Here we go again! Stefangrosjean posts a photo of a beautiful topless woman and the internet collectively shits itself inside out, again. This time, the madness spilled over into a photo posted by Creativephotoworks, who is another artist for whom I have much respect and admiration. I must say that it greatly irks me when people post in response to content they don't like to trash it, insult the artist, and demand that it be changed or removed. I don't do that to the art you like, so please don't do that to the art I like. DA is one of the few places on the internet where comments are generally very, very positive and encouraging. Let's keep DA a community of support rather than a community of hate.
One of the common, though not particularly constructive, criticisms I see is accusing the artist of posting porn, not art. In this post, I'd like to explore what art is, what porn is, and why they're not mutually exclusive.
"This isn't art! This is Porn!"
What is art?
Before we determine what is art and what is porn, we must first define both these terms. In the past, I distinguished between what I referred to as legitimate art and attention grabbing cam-girls. I called the former art and the latter smut. As time has gone by and I've had time and cause to think about art and the definition thereof, I have to admit that my younger self was wrong. I've come to realise that both are and, in my opinion, should be considered art. It all comes down to how you define "art."
Dictionaries offer a more concrete and narrowly defined definition of art than I use, but they're still helpful in answering the question. Oxford defines "art as, "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination...producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." Merriam-Webster defines "art" as, "something created with imagination and skill that is beautiful or expresses important ideas or feelings." I like these definitions. They break the concept down into criteria. To be a work of art, a piece must be:
1) Must be expressive
2) Must use creativity and imagination
3) Must involve the application skill
4) Must involve the creation of beauty or emotional power or important ideas
However, as much as I like this definition and check-list to define art, I still find it somewhat problematic. #1 and #4 are so broad so as to include virtually anything humans create. Anything a person does or creates is expressive in one way or another. This expression does not need to be particularly deep or complex. Eating a sandwich is an expression of hunger and/or appreciation of the sensation of taste and satisfaction having slated one's hunger. Painting a portrait of a couple under a tree expresses the artists desire to create something beautiful not only visually but emotionally. Having sex is an expression of desire and the satisfaction of one complex life's most basic instincts. Beating someone to death because you hate them is an expression of hatred and anger. So anything done, said, or otherwise created by a person is art.
Creating beauty or demonstrating emotional power or important ideas is also so broad that it encompasses anything and everything done, said, or otherwise created by a person. Anything pleasing to the eye or mind is beautiful. Virtually conveys emotion of some sort or some kind of idea, and all ideas are important. However, contrary to popular belief, #4 does not require art to be pleasing or agreeable. Art can be dark, unpleasant, and violent. It can be boring. It can be fun. So, having sex is beautiful, even sex that is not emotionally powerful. Sex is the creation of pleasure and, so long as the sex is consensual, it's beautiful. Strangely enough, a depiction of rape would convey negative emotional power as well as important ideas, such as violence and power structures in society and psychology. So, anything done, said, or otherwise created by a person meets criteria #4 because while art is usually thought of as depicting beauty, it can just as equally and powerfully portray negative emotions and ideas and ask important questions by doing so.
My objection to the definitions above is to #2 and #3. While people who intend to create art generally use creativity, imagination, and skill to do so, it's not absolutely necessary to create art. In this sense, some people who define themselves as artists include creativity, imagination, and skill in order to intentionally create something very specific. There is nothing wrong with the application of creativity, imagination, and skill to create art. In fact, I think it's very good to do so. However, I don't see a lack of creativity, imagination, or skill as a bar to something being defined as art. It just means that we're dealing with two different kinds of art. For the sake of terminology, perhaps they should be seen as Structured Art, art that satisfies at least three of the above criteria, and Unstructured Art, art that satisfies the first and last criteria. For example, meticulously crafted paintings, sculptures, photographs, and music are Structured. I consider Structured art as requiring #1, #4, and either #2 or #3 because you don't creativity and imagination don't necessarily need skill in order to be expressed. Likewise, applying skill does not necessarily produce something creative or bursting with imagination. For example, a person uses skill properly fill in the fields of a form doesn't really use creativity in doing so. You could consider this as intentional art; art created for the sake of creating something. This is more typically what we think of when we think of "art."
Unstructured art may be seen as accidental or art that is not deliberately created for the purpose of creating art. A the sheet that a commercial painter lays down before painting a wall or ceiling that collects drips and drabs of paint over the years, someone accidentally kicking a bucket of paint over, or a photographer accidentally hitting the shutter all create art unintentionally and completely by accident. No creativity, imagination, or skill was involved in this type of art's creation. If a photographer accidentally took a photograph that was beautiful or otherwise powerful, would that bar it from being classified as art? I don't think so.
So, in order to be Structured Art, a piece must be expressive, must involve the use of creativity and/or imagination and/or skill, and must convey beauty, emotion, or an idea. Unstructured art need only be expressive and convey beauty, emotion, or an idea. As described above, anything a person does is expressing something and conveys, at the very least, conveys emotion or an idea, no matter how beautiful, horrific, original, cliché, boring, or exciting.
What is porn?
At first, I thought porn was a relatively easy term to define. However, the more I try to define it for myself, the more I realise that this term is as broad as "art" is. Typically, people think of porn as a person or group of people engaging in sexual acts. This is my default definition.
To be porn, the material must feature sexual acts. Sexual acts generally consist of vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or touching of the sex organs. I do not consider mere nudity, lingerie, or provocative posing to be porn; mature content, yes, but not pornographic. They are sexually implicit, not sexually explicit. To constitute porn, one the parties in the material must clearly be appear to be deriving sexual satisfaction from the acts done. However, which body parts are seen as erotic changes over time. In the past, the ankle was seen in much the same way the breasts are today, but you'd be hard pressed to find many people who would object to a picture of a woman's naked and exposed ankle.
To be fair, the vast majority of porn falls into this category. However, people get turned on by all sorts of things. In this sense, many things can be seen as porn. Any non-interactive stimulus that sexually arouses a person can be seen as porn. However, that is more of a side point.
Porn as Art: Satisfying #1 and #4
As stated above, expression is a requirement for art and satisfying the expression requirement is easy; all you have to do is do, say, or think something and you will have expressed something. What does porn express? It expresses sexual desire and the satisfaction thereof. It also expresses confidence in one's body, body image, and sexuality.
I, personally, find porn beautiful in its own way, despite it being rather crude. I find the actresses beautiful and the act beautiful. The act is beautiful because it embraces sex, sexuality, and pleasure. That may sound hedonistic, but I think of hedonism as pleasure to the point of obsession. I don't see anything wrong with sex or the naked human body. Sex feels good. So why not do it? (provided both parties consent, of course). Carnal desires for sex are not things to be repressed. I think they are things to be celebrated with a willing partner or by yourself.
I also find porn to be interesting beyond the satisfaction of carnal desires. I find it conveys a powerful idea: sex for pleasure. Unfortunately, society has for so long and continues to be bombarded with the message that sex is wrong, that nudity is wrong, that the human body is wrong, and that pleasure is wrong. I sincerely disagree. I think that they are wonderful things that should be explored, celebrated, and enjoyed. While most porn probably does not contemplate deeper philosophical implications of its existence, its existence does, nonetheless, present those implications.
As mentioned above, porn requires a participant with a confident body image. It takes guts and confidence in one's self to disrobe for all the world to see, let alone proceed to engage in deeply personal acts with another person, who may be a complete stranger, all the while on camera. If someone does porn for the attention, what's wrong with that? The actress gets what she wants, the customers get what they want, and, provided its consensual and the actress is safe and adequately compensated, I do not see a problem. The ideas that porn puts forth, whether intentionally or unintentionally, are that sex is okay, that pleasure is okay, that the human body is okay, and that enjoying yourself is okay. It's not just okay, it's good. All porn is art, though not all art is porn.
Porn as Unstructured Art:
Unstructured porn is simply porn that does not involve the application of skill, creativity, or imagination in its creation. Generally speaking, I tend to think most, but not necessarily all, amateur porn falls into this category. It's really just two people having sex in front of a camera. That said, amateur porn can be surprisingly imaginative, which would put it into the Structured Art category.
People who do not know how to properly operate a camera and people who are not particularly knowledgeable in having sex (whether it's for the pleasure of the parties involved, the pleasure of an audience, or for some other purpose) would not exercise any particular skills required to produce the resulting porn. Similarly, people who don't give much, if any, thought to the position of the camera, the lighting, the setting, the narrative surrounding the sex (if any), the positions used, the things done, and so on aren't exercising much, if any, imagination. There is nothing particularly skilful or imaginative about its productive.
Porn as Structured Art:
Structured porn is simply porn that does involve the application of skill, creativity, or imagination in its creation. Ideally, it should involve skill and creativity, but it's not essential. The position, settings, and general use of the camera and lighting to produce the best visual result from the equipment requires a surprising degree of technical skill. Additionally, the actors involved can also exercise skill in what they do on screen. Certain acts are more difficult to perform and more experience actors will know which positions and acts will produce a more appealing or otherwise stimulating result for the actors, the audience, or both. For example, the actor or director may know that a woman arching her back in certain positions is more appealing/stimulating than having her hunched forward. This knowledge and its application is skill.
Creativity and imagination also plays a role. The setting, the narrative (even if it is basic), positions used, acts done, make up, and so on can all have creative aspects. Porn is generally not particularly complex in its story-telling and I'm not arguing that its very creative, but it still has a creative component.
Conclusion: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
My approach is to do away with the discussion of whether something is art and focus instead on whether it is enjoyable art. There is no objective answer to the question: is this a good piece of art? There is no right answer to this question. Every person has to decide for himself whether he thinks a piece is good, bad, or somewhere in between, and the answer will vary from person to person. The art you like has just as much of a right to be seen and enjoyed as the art you don't like.
In this sense, art is a lot like food. Anything that can be safely eaten is food. The question is not whether, for example, salmon is food, but whether salmon is good food. Each person must answer for himself whether he likes salmon. I don't like salmon; I think it's disgusting, but it's still food regardless of what I or anyone else thinks. If someone likes salmon and wants to eat it, then they're entirely within their right to do so. It would be wrong of me to tell other people they can't enjoy salmon just because I don't enjoy it. The same goes for art.
Anyone is free to disagree with me; I'm not trying to impose my definition of or standards for art on anyone else. Given the subjective nature of art, it would be incongruous to say that there is any objective standard to distinguish art from non-art.
Everything is art. These are but the glasses through which I see the world; yours will no doubt be tinted a different shade.