Art or Pornography?

There are many debates that seem to endlessly spin on over time and one that has always fascinated me is the exact location of the thin line between art and pornography. This may seem like a moot point and it is also possible that most people will have already made up their minds when shown a particular film or picture, but is it really such an easy question?


Our archaeological history is littered with erotic images, a lot of which are highly explicit and yet many are displayed openly in the museums of the world on the basis that they are ‘art’. This surely raises the question; does the age of a thing magically transform it from something that people freak out about and try to ban, into something fully acceptable that forms the basis of many a school trip and mid-term essay?

Also, is it the medium that allows us to categorise erotica into either art or porn? Does this mean that if porn studios the world over began producing box-covers made from pottery or mosaic then suddenly everything from the top shelf would be fully acceptable for every conservative minded ban-everything busy-body the world over?

Getting a bit more up to date, let’s consider the world of oil painting. Granted there were apparently times when even the sight of a bare table leg could whip up hormones into a foaming frenzy, but were people really going around humping tables because the carpenter had managed to capture something that resembled a vaguely curvy smooth surface? What on Earth did they do when faced with something as sensual as say, a pumpkin? Have you seen the curves on some of those pumpkins? Anyway, Oil painting is possibly the most widely available form of pre-twentieth century erotica displayed openly in the world’s museums and indeed much of it is considered some of the best work our species has ever produced. Caravagio’s work is littered with erotic references and somehow that still gets displayed in actual churches.

A couple of years ago I helped organise an exhibition in Berlin called simply ‘Art or Pornography’ and it was great fun. Firstly, it was packed with all the kind of people who go to exhibitions like that. The people from the eco-porn activist site ‘Fuck for Forest’ turned up and within minutes there were naked, body-painted women walking around admiring the work on the walls as they in turn were painted with their own form of freeform art. Another artist made a video showing how she had painted many pictures on display in the exhibition, using only some paint brushes and her Vagina. The overall feeling was that everyone participating had thought about this question and helped blur the line even further.

Naturally, if you go with the definition that well-made porn can be art then the human race has done a great deal of work to fill up the internet with art. In fact it is recommend to appreciate art at least twice a day if you want a healthy and happy life and let’s face it – When was the last time somebody told you that appreciating art too much will make you go blind or grow hair on your palms?