In the end of 1980s many countries outlawed child pornography — the "with children", not "for children" variety. As that happened, they needed a way to "separate the wheat from the chaff" or, put another way, to distinguish between illegal pornography and legitimate art. No one wanted to ban or censor Nabokov's Lolita and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or their film renditions with 14 and 15 year old actresses playing adolescents in sexually explicit situations. That's why from the very beginning courts and lawmakers made artistic works clearly exempt from the new laws.
Nabokov's Lolita was saved, but, unexpectedly, others sneaked in as well. LolitasArt, LolitaFix, LolitasHeaven, LolitasLife, NextDoorLolita, NightLolitas, PreLolita and tens of others, as well as Nymphets, Virgins and Angels cropped up on the Net. These sites offered photos strictly for the artistic appreciation of the beauty of nude prepubescent and adolescent girls and boys. What was called softcore porn before became art.
But you have to give these sites their due, because they pay much more attention to the selection of their models than their adult colleagues. And the pictures usually look better, with original costumes and creative decorations. But is that enough to consider them art, when their main purpose was clearly to provide sexual stimulation for the viewers? People who answered negatively soon faced an even more complex question. New sites appeared that featured seemingly "innocent" photos of clothed girls doing mundane tasks like cooking, playing or swimming. Parents offered a masterful picture of injured innocence, pretending that other children of the same age were the target audience, apparently paying tens of dollars for memberships per month. :)
The thin line between art and child pornography became much thinner in recent years.
The lolita art sites started to experiment within the limits of possible. One site, "after receiving numerous requests to shoot two or three girls together... [came up] with a project that represents a new level of professionalism." They came all the way to this mysterious line and stopped right before it, offering pictures of 12, 13, and 14 years old girls almost having lesbian sex. Almost, but not quite. "The girls... were kissing, touching and hugging each other with more than friendly attitude." "[One of them] always liked Sveta and... decided to seduce her. But she wanted it even more!!!" The sites do not mention the word "sex" and they never fully show it, but they imply it in a completely obvious way.
But these sites know where they must stop, at least with 7 y.o. models. "Chic bathroom. Soft and wet body always looks so tempting! It seems that our attentions to each other are no more so innocent…but we still kept on playing. I don't think that it will turn into something more. I love my sister only as a sister." says one of the younger characters. Producers, photographers and content managers all need a unique sense of decorum. They must be careful not to upset the public and not to expose themselves to legal liability, while continuing to provide the subscribers with more and more risque works.
No one can deny that such works have a certain pornographic quality to them. But there is also an artistic side, even if the question of the work's artistic value is left solely to the viewer. And as these "artists" walk on this path, drawing a clear line becomes more and more difficult. One can even speculate that at some moment it will become impossible — if the pornographers maintain the same standards of quality and artistic merit, while pushing farther and farther into the realm of pornography. The same already happened in the 20th century, when pornography found its way into mainstream culture. This undoubtedly may happen again.
In the Western cultural tradition we see art as at most softcore erotica. The Greco-Roman art and the art of Renaissance at most showed nude women, nude men and sometimes nude children. Some of Bouguereau's paintings may be considered erotic, but they definitely are not pornographic. The hardcore art was usually censored and hidden in places where general public can't see it. But in other cultures (Japan and China come to mind), pornographic art was much more prevalent. And if pornography can be artistic, why can't child porn?
Once you know that there is no line, crossing it becomes simply a matter of patience and caution. When will we see the legitimation of hardcore child pornography? I don't know, may be when computer-generated porn will become mainstream. But one thing is already clear — by masquerading as art, child porn managed to grasp the market and public consciousness and is here to stay.