What makes porn pornographic?

February 21, 2013
What makes porn pornographic?
I was in a reputable San Francisco art gallery the other day and saw this. 
From across the room it was evocative of the playfully sexy Vargas girls of days gone by. 
But when I got closer, it just looked exploitive. 
Crass. 
It didn’t look like fine modern art at all.
It looked like porn.
I love Vargas girls and think they’re sexy art. But that girl on a cigar?
Porn.
So, serious question:
what makes porn pornographic?

Alberto Vargas girl of the 1940s
7 comments on “What makes porn pornographic?
  1. That’s a tough one. In some ways porn is in the eye of the beholder.
    Here’s what Wiki says: Pornography is often distinguished from erotica, which consists of the portrayal of sexuality with high-art aspirations, focusing also on feelings and emotions, while pornography involves the depiction of acts in a sensational manner, with the entire focus on the physical act, so as to arouse quick intense reactions.

    That’s a good differentiation. And, then there’s the porn that is exploitative, violent, deviant (as in child porn) etc….
    I don’t mind explicit content, but as a woman it bothers me to see images that serve to exploit, demean, violate and objectify women. And, I suspect we each have a different way of defining that!

  2. Jane Gassner says:

    Some Supreme Court justice is famous for having said something like, “I can’t actually define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” So–to agree with Walker et al that it’s in the eye of the beholder. Which is what makes it so difficult to legislate about.

  3. Ellen Dolgen says:

    What a provocative question. Perhaps it’s the viewer and why they’re viewing it that makes distinguishes “pornography” from “art”?

  4. Wow, what a surprise. I didn’t start my day realizing I would get a lesson about porn. Being the secretary of an Arts Council and having represented artists in the past, here’s my take. Art with nudity can always be controversial because of our conservatism, but anything that shows people, animals in sexual or violent acts is pornographic.

  5. Brenda, maybe it’s more that you’re helping TEACH a lesson about porn? You raise good points.

  6. It’s a fine line isn’t it? Even as I ponder it, I cant zero in on it!

  7. Maryl says:

    Ditto, art is in the eye of the beholder. My daughter who is studying photography at art school just got her first assignment to photograph a nude. Interpreting the human body is still subject matter to be studied in the arts field. The example used in this post seems very commercial to me…sex sells. So maybe there’s three classes…art – advertising – porn. But it can be a thin line for each of us.

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