• Brain Booster Articles


Author: Sameer Afzal Ansari, III year of B.A.,LL.B. from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University

Critically texamine twhether tit tis tpossible tto tdistinguish tconvincingly between tart tand tpornography


The tdistinctions tbetween tart tand tpornography tis tone tthat tthe tlaw thas struggled twith. tThere thave tbeen tmany tattempts tof tdefining tthe ttwo tby many tart tcritics tand tauthors. tWhile tthere tare tindeed tstandard distinctions between tart tand tpornography, tthere tare tstill tlimitations tbehind tthese arguments. tThere tis tstill tan tinevitable toverlap tbetween tart tand pornography tthat tmakes tit tdifficult tto teasilydistinguish tbetween tart tand pornography.

Classic distinctions between art and pornography

Firstly, tit tmay tseem tlike tit tis tpossible tto tdistinguish tconvincingly between art tand tpornography tby trelying ton tthe tclassic tdistinctions. tOne tof tthe main tobvious tdifferences tis tthat tpornography tis texplicit tand tobjectifies people twhile tart tis tsubjective tand trelies ton topinions tfrom tthe tviewer. This tis tsupported tby tviews tfrom tacademics tlike tAnn tEaton twho tposits that tto tenjoy tporn, tyou thave tto tobjectify twomen t(at tleast temporarily),and tone tis tunable tto tdo tthis twhile tsimultaneously contemplating tits tartistic tvalue.This tmeans tthat tviewers tof tpornographic pictures twill ttypically tfocus ton tthe tbody tparts tinvolved tin tpornography while tviewers tof tartwork twill ttake tthe tart tpiece tas ta twhole tand tnot tto simply taccept tit tat tfacevalue.

Another tclassic tdistinction twould tdepend ton tthe tresponse tinvoked tfrom the tviewer. tIf ta twork tseems tto tbe tsolely tdesigned tto tarouse tsexual response, tthen tit tis tviewed tas tpornography. tArt tinvites tthe tviewer tto appreciate tthe twork tand tit tis tmore tthan tjust ta tphysiological tresponse. Jerrold tLevinson thas tmentioned tthat tart tis tcentrally taimed tat taesthetic experience twhile tpornography tis tsolely taimed tat tsexual tarousal. He tfeels that tthe ttwo tare tincompatible. tIn tother twords, tthe tdifferent tresponse invoked tby tthe tviewer tis twhat tdetermines twhether tsomething tis tart tor pornography.

People tgenerally tperceive tart tas tpossessing tan telement tof tbeauty tand pornography tas tone tthat tis tnon-aesthetic. tFreud thas tonce tmentioned that ‘the tgenitals tthemselves, tthe tsight tof twhich tis talways texciting, tare thardly ever tregarded tas tbeautiful.Critics tlike tRoger tScruton thas talso tsaid t‘the pornographic timage tis tlike ta tmagic twand tthat tturns tsubjects tinto tobjects, people tinto tthings t tand tthereby tdisenchants tthem, tdestroying tthe source of ttheir tbeauty.George tP. tElliot thas tdefined tpornography tas t‘the representation tof tdirectly tor tindirectly terotic tarts twith tan tintrusive vividness twhich toffends tdecency twithout taesthetic tjustification.’This tshows how tsome tart tcritics tfeel tstrongly tabout tpornography tbeing tstrictly tnon-aesthetic tas tcompared tto tart twhere tits tbeauty tis tto tbe tappreciated. Lynda Nead tsees tart tas ta tsign tof t‘cleanliness tand tlicit tmorality’, twhere ton tthe other thand tpornography t‘symbolizes tfilth tand tthe tillicit’.She tis tof tthe strong topinion tthat tart treflects thigh tsocial tvalues twhere tpornography reflects tthe tothertspectrum tof tthe tsociety twhich tis tone tthat tis trotten. Hans tMae tis tof tthe tsimilar tview tof tLynda tNead tas the tmentions tthat ‘art is tconcerned twith tbeauty, twhile tpornography tis tnon-aesthetic tand “smutty”’.This tshows thow tpornography tis tstereotypically tviewed tas tnon-aesthetic tpleasing tand tthis tis tdistinguished twhen tcomparing tthe tbeauty of art.

Another tdifference tbetween tthem tis tthat tthere tis tthe tpossibility tof contemplation twhen tlooking tat tart tand tthis tis tabsent twhen tviewing pornography. tSchopenhauer thas tsaid tthat tnudes tprevent taesthetic contemplation tas tit tinevitably texcites tlust tand tthus truns tcounter tto tthe proper tgoals tof tart tlike taesthetic tappreciation.Kenneth tClark thas mentioned tto tthe tLord tLongford tcommittee ton tpornography tthat t‘art exists tin tthe trealm tof tcontemplating, tand tis tbound tby tsome tsort tof imaginative ttransposition. tThe tmoment tart tbecomes tan tincentive tto action tit tloses tits ttrue tcharacter.’This tmeans tthat tart trequires tone tto enter tthe tsphere tof tcontemplation, tif tthis tis tnot tpossible, ta tsubject cannot tbe tdeemed tas tart.

Limitations of these classic distinctions

However, twhile tthese tclassic tdistinctions tmay tassist tone tin tdistinguishing between tart tand tpornography, tthey tare tnot twithout tflaws.

One tcan targue tthat tthere tare tinherent tflaws tin tthe targuments tof tthe classic tdistinctions. tIt tmay tbe tpossible tto tobjectify tpeople twhile tthinking about twhether tit tis tart tsimultaneously. tAn texample tof tthis twould tbe tthe artwork t“Arsewoman tin tWonderland” tby tFiona tBanner. tThe tgallery tblurb states tthat tBanner thas t‘used tpornographic tfilm tto texplore tsexuality tand the textreme tlimits tof twritten tcommunication’.This tis tone tway twhere women tare tobjectified tand tone tcan tthink tabout twhether tit tis tart tat tthe same ttime.

Ultimately, tthe tage told tadage twhere tbeauty tis tin tthe teye tof tthe beholder can tbe tapplied tto tdistinguishing tart tand tpornography tin tterms tof aesthetics. tWhat tcould tbe tconsidered tas taesthetic tpleasing tto tone tmay not tbe tviewed tas taesthetic tpleasing tto tanother. tAn texample tof tthis tis the replica tof tMarcel tDuchamp’s t“Fountain” twhich tconsists tof ta tstandard urinal tthat tis tlaid tflat ton tits tback. tThis tcertainly tmay tnot tbe tviewed tas aesthetically tpleasing tto tsome tbut tit tremains tas tone tof this tmost tfamous artworks. tThis tshows tthat tthis tcertain tdistinction tmay tnot talways tbe effective tin tdistinguishing tthe ttwo.

Other tfactors tlike tculture tplay tan timportant trole tin tlimiting tor expanding tthe tdefinition tof tboth tart tand tpornography. tPreviously, tin September t2009, ta tphotograph tof t10 tyear told tactress tBrooke tShields, that tconsisted tof ther tfully tmade tup tand tnaked twas tremoved tfrom tTate Modern’s texhibition tat tthe ttime tcalled t“Pop tLife”. tHowever, tnow tArt exhibitions tlike tthe tShunga texhibitionin tthe tBritish tMuseum tin t2014 portrays tpornographic tart tpictures tdone tby tJapanese tartists tshow thow modern tculture tis tbecoming tmore taccepting tand tliberal, tthus texpanding the tinformal tdefinition tof tpornography. tThis tshows thow tculture hastevolved tover tthe tyears tin tline twith tmodern tvalues tand tchanges tin perception. tThis tmeans tthat tit tis tchallenging tfor tthere tto tbe tatfixed definition tof tpornography tglobally tand tthe tever tchanging tglobal tculture makes tit tdifficult tto tdefine t‘pornographic tcontent’ tin tsociety.The tproblem with tart tis tthat tit tis tsometimes tnot tseen tas tgreat tuntil tit tis tlooked tat decades tin tadvance. tIf tart tis tclassified tas tpornography timmediately ton its creation tas tis tcensored, tone tmight tnot tknow thow tgreat tart tis. tWith tthe lack tof ta tdefinition, tit tis tinevitable tthat tpornography tand tart tinherently overlap tin tcertain taspects.

Instances where art and pornography inherently overlap

Furthermore, twhile tthe tdistinctions tmay thelp tto tclarify tthe tinherent differences tbetween tcertain texamples tof tart tand tpornography, tit tdoes tnot serve tto tshow tthat tpornography tand tart tare tfundamentally tincompatible. The targuments tset tforth tby tthe taforementioned tacademics tdo tnot showtthat tart tand tpornography tare tmutually texclusive. tMany tartworks fall in tthe toverlap tbetween tart tand tpornography. tThere tare tmany tworks tof pornography tthat tpossess tfeatures twhich tsupposedly tdisqualify pornography tfrom tthe trealm tof tart. tIf twe tuse tthese tclassic tdistinctions exclusively, tmany tart tworks tmay tfall ton tthe tside tof tpornography.

An texample tof ta tmiddle tground tof tart tand tpornography tis pornographic art. tThis tshows thow tthe toverlap tof tart tand tpornography tis tnot necessarily ta tbad tthing. tWithout tthis toverlap. tMany tmajor tworks tof tart and tliterature tmay tbe tlost tdue tto tits tinability tto tbe tclassified tas tart. tFor example, tLucian tFred’s thighly texplicit tportraits tof this tnude tsubjects tmay be tseen tas tpornography, tbut tthey tare tat tthe tsame ttime thighly expressive. Many tof tRodein’s tpornographic tnude tdrawings tlike tHands ton tHer tSex or Naked tWoman twith tLegs tApart twhich tshow tdrawings tof tfemale tnudes masturbating thas tadditional telements tof tit twhich tcan tbe tperceived tas expressive. tIn tthe tcase tof tliterature, tthe tnovel tVox tby tNicholson tBaker has ta tpornographic tstance tbut tthe tintended tsexual tarousal tgleaned tfrom the treader tis tfurther tenhanced tby tthe tliterary tfeatures tof tthe tnovel. tThis is tan texample tof ta tnovel tthat taims tto tbe tappreciated tas tpornographic art. The tsexual twriting tof tAnais tNin temphasises tstrongly ton tsexual arousal but tthis tis tsimultaneously tdone tin torder tto tbring tto tthe tattention of tthe treader ther tactive tconsciousness tand tdesires tand ther tvarying responses tto tcertain tpeople, tfeeling, tand tsituations.If twe twere tto tclassify these texamples tas tpornography, tthey twould tnot tbe tgiven tthe tcredit tthey deserve tas tgreat tliterary tand tart tworks.

However, tthe tissue tof tpornographic tart thas tbeen thighly tcontested tby critics. tJerrold tLevinson tfeels tthat tpornography tcan tnever tbe tclassified tas art tof tany tkind. tHe tuses tthe taforementioned texample tof tVox tBy Nicholson tBaker tand tstates tthat tit tonly tmimics tand tresembles pornography, tand tit tis tnot tpornography tin tits ttrue tform. tHe tgoes ton tto mention tthat the tdoes tnot tthink tthat tclassifying tpornography tas tart tis ta good tidea tas tit t‘leaves tno tplace tfor tthe tcategory tof terotic tart tas tdistinct from tpornography’.He tfeels tthe tfurthest tone tcan tgo tin trelation tto pornographic tart tis tsimply tart tthat thas ta tpornographic tfeature tor tlook, pornographic tart tshould tnot thave ta tcategory tof tits town.art. The

This tis tnot tto tsay tthat tthere tis tno tplace tfor tpornography tin tart. tTate Britain’s tdirector, tStephen tDeuchar thas tmentioned tbefore tthat t‘much tart is tnot tcomfortable’ twhich tfurther tproves tthat tperhaps tpornography tcan support tart tin tthe tsense tthat tit tadds tto tthe trange tand tcontent tof art.tMany tbelieve tthat tthe tbest tnew tart tallegedly tinfringes trules. Pornography tcan tbe tused tto tinvigorate tmore tconventional tart tor question art’s tsusceptive twork. tPornography tcan talso tserve tto tsuggest ttransgression when tart tflies ttoo tsafely tto tits town tparameters.

On tthe tother thand, tthere tare talso tdisadvantages tto tpornography tentering the tartistic trealm. tPornography tcan tact tas tan tassault tand tcrush televated art tinto tbeing tmore tordinary. tPeople toften tlike tart tas tit tinvokes treality, one tcan targue tthat tvisual tpornography tis toften tstyled tin ta tcertain tway that tdoes tnot tusually trepresent tthe tgreater tpart tof tone’s texperience.

Strict offences of pornography

Perhaps tone tof tthe treasons twhy tit tis timportant tto tbe table tto tdistinguish effectively tbetween tpornography tand tart tis tthat tthere tare tstrict toffences relating tto tpornography. tUnder tthe tsection t48 tof tthe tSexual tOffences Act 2003,tit tis tan toffence tto tcause tor tinvite tchild tprostitution tor pornography. tChild tpornography tis tdefined tas t‘any trepresentation tof ta child tengaged tin treal tor tsimulated texplicit tsexual tactivities tor tany representation tof tthe tsexual tparts tof ta tchild tfor tprimarily tsexual purposes’ t(Optional tProtocol tto tthe tConvention ton tthe tRights tof tthe Child, t2002).There thave tbeen thigh tprofile tpolice tinvestigations tlike Operation tOre tthat tled tto tthe tinvestigation tof tthousands tof tpeople tin relation tto tpossession tof tchild tpornography tand tdownloading tand making child tpornography ton tthe tinternet.The toperation twas tone tof ta tvery large magnitude. tThis treflects thow tserious tand twidespread tthe toffences trelating to tchild tpornography tis. tHence, tthere tis ta tneed tto tdistinguish tbetween pornography tand tart tin torder tfor tchild tpornographic toffences tto tbe rightly tconvicted.

Another toffence tunder tpornography tis tthe tpossession tof textreme pornographic timages tunder tsection t63 tof tthe tCriminal tJustice tand Immigration tAct t2008. Extreme tpornography tis tlow ton tmorality tand context, tproscribing tboth tbestiality tand tnecrophilia. tThe tcase tthat twas arguably tthe texpedient tbasis tfor tthe tneed tfor tthis tlegislation tinvolved Jane tLonghurstwho twas tasphyxiated tby tGraham tCoutts tin t2003 tin ta t‘sex game’ tthat the tclaimed twent twrong. tCoutts’ thabitual tuse tof tpornographic internet tsites tthat tfeatured twoman tin tsexual tactivities tinvolving tdeath and strangulation twas tseen tas tattributing tto this tperverted tview tin trelation tto sexual tacts.

These tserious tcrimes tinvolving tpornography tshows tthat tthe tlaw tviews tit as ta tstrict tmatter tand thence tit tcan tbe targued tthat tit tis timportant tfor pornography tand tart tto tbe tdistinguished tin torder tfor tthese toffences tto be tregulated teffectively.

Inevitably, the different attempts of defining pornography brings to mind certain legal descriptions of obscenity

There thas tbeen tvarying tattempts tof tdefining tpornography tmany numerous tart tcritics. tAuthors tlike tFred tBerger thas tmentioned tthat the thinks tpornography tinvolves twork t‘which texplicitly tdepicts tsexual tactivity or tarousal tin ta tmanner thaving tlittle tor tno tartistic tor tliterary tvalue’.A definition tlike tthis tinevitably treminds tone tof tcertain tlegal tdescriptions tof obscenity. tFor texample, tthe tMiller ttest tin tthe tUSA, tfleshed tout tin tMiller v Californiastates tthat tfor tsomething tto tbe tobscene tit thas tto tbe tfound appealing tto tthe tprurient tinterest, tdepicts tsexual tconduct tand ttaken tas ta whole, tlacks tserious tliterary, tartistic, tpolitical tor tscientific tvalue. Rothsuggested tthat tall tart tshould tbe tsaved tif tit thad tredeeming tqualities. The tMiller ttest tis tproblematic tto tthe tdefinition tof tpornography tas tit seems tto tmerge tboth tthe tidea tof tpornography tand tobscenity tas tone. Critics tlike tJohn tHuer t(Art, tBeauty, tand tPornography) thave traised tthe idea tthat tpornography tseems tto tbe ta tsubset tof tobscenity, tas tthe category of tobscenity tis twider tas tit tincludes tmany tnon-sexual tinstances. tThis once again treiterates tthe tfact tthat tthe tlack tof ta tproper tdefinition tfor pornography tcreates tcertain tobstacles tin tobscenity tlaw.


In tconclusion, twhile tit tmay tseem tlike ta tsomewhat tsimple ttask tto effectively tdistinguish tbetween tart tand tpornography, tone twill tsoon trealise it tis tnot tas teasy tas tit tseems tdue tto tthe tinevitable toverlap tof tart tand pornography tand tthe tlimitations tof tthe targuments. tThe tcurrent tlack tof definition tfor tpornography thas tproblems tas tmentioned tpreviously. Perhaps with ta tpossible tdefinition tof tpornography tin tthe tfuture, tart tand pornography twill tbe table tto tbe tdistinguished twith tmore tease.