A Distinction Between Art Or Pornography

Last night a group of us got into a heated discussion about what constituted pornography and what separates it from art. Can pornography be art and vise versa? Since I began this blog the number one post every week that everyone looks at is “Does Showing a Man’s Penis Make An Image Pornographic?” It seems to be the question everyone who works in this field seems to ponder. I know I certainly as an artist explore and often cross that edge. The dictionary definition of pornography is: “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings”. I think the operative word here is intended. Though I don’t really see many of my images as sexual and am not sexually motivated to create them, I became aware last night the impact they have on others. Who views the images and how they interpret them becomes subjective. We all have different interpretations of what we find stimulating or what excites us sexually. When I was younger just seeing a man’s skin exposed got me aroused and stimulated. And yes there was a time in my 30’s I was obsessed and possibly addicted to porn. But as I get older and I become desensitized by so much experience and exposure, I now rarely find things stimulating in that manner. Now it becomes more of an exploration of what it is I remember about that sort of stimulation. Some of my subjects are not prone to exposure and that line never gets crossed, some people are just so damn sexy with their clothes on, how they wear them, and the shapes and textures they create with their presence. Hence the power of fashion. Yet some people look exceptional fully exposed. Everyone is different and the exploration becomes unique for each of them. My role as a photographer is to expose not just their nakedness, but also aesthetic and emotionally. I perceive we live in a culture where we are getting away from our sense of sensual desire. The desire encompasses the entire being and not just parts of that being. My work for me becomes a compass that reminds me of that romantic idealism that has begun to erode from my life. It becomes about how I see myself in relationship to my subjects and sometimes that intention has been to erotically stimulate. So by the dictionary term my work is pornographic. But because I show a man’s penis does not mean the image was intended to stimulate. I have seen so much great male nude art in my life that I no longer zero my focus in on what dangles below, but absorb it for it’s aesthetic feeling. This is why I love art and am fascinated by my necessity for exposure. I got my first glimpse of a man’s penis in National Geographic magazine showing naked aborigines when I was a kid. I remember how sensational it was. I was possibly too young to be stimulated by it then but there was something forbidden about seeing something that needed to remain hidden. Here some 40 years later, I am still pondering its mystery.

3 thoughts on “A Distinction Between Art Or Pornography

  1. David Stalling

    >Nice, thought-provoking essay Terry. While there is sometimes a fine line between the two, I think art appeals to my heart, mind and soul on many levels, and helps me to appreciate beauty, and/or helps me (maybe even challenges me) to think… and look at things in different ways, and can evoke a variety of feelings. I think pornography, on the other hand, usually just appeals to me on a more simple, primitive level and merely evokes lust. Both have their place, and I enjoy both. When I look at your work, some of it certainly evokes sexual desire in me — but I also appreciate the beauty, the various mixtures of shade and light, the skills and effort that shows in your work, and i find it more sensual than lustful. In other words: your work evokes a lot of various, and sometimes complex, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Porn does not. I think you are a great artist. Keep up the great work!

  2. Elizabeth Lister

    >I think I would define pornography as images created with the SOLE intent to stimulate erotic desire. To me, images such as yours which are created with artistic skill and with intents other than to stimulate (even if that is the result and perhaps one of several intentions) are definitely art. Obviously because you put so much thought and time into arranging the pose and the light and the photographic outcome, it is so much beyond pornography. Yes, it still arouses sexual interest because we react to the sight of a naked man. However it also arouses respect and aesthetic appreciation and sometimes, awe.

  3. Anonymous

    >I think yes, intent is the difference. The act of separating one single intention though, from any given act, to a truly definitive result is (in my experience) impossible. The search is what matters. Attempting to make the subconscious conscious can lead a person out of their own mind, and with practice, down a path that leads to an indestructible compassion for all life. When I read this post, and in particular the segments in which you begin to consider bits of your work as possibly pornographic, I was excited by the relative ease with which you seem to consider the duplicity. It shows real bravery.

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