Critical Research Paper

Introduction to “Ars Pornographia – Pornography or Art”
Full Article can be downloaded here. Critical Research Paper 2018
Copyright remains @Mr-Naz 2018 




Illustration x (Aga Gagcaka. Igne Natura Renovatur Integra)  Collage C.2018

The classification of pornography is both amorphous and broad as it contains an array of diverse practices- from predilections, considered perversions, and sexual depictions both historically and contemporary giving rise to reflective cultural and political debates of its value and worth. In this treatise, my main attention will be concentrated on ‘modern’[1]artistic sexual depictions and social anxieties, reflecting how, by using photographic and filmic disciplines the selection of germane artists I have chosen, have presented and dealt with aesthetic dimensions of the subject and its socially related issues. I propose to weigh the argument of whether art is/can or, perhaps, should be the ally of pornography. And, therefore, offering, that ‘porn’ is a legitimate backdrop in of our western form of culture: Kipnis, L. (2006. p118) ‘… because it’s [pornography]intensely and relentlesslyaboutus. It involves the roots of our culture and the deepest corners of the self…It exposes the culture to itself.’

To introduce the subject matter, I initially want to attract attention,albeit briefly, and bring to the fore an understanding, as far as my current research allows, the etymology of the word ‘pornography’ and its subsequent use in the mid 19thCentury,that is, to its historical import and relevance.

According to a Christian, or Xtiantranslation the Greek word, in Bible Hub. (n.d); “‘πορνεία, ας, ἡ’” is defined as”- “porneía (root of the English terms “pornography, pornographic”; cf. /pórnos) which is derived from pernaō,[2]”to sell off”) – properly, a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type”.

Liddell and Scot’s Ancient Greek dictionary substantiates this definition especially for female gender; ‘Porne: a harlot, prostitute (prob. from pernao because the Greek prostitutes were commonly bought slaves [both male and female])’

From this we have the introduction ‘graphy’, (via Latin from the Greek ‘graphia’) a development, particular to the Roman civilisation, where depictions of sexual activities were, according to Wallace, M. (2007, pp.27-8) ‘Masterpiece[s] in [their] own right…Rome flourished in the context of contemporary [art works] …. Erotic and other sexually charged scenes decorated the walls of Pompeiian (sic) houses.’

Accordingly, at the same time ‘erotic’ works similarly adorned public areas especially in brothels, representing, as Umberto Eco (2001. P 301) offers, ‘…specific sexual positions available with prostitutes.’ (illustration 1). Eco further suggest (ibid); ‘In those days when they said prostitute, they meant a woman who was free, without ties and even an intellectual who did not want the ties of housewife, nor childbearing’

Illustration 1: (Pompeian Erotic Brothel Fresco: Circa; A.D. 25)

It is only in the Mid 19thC that the implication of the word ‘pornography’ took on a significant role towards defining a social category of degradation that was exacerbating Victorian morality, brought on, arguably, by the advent of the camera (circa 1837); the nascence of photography and associated mass production technologies, impacting on the arts. Artists found that photography was a good supplement for live nude models. Wallace, M. (2007, p.88) indicates that; ‘…depictions of nude[s] had been largely the prerogative of fine arts [private collections]’. But, using Marcus, S. (1996, p66-7) postulations ‘…it was not long into the history of photography a bourgeoning trade in sexual images developed.’

Initially such works had remained in the hands of ‘private collectors’, or according to Kendrick, W. (1996); “…aristocratic biblomanes”. [sic] (illustration 2)

Illustration 2: (Anonymous c.1850)

The development of mass printing allowed erotic works to be circulated and distributed to the masses. As Mey, K (2007, p.9) summarises: ‘Taking them out of the realms of bourgeois demographics, they became a democratising threat to the established culture.’ The demand for more explicit pictures accelerated and photographers rallied to the call.  (illustration 3)

     Illustration 3 (Anonymous. C.1850)

It was the first time in our history that the possibility of varioustypes of sexual visual representation could be available to anyone regardless of class, sex or age. (illustration 4). I suggest, that from this point in the history of sexual imagery the distinction between eroticism and pornography has been in constant flux, swaying people’s perception and social categorisation of sexually charged works.

Illustration 4: (Anonymous. C1855)

By 1857 moral anxieties provoked the introduction of a statute to curb or control circulation of salacious/irreverent imagery to the populace; governmental demands were called for. Lord Campbell, Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench became the ‘voice’ to champion the issues, introducing the Obscene Publications Bill in 1857. The legislation encompassed not only the control of ‘morally corrupting’ material, but issues of prostitution, indecency and irreligious acts were taken into consideration.

According to Kemp, in Wallace, M. (2007. p.34) ‘“…[pornography] was intended to works [produced] for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth… of the “nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency”’. Works that dispersed, (ibid) ‘“Poison to the minds of the young and wary”’

With the bill, we see for the first time how the word ‘pornography’ was placed in our common lexicon, arguably consigning it as a new historical and legislative phenomenon, misrepresenting its etymology. I concur here with Kendrick, W. (1996, p. 53) ‘By overhauling both sex and representation, the nineteenth century created a category which had not existed…in any past age. Imposing their own vision on the past, the Victorians…distorted it’

Kendrick, W. (1996. p.1) further demonstrates how “pornography” was firmly placed under the Obscene Publications Act umbrella due to ‘…an 1857 medical dictionary, where it describes ‘prostitutes or prostitution, as a matter of public hygiene’’. Since then, arguably, pornography has remained synonymous with morally corrupting and obscene imagery and offensive ideology. 

Having demonstrated the etymology of pornography and its moral Victorian perspective of social anxiety, I come to express how pornography, as a cultural practice is situated and tested within the arts; and it is in visual representation, now part of our cultural backdrop, that the arts have steered us: we are in an epoch of ‘post-modern’ sexual representation, or as Marcus, S. (1996. p.46) phrased it; ‘“Pornotopia”; a fantasy state or place in which everyone is willing to indulge in sexual activity; a time when diverse consensual predilections will be acceptable.’

There is a plethora of artists who work and produce, what is/can be deemed pornographic/obscene works –that is according to standard social or moral more; the artists who regardless of any social bowdlerisation, endeavour to portray the ‘truth of sex’. But, as mentioned in my introduction, I will be using a limited selection of photographic and filmic artists who have, ultimately, explored the limitations and liberations of sexual representations.

Full Article can be downloaded here. Critical Research Paper 2018