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02 MOTHERWELL ARTICLE

Are nude photos art or is any nude photography actually porn? It’s a debate that rages among photographers and the general public. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue and opinions vary across cultures of course.

I’m torn on this. However, I think photography is porn when it specifically created to drive sales of pornographic material and to be used as a sexual stimulant for men or women. There’s a fine line between degradation of nudity for profit or for art. The intent is at question and sometimes it’s hard to decipher. Each of us need to draw our own conclusions. Regardless porn to stimulate and not harm is different from porn meant to inflict harm and to stimulate those feelings of degradation that cause humans to feel hostility, power and control over another human being. That’s where I draw the line.

Porn and Art Defined

Merriam-Webster defines pornography as:
“1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
2: material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction ”

Art is harder to define. While Merriam-Webster defines art as: “a : the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced”

From these two definitions we see the idea that pornography is more about intent than what is depicted. The idea is to excite the viewer in a sexual way. Art, on the other hand, is simply to be aesthetically pleasing. The question many run into however, is whether ANY nude representation can be anything but porn.

Why All the Fuss Over Nude Pictures?

While artists have been depicting the nude form for generations (things like the sculpture of “The Thinker”), photography is more often singled out as being “inappropriate” for nude representations because they are exact copies of a real subject. The realism of the nude form makes many uncomfortable with the representation where white stone statues from antiquity or pencil sketches (no matter how detailed) do not seem as “real” to many viewers as photos. The realism of the photographs lends them to the idea of being more morally serious to view than a drawing or sculpture. Because real people are depicted within nude photographs, many people feel like they are invading on private moments – as though they were standing in the room when the photo was taken. This realism makes it much harder for many people to view nude photography objectively. Boudoir photography often walks a knife’s edge on whether it is art or porn without even showing any nudity because the intent is to elicit arousal. However, because the subject is usually clothed, more people are less upset by boudoir photography than nude photography.

So Can A Nude Photo Be Art?

I think a nude photo can be art. However, far too many people have tried to label pornography as art for long enough that many people are very wary of nude photography in general. Think of it this way – for a nude photo to be art the idea of nudity itself isn’t the focus of the photo. In art the nudity is secondary to the subject form or another idea. The subject is nude because clothing would interfere with the lines of the form, not because someone is “turned on” by the idea of nudity. Nude photographic art is not about sex, if it is about sex it becomes porn by definition (see the Merriam-Webster definition above).

But Is It Really Porn?

Like most folks I have my own ideas on when a nude photo or other nude depiction leaves the realm of art and becomes pornography. Style and composition rules have less to do with whether a photo is porn than what part of the subject is the focus of the composition. In general, if the focus of the photo is the genital areas or a sexual act it most likely constitutes porn…no matter how “artistically” you pose the subject(s). If the photo includes any pose you have seen in Playboy or Hustler or any other publication of that type, it is very unlikely to be art and is most likely porn. If your website uses words like “sexy,” “hot,” “slut,” or any other word you might see in a XXX movie advertisement anywhere in the description of your photos, I submit that it falls under the definition of porn because of intent (see the Merriam-Webster definition above).

Is it Art or Porn? Some further Points to Ponder.

Art Porn
Main subject is the form as a whole Main subject is a genital area
Poses often modest Poses designed to suggest sexual acts
Often utilizes silhouettes or soft focus Lighting is often harsh and focus is detailed
Subject is treated with respect within the photo Subject is often degraded within the photo