The Boundary between Porn and Art

In China, I can watch any movies I want—X-rated, R-rated—as long as they are in the market. You see, in China, there is no film rating system. But American kids may never have a chance to see the world’s greatest films until they turn seventeen. Why do eminent films contain sexual scenes? Is it because of prurient interests? Or does sexuality in films achieve a higher purpose? Does sexuality express emotions with tension? If eroticism is essential to some art forms, then should we ever censor it? The artists in the Renaissance clearly said, “No.”

In the Pre-Renaissance, artists mostly said YES, and the few who said NO risked their lives. The modern British painter, Anthony Christian, writes in his web journal,

Unimaginable as it is today, an artist would risk torture and death—literally—if he just happened to paint a nude with the wrong expression, or in a pose that any member of that unpardonable group of men deemed too lascivious, and if he couldn’t then come up with a good enough excuse connecting that unfortunate work with either a religious or a mythological precedent. (Christian)

But the taboo of nudity was removed when St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) raised a brand new vision of Christianity. Irene Earls interprets St. Francis’ perception in the book, Renaissance Art, a Topical Dictionary, as cherishing the nature of God, loving instead of fearing it. Ever since, the idea that the nude body is beauty, became popular and pervasive among some artists (Earls 13-15): as McKay emphasizes, drawing the nude became “essential if one wanted to paint large history paintings with many figures” (McKay 428). It turns out that those nude paintings from the Renaissance are breath taking—Titian’s nude Venus is perhaps the peak of nude goddess painting all time with her gentle body line and elegant facial expression—those artistic features are “sublimely beautiful” but also “delightfully erotic” (Christian). 

Finally, I walk into the eternal puzzle: when is nudity porn, and when is it art? We, the normal people, are used the idea that porn is taboo and art is accepted and admired; But sometimes, when I examine them, I find porn and art do not have an obvious divergence in contents. After reading about nudity in Renaissance art, I believe the good use of eroticism helps people to dig deeper in human morality, experience, emotion, individuality.

Titian’s Venus of Urbino is a stunning female nude painting, and it indeed has very strong sensuality. But it does not relegate this painting to pornography, because more importantly, the audience can detect the deeper morality including the loyalty and motherhood behind the appealing nudity. I guess the superiority of the nude art depends on the artists: wise artists embed connotations behind the nudity, and the mediocre ones imply only sex. This new use of nudity which appeared in the Renaissance not only showed the beauty of human nature, but also devised a new way to deliver the artists’ thoughts to the audience, much richer and juicier than porn. Same with Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, the nudity of Venus may seem as erotic as porn, but it is more superior: we can feel the intense beauty of the Goddess, the mellow painting technique, the intriguing art style beyond the naked body (detailed description of The Birth of Venus). It is why female nude paintings in the Renaissance remained classic for centuries while other random pornographies flashed through people’s view and never came back, or just like Christian argues, “The appeal of the painted nude has often had less to do with the search for a cultural experience than the desire for erotic sensation” (Christian).

Here, in the end, I will tell you the lesson from my observation of the refined nude paintings: art escapes the label of pornography when the artist succeeds in expressing deep human emotion, experience, and morality—deep enough to captivate viewers (even when the purpose and meaning is too abstruse for most people).

Works Cited

Earls, Irene. Renaissance Art, a Topical Dictionary. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1987. 13-15.eBook<http://books.google.com/ebooks/app#reader/xAdrziNnqLIC/GBS.PR14&gt;

Christian, Anthony. “The Nude in Art.” ICHOR Gallery. Anthony Christian and Marian “Fanny” Christian, n. d. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.<http://www.anthonychristian.co.uk/ezine26.html&gt;.

McKay, John. A History of Western Society. 9th. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Print.

“Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, tempera on panel, c. 1483-85 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)” (Video), Smarthistory.org, Speakers: Dr.

Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker (2 min 35 sec). Accessed March 2, 2012, http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/Botticelli.html.

Image Cited

Cover – http://garcya.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/garcya_us_art_by_Alexei_Sovertkova-92.jpg

Venus of Urbino – http://www.virtualuffizi.com/uffizi1/Uffizi_Pictures.asp?Contatore=296

The Birth of Venus – http://www.virtualuffizi.com/uffizi/img/878.jpg

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6 comments

  1. austin0907

    Wow, this was really interesting! I found two comments you made particularly fascinating: “art escapes the label of pornography when the artist succeeds in expressing deep human emotion, experience, and morality—deep enough to captivate viewers (even when the purpose and meaning is too abstruse for most people)” and “’The appeal of the painted nude has often had less to do with the search for a cultural experience than the desire for erotic sensation’ (Christian).” Both of these were really excellent points!

    • avaz121

      Thanks for your voice, Austin!
      It is indeed quite interesting to find out some deeper ideas behind the appealing nude, and it is why generations of people have studied these nude arts profoundly. They have some magics that cannot be found in profane eroticism.

  2. sydney013868

    Nice post! I like how you explain why nude painting show a deeper meaning past sensuality and into morality, emotion, and personality. Do you think that these art pieces have influenced us today, such as the comparison where if your swimsuit went higher than your knees you would be kicked off the beach to bikinis becoming a norm?

    • avaz121

      interesting point, Sydney! I did not think of this question. In fact, i do not think the nude arts have much impact on overly exposed swimming suits, because i think nude arts represent a way of expressing emotion and cherishing humanism. But the trend swimming suits must depend on the changing sense of beauty, and it may relate to human emotion—in a sense of fashion taste vs. stereotype. However, I do not often see deeper meanings behind the trend of wearing less and less. One thing is for sure: the acceptance of wearing less makes our society more tolerant, and in some way like the Renaissance.

  3. hiawatha123

    Great Post Ava I think that your post does a really good job of grabbing the reader. I also want to tell you that your featured picture is really good, it was the first picture i saw when i opened the page. thanks- Hiawatha

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