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Art and PornograPhy

Paul Dumol

This

dislineuishcs art

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from potnrysplry uril.tcn.Ay .4n emt'nmt

mticle is a much'auaited-

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ometimes one hears the remark, "That's not

pomography; that's art," as though art and

pornography were the opposite ends of the same

spectrum: the one is not the other; something cannot be

both art and pomogtaphy at the same time' I do not

think, however, that the possibility of "artistic

pornography'' is something anyone would challenge'

Similarly, no one would challenge the possibility of

"pornographic art'' todaY. What I am saying in effect is that it is possible

for something to be both art and pomography, which means that the two are not opposite ends of the same

spectrum. The reason for this is that pomography has to

do with the subject matter, while art has to do with the

way something is made. The one does not exclude the

other. \Alhen art is pomographic, then all strictures on

pomography apPly. Art does not excuse what is wrong' On the other hand, the fact that pomography is artistic

tu&bfrEMis 173

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does not make it morally acceptable; art falls under ethics and morals. The reason is that ethics and morals cover all

human actions, and the creation of art is a human action'

an object's maker that makes that object pomographic or

not. If, however, someone were to decide to make a

billboard which he then put up, we would

pomographic

hard to call the billboard pomographic if it

find'it

provoked

laughter instead of leers' Pornography means

etymologically "writing about harlots"' not for

sociological PurPoses, but to produce in the reader the

sort of pleasure we associate with sex' When something

meant to be pomographic produces no such pleasure' then we are surely justified in wondering whether it is

even Pomography.

of something as art does not make it so' An

The same thing is tme of art' The

declaration

artist on the other hand may decide to paint a nude' He

shows it to a friend, and the friend says' "I find it too

sexy'' (or "vety sext''). Let us suPPose this was not the

artist's intention. Let us say further he insists that he has

created a work oi art and will exhibit it as such. The long

queue of males who obviously do not usually frequent

art galleries, but who stand in line to take a look at the painting may convince him that, even if his intention was

solely to create a work of art, he has unintentionally

created pornography. What decides whether an object is

pomographic or not is the work itself'

174 Iow, fuuality atn Friad*ip

Let me discuss two subjects that frequently

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surface with regard to art and pornography. The first is

nudity. The perception of a painting of a nude is not the

ii same as the_perception of a nude in a photograph. The

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ii difference is in the medium. A painting (and like i! a

statue) is a representation of its subject matter; a

photograph is a record of it. Between the viewer of a

painting of a nude and the nude model is the painter: the

painter sees the naked model and translates what he sees

into a painting. When we see a painting from life, we are

never aCiually sure whether what we see in the painting

is what we would have seen in the artis/s studio had we

been present while the artist was painting. On the contrary, no one intrudes, so to speak, between the

viewer of a photograph of a nude and the

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nude model: the camera, we assume,

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has captured exactly what we

would have seen had we been

present in the studio during

the

photo shoot. A

representation refers us as

much to the author of the

representation as to its subject

matter; a record by definition

refers us to what is recorded.

The next best thing to actually

seeing a person is to look at

Ba&.tohe&osirs 175

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his photograph. This is the reason why we normally

carry phbtos, nbt drawings, of our loved ones in our

wallets. This is the reason why you will rarely (or never)

find pornographic magazines illustrated with paintings

and drawings: the PhotograPh is the illustration of

choice. What this means is that ihe ethical principles that

govern

gazing at a naked person govern the act of

looking at photographs of naked persons' with few

exceptions if any, but do not govern the viewing of

paintings of naked Persons' A nude in a movie' which is

composed of photographs, is not the same as a nude in a

painting: the difference is in the medium' and the

difference determines our reaction to it'

Let me briefly consider two misunderstandings

of the foregoing. One concerns the photographer: does he

not "represent" as much as the painter does? Why cannot

his work be called representation as well? The answer to

this is a consideration of how ihe photographic image is

simpiy put, the film in the camera captures

produced:

light

waves 6ouncing off the subject' The camera is a

passive instrument in the production of the photographic

image. Its closest counterpart in the art of painting is the

surface of the painting: the canvas or the paper' The

photographer sets the conditions for the production of the photographic image: attending to both camera and

subject. When he presses the button of the camera'

however, the camera takes the picture without his direct

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176 InE, fuinli\ anFti.nddriP

intewention in the Process: the light waves travel from

subject to film without his assistance. The equivalent of

the light waves in the Process of painting is pigment

paintbrush, and the artisfs hand: the painted image is produced directly by the artist through the mediation of

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his own sense of sight. The painter is personally involved
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li painting sends us ultimately to the painter; in contrast,

in the production of the painted image' This is why the

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the photograph sends us directly to the model: the

model, in the process by which the photographic image is

produced, is the equivalent of the painier; hence, the

nature of the photograPh as a record of the model'

A second misunderstanding regards the nature

of the painting: can not a painting be used as a record

and is this not what historians do? A painting can

certainly be used as a record, but tltat does not change

what it is: it is a representation. My remarks about how

we perceive paintings and photographs refer to what

paintings and photographs are respectively. Paintings

and photographs may be used for a variety of purposes,

but these purPoses do not affect what they are and

consequently how we perceive them whether as

paintings or photograPhs.

The second subject related to art and

pornography is the depiction of erotica. Sometimes the

argument is given that realism demands the depiction of

erotica, which is, after all, very much a part of human

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reality. What the argument usually forgets is that part of

the reality of human sexual love is intimacy' By

"intimaq/' I do not mean "dn amorously familiar act'' or

"sexual intercourse," both meanings given by the

dictionary for "intimacy." I mean rather.-"privacy" -yet

another meaning of "intimacy." The human being is the

only animal that engages in sexual intercourse in private'

Intimacy in the sense of privary is part of the reality of

human sexual relations, and so the artist who wishes to

depict erotica in the name of realism must include this in

his depiction. Is this possible at all? Does not the very

nature of depiction, which consists in the public

presentation of something violate intimary? The

problem is not as difficult in literature as it is in the visual

arts and is at its most challenging in the theater' We

know how some filmmakers try to solve the problem:

medium shots limited to head and shoulders of the

couple. The special nature of such Scenes, however' even

with the precautions taken by filmmakers, usually spells

the difference inthe rating of films' Let me Spend some sPace on intimary ' "Privacy"

merely hints at the deeper meaning of the word' Other

meanings are "a closg familiar, and usually affectionate

or loving personal relationship with another Person or

group" and "an act or expression serving as a token of

familiarity, affection, or the like'" These meanings are all

related-even "ptivacy," "an amorously familiar act"'

178 LotE, fuualitV frtd hiqMip

and "sexual intercourse." I like to think of intimacy as an inner space in each person into which we welcome only

people we trusf friends. It is related to the Tagalog

kalooban. Only persons have intimacy; animals and things

do not. When we say of someone in Tagalog that

"nagbukas siya ng kalooban" ("he opened up"), the sense

is not so much something private being made public as

rather allowing someone entrance into one's private life. Intimacy is very much related to one's personhood, to

one's being a person.

The opposite of being a person is being an

object. It is a violation of personhood to treat someone

like an obiect. Histprically, there have been two ways in which human beings have tended to treat other human beings as objects- as slaves and as prostitutes. We know this is wrong. Feminists rightly complain about women being made into objects. All the preceding discussion of nudity and erotica in film is really about preventing

people from being treated like objects. The main difference between a pomographic film and a

pornographic novel is that the former uses photographs of real persons, real naked persons: it involves the violation of the personhood of real people, something

you don't have in pornographic literature. The argument is sometimes given that erotica is

allowable in a work of art if its context justifies it, as

when it is called for by the plot of a film. In reply,

M.hfrEB6i6 179

however, we should point out that the negative ethical

character of pornography comes precisely from its being the great de-contextualizer. Pornography has the nature

of a stimulus working on the imagination tfuough the

senses. That stimulus is always predented in a context:

the context of a painting or the context of a piece of

literature. The person that uses pomography to stimulate

his imagination precisely detaches the stimulating image or scene from its context, isolating its erotic charge or

investing the image or scene with an erotic value on

which the imagination concentrates. De-contextualization

is the characteristic of the patron of pornography who

detaches sex itself from its proper context in human

reality; thus, the placement of an erotic scene in a specific

context does not insure it will not be used as a sexual

stimulus.

Any dictionary will fumish you a definition of

pornography. I would like to consider, however, three

different meanings that pomography may have. I call the first the personal meaning of pornography, whal it means

in the life of a particular individual. The second is the

social meaning of pornography, what it means in relation

to the life of the people who make up a society, which is

viewed as consisting of children, adolescents, and adults.

The third is the legal meaning of pornography, which

considers the forms of pornography considered

pemicious for society as a whole, whether children,

180 Isx, fuualitY mdFnmdCry

adolescents, or adults. These three should not be

confused with one another.

The first meaning 6t po*og"phy is the primary

one: what it means to the individual' By this I do not

mean to proPose a subjectivistic view of pomography' to

claim that pomography is what you claim it to be'

Enough people agree on the meaningof pornography fot it

to have a definition in the dictionary' Persons may differ'

however, in what actually serves as an effective stimulus

to their imagination to provoke sexual pleasure: some

may be more affected visually; others by sounds; still

others may be affected only by graphic representations;

some others, by what most other people would consider

innocent pictures. I do not mean to claim that there are

wide radical differences between what seduces (in the

manner of the harlots being written about) different

individuals. Doubtless, most people are seduced by the

same sounds, images, or descriptions; otherwise' pomography would not be the multi-biliion dollar

industry it now is. Nevertheless, individual differences

do eist, and these are what the personal meaning of

pornography encomPasses. It won't do to say one can

look at a photograph one finds stimulating, on the

grounds that everyone else is not stimulated by it; the

point is yau are, and so for you, that photograph is in

effect pomograPhic. The second meaning of pornograplty is best

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undeistood as what understanding parents have in mind

when thuy educate their children in handling

pornography. This meaning ditfers from the first because

now we have the case of someone considering the

meaning of pomography not exclusively for himself but

also for others. Father or mothei are invariably

influenced by the personal meaning pomography has for them. Part of the second meaning of pornography is what

we may call its conventional meaning-what most

people think it is.

The third meaning of pornography is as the law

definesit.Ifthesecondmeaningofpornographyisthe

result of society's

third meaning

concern for its younger citizens' the

reflects society's concem to avoid

pollution, to avoid having an environment that is not

healthy for anyone, be he adult, adolescent' or child'

These three different meanings of pornography

should not be confused with one another; otherwise'

many problems arise' It would be a mistake for society as

awholeortheindividualswhomakeituptoreduce

pornography"to its legal definition' It would be a mistake for parents to allow the personal meaning pornography

has in their lives to dictate how to educate their children

in handling PomograPhY'

We should not forget that what ethics demands

ofthehumanbeingisnotavoidingpornogtaphy'but

rather cultivating the virtue

of

purity or chastity'

182 IDw, %uolity ntdFrienMip

Avoiding pornography makes sense only if one struggles

to cultivate the virtue of purity; otherwise, one cultivates

neuroses. Part of the struggle is the education of the eyes to be able to see chastely works of art whose theme is the

beauty of the human body. There are certain professions

which demand a special education of the senses with

regard to the naked human body. Consider the

physician, the painter, and the film critic. In their

professions, they must develop certain strategies to avoid

violating ethical principles, while going about their

professional work. To a certain extent the ordinary adult

is expected to develop similar habits, That is the meaning

of films restricted to adults. Obviously, these will not be

films that violate the iaws of the country regarding

pornography, and yet, because of their delicate subject

matter, they are restricted to adults. The assumption here

is that the adult has a measure of self-control the

adolescent does not have, that he knows how to see

without looking and when to do so, that he knows,

because he knows himself, when to avert his eyes or

when to disfract his mind from what he hears. He knows

as well when to get up and leave.

More than two thousand years ago Aristotle

observed that the best guide in ethical matters is the virtuous man. We recognize that. We do not usually

choose for film review boards the most depraved

members of the community. When in doubt about our

k&hhctuis 183

own reaction to a particular film or artwork, our guide should be the virtuous man who may tell us we did right averting our gaze or that we should school ourselves

gradually in looking.

This is an original article printed by permission from the author.