Recently, in class, I was assigned to write a paper, arguing a controversial argument. Since I am an artist, I decided to argue Art vs Pornography. In my research, I looked up the definitions of both these words. What I found was shocking! According to Merriam- Webster, a work of art, by definition, is something that gives high aesthetic satisfaction and gives sensational feelings to the viewer or listener. Pornography, is the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse an intense emotional reaction. Therefore, it seems to me, that pornography and art are the same thing, purely by definition! Does this mean that everything we look at is pornography!? My God! How do we escape from this hole of immorality?
Well kids, we don’t. So enjoy!

There's an extensive literature on this theme. One of the more interesting titles might be:

  • Edward de Grazia. Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius (Random House, 1992)

  • There's also an extensive and highly controversial array of feminist writings on the subjects of art, pornography and objectification, looking at the relationships between artist and subject. Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin's work in this area have perhaps drawn the most attention, and are often presented as the only feminist viewpoint on the subject. Pat Califia, Annie Sprinkle and many others, though, have presented dissenting points of view, and the issue is far from settled within feminism itself.

    MacKinnon's works include Only Words, a legal argument for rethinking many first amendment assumptions, arguing that some forms of speech may be a form of assault. A book that deserves its own node, as its effects have been felt widely in many areas, including the ongoing struggles to define and control "hate speech." MacKinnon and Dworkin are probably best known for working to enact anti-pornography laws which have, for the most part, been overturned in court cases, but continue to have a profound resonance in the current struggle to balance rights to free expression against other rights, as well as the courts' presumed obligation to protect all citizens from threats and violence that arise from individual differences or from widespread social prejudices against various minority populations, sexual, racial and other types.

    DeGrazia treats some of these issues in his book, though largely from the perspective of defending artistic expression, while MacKinnon and Dworkin offer their own perspectives in many of their books, essays and speeches as well. These include: In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings, a collection of court documents (mainly) related to the hearings regarding the Minneapolis anti-pornography statute and the civil rights arguements used to argue for its passage.

    MacKinnon has also written works that seek to define a feminist theory of government and related issues in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.

    There are an equal or greater number of feminist writings that take issue with many of the positions argued by MacKinnon, Dworkin and their supporters. This topic calls for multiple nodes, some of which already exist for at least some of those feminists who have written in defense of the status quo where artistic, verbal and audio-visual forms of expression are concerned.

  • Art history texts, and texts that look at the creative process itself, also offer hints of the complexities that surround questions of artist and subject, the ethics of representation and the difficulties of drawing easy distinctions between art and pornography. Until there exists a good synthesizing treatment of the present (and historic) feminist debate, I would tend to find much of the critical and art historian views of somewhat greater interest. A few titles that touch on the subject include:

    • Anne Hollander. Seeing Through Clothes
    • Rosemary Betterton. Women, Artists and the Body
    • James Elkins. The Object Stares Back
    • Roland Barthes. The Fashion System
    • other titles by Barthes, perhaps.


    This is far from a complete listing, I am sure.

(The de Grazia book, which is an attempt to assemble a history of art and "obscenity" conflicts and legal cases in the U.S. and Britain includes an extensive bibliography.)

One of my biggest hobbies is using Adobe Photoshop. What I do with Photoshop is make pictures. Nude pictures. I will spend hours working on a single picture. It may start out as porn. But it is completely different by the time I am done. I usually start with a picture off one porn site or another. But the first thing I do is remove everything from the picture except for the girl I am concerned with. (I always use pictures where the girl isn't actually doing anything sexual to begin with). Then I will go over the picture with a fine toothed comb, smoothing the girls skin out, removing tattoos, etc. (The blur tool in Photoshop is great for smoothing out skin).

Finally I am ready to actually make my picture. Which may take days. Sometimes I use natural environments, sometimes the girl will be someplace totally strange. But when I am done I believe I have created a piece of art.

I will usually print my picture up on photo paper and hang it up near my desk. Then my roommate Tammy walks by and says, "There goes Paige with the Porn again".

So why is a picture of a nude woman considered pornography by some many people, and why is it art if it is in black and white, or in the form of a painting? Should I spend my spare time working on pictures of kittens and puppies instead? Or should I continue doing what I want to do despite what other people think? I already know what I will continue to do. I just wish the world could be as open minded.

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