comment to another: “I don’t like that picture. It is not art, it is pornography!” Nevertheless, it is important to remember that a handful of very competent art professionals felt this work merited the label erotic art otherwise it would not have been shown at the exhibition. Look Dick, See Jane Blow It -‐ pen on carbon paper -‐ by Chris Shaw Huges Art Erotica 2012
The day after the Art Erotica preview, I went along to an Art Breakfast to hear exhibition organisor Kathryn Roberts and one of the jurors for the exhibition, Daryl Champion editor of Something Dark, talk about selection criteria for the exhibition. It was interesting to learn that, out of the exhibitions five jurors who had made up the selection jury, three came from an academic art background and had fairly conservative and mainstream views on what constitute erotic art, in opposition to the last two jurors who had quite different views on erotic art. Essentially three of the jurors felt that the representation of a nude body was enough to constitute a piece of erotic art. Nude -‐ Oil on canvas -‐ by William The other two jurors felt that erotic Sienna Bate. art, in this context, should represent a Art Erotica 2012 visual statement that push on and beyond the boundaries of what is commonly accepted and were we perhaps feel comfortable. But any jurying situation, as Daryl Champion explained, is by nature a Part of a Woman -‐ Photograph on process where compromises have to be Aluminium – by Syreeta M King. made and reached. Perhaps this is no Art Erotica 2012 bad thing because it means that the works selected to go on show appeals to different tastes and therefore reaches more people. I certainly felt the jurors’ different points of view came across clearly in the works selected for exhibition which ended up showing a diverse range of works. Click here to see all the works shortlisted for the exhibition.
Vulnerability in the Landscape – Drawing – by Lindi Kirwin. Art Erotica 2012
Dig For Victory -‐ tweed on canvas, laminate imagery, acrylic – by Gemma Hadley. Art Erotica 2012
Erotikkens Kunst (The Art of Eroticism)
Erotikkens Kunst Udstilling , Docken 2012.
After my visit to London in January I was excited to hear that Copenhagen’s local erotic art gallery, Gallery Eros, would be renting a big exhibition space in order to put on a big show. Prior to the exhibition, Erotikkens Kunst (The art of eroticism), I read in an interview with Gallery Eros’ owner Bettina Sinnet Fornitz, that in preparation for the show, Fornitz felt she had to give consideration to the difference between pornography and erotic art. Unfortunately it was not clear what she found the difference to be, which would have been interesting to know, especially in view of what was shown. One thing is for sure, Fornitz’s past auction house experience clearly shone through in the works she selected for exhibition at Docken. In practical terms this meant that the art on show in the 2000 sq. meters large space, was a virtual mish mash of styles, types and mediums. Ceramic vessel. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Untitled -‐ by Bjørn Enevoldsen. 1988. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
The danger with such a broad selection is that it might leave some visitors confused about what they were seeing, particularly if one was hoping to find or looking for a red thread. But on the other hand you could argue that presenting visitors with a very broad selection there is a higher probability that you would find something to suit every taste.
One of the first paintings you saw when entering the exhibition was this large and colourful work by Danish artist Sara Koppel. It was also Sara Koppel who had created the short erotic film that had its premiere at the exhibition.
Countless Lovemaking by Sara Koppel, Erotikken Kunst 2012.
The fact that one woman alone organized the exhibition was impressive. Unfortunately lack of time or poor organizational skills meant that when the exhibition opened, a good deal of the works in the very large space had no information to guide the visitor. To some extent you could argue that the lack of the artwork’s title and the artist’s name makes for a more immediate experience of the work. Not listing a price however, really is unforgiveable particularly when every work of art shown purportedly is for sale.
Photograph -‐ Artist unknown -‐ Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Title, artist & medium unknown. Erotikkens Kunst 2012 Classic Portrait – Holland c. 18th century. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Mughal miniature style painting. Erotikkens Kunst
Drawing on paper c. 1800. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Title, artist & medium unknown. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Akio Takamori -‐ pottery sculpture of amorous couple. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Afrodite – Oil on canvas -‐ Sanne Glissov. Erotikkens Kunst 2012.
To summerize I would say that the Art Erotica show were much more edgy and borderline in terms of presenting works that many people would accept as art. In comparison the Danish show felt much more ‘safe’ but at times also a little boring, although to be fair there were definitely some interesting pieces too, like Sanne Glissov’s work Afrodite which demanded attention and closer scrutiny. Did I find any of the works titillating? Mostly no, but I did find some works very aesthetically pleasing and intellectually interesting and I would recommend a visit to next years Art Erotica.
Marble sculpture by Jerry Adder. Erotikkens Kunst 2012
Title, artist & medium unknown. Erotikkens Kunst, 2012