In the fall of 2015, Eva wrote an essay questioning pornography as art. Comparably, female pornography producer Erika Lust argues that pornography is art in a Dazed article Why you should watch porn through the female gaze from the same year, which combats an attitude that views sexuality in action as a deviant act.
Banner: Nymphomaniac, Magnolia Pictures, 2013
Philosophy of Beauty:
What Is Art Is Stimulation
Pornography is art because it inspires artistic change. The Appreciation
Argument regarding pornography versus art is as follows. One must appreciate art by
viewing it in an artistic interest. To appreciate something as pornography, one must
appreciate it with pornographic interest. One cannot appreciate one work in two distinct
appreciations; therefore it is not possible to appreciate something as pornographic art,
but rather distinctly as pornography, or art respectively (Parsons, 2015).
Philosopher Jerrold Levinson defends this argument with the Improved
Appreciation Argument: To appreciate something, true art requires simultaneous focus
on the work’s form and content. Further, to appreciate something as pornography, one
must disregard artistic form and strictly observe the sexual content (Parsons, 2015). For
Levinson, these two forms of appreciation are not compatible. The first artistic
appreciation is opaque in that one comprehends the art and its beauty, and artistic
interest is satisfied. The latter appreciation for pornography is transparent, because the
object of the work displays exactly what the aim is: blatant sexual arousal that is to lead
to a climax. For Levinson, it is impossible to appreciate something as pornographic art.
Opaque is to form is to art, as transparency is to content is to image. This is the
viewpoint of Levinson.
Philosopher Matthew Kieran criticizes the Appreciation Argument, as he believes
that pornography indeed can be considered art. Kieran defends pornography as art,
subject to the perspective of the observer. If the observer takes artistic interest in the
actors as real people, then the pornography is art. If the observer perceives the actors
as objects or bodies in the act of sex, then the pornography is no longer art, but a
means to an end. I believe Kieran’s argument is correct, that pornography can be art. In
this essay, I will explain why pornography as art can be both transparent and opaque to
the observer in contrast to what Levinson believes. I will extrapolate how pornography
can also communicate the actors as a subject through their form to a story as Kieran
stated, but also how their act simultaneously is used as an object to reach climax,
wherein form nor formula is not dependent to make art. Pornography can remain
physically accurate and exaggerated as an art for arousal.
Despite Kieran’s view on pornography as art if the observer sees the actors as
subjects and not objects, one is inclined to consider the final destination to be drawn
from pornography: overall sexual release. Sexual climax of the observer through mental
reaction via stimulation and arousal is an alteration of the mind. As mind manipulation is
considered an art among hypnotizers and meditation, that which inspires the stimulation
must also be an art, and so the arousal stimulated by pornography is therefore art.
Beyond Kieran’s distinction of object (pornography) and subject (pornography as
art), I believe that pornography is an art in any form, as the arousal from pornography is
directly related to the pleasure of physical climax. Pornography stimulates the mind and
the brain - whether it is observed through any of the five senses- to the same plane as
an arousing work of art. Kieran argues that pornography is not art when it has no story
behind the act, and the subjects become objects. However the observer of the
pornography transfers the lack of storyline not provided and applies the scenario to their
own life, in their own imagination. In this argument of transparency between observer
and art, pornography inspires creativity and a story in the aroused observer’s mind.
Therefore pornography is art, and an art itself. In this view of transparency between
observer and pornography, Levinson gains the upper hand that pornography is art, as
the observer is transparently engaged with the form. This engagement between the
image and the observer is an art, and the connection between the art and the observer
appreciates pornography as art.
To inspire imagination through transparency or connectedness to the subject is
to manipulate the mind beyond the image. The mind is open to its own imagination if
there is nothing left to observe from the pornographic subject. This can be applied to
erotic art. Although I will not be specifically addressing pornography versus erotica and
erotic art, I will use an example of an erotic piece of art to explain how the erotic art is
translated to pornographic art, because of the arousal it inspires.
In one particular erotic sketch by Klimt, the female subject is beyond physical
awareness as she is engaged in a sexual act with another human. She closes her eyes
as she is sprawled under the legs and engulfed under a figure she holds. Her
expression shows her within and without her mind and body, as she is likely uplifted by
her mind’s transformation from sexual intercourse. The transparency, and opaqueness
of the act depicted by Klimt interacts with the observer, whose mind is manipulated to
comparable sexual stimulation of the couple in the subject. Yet the observer does not
visually know the full characters or their story, making them opaque according to
However, Klimt’s translation of the act to the viewer makes the sketch
transparent. The artist would have observed the pornography in action, and gathered
the visual information portrayed. His transparency of the pornographic art is still visually
communicated to the observer today. Thus in a way the sketch carries the air of
pornography, even though it is a work of art according to Levinson, because it was
pornography first. Levinson’s ideas of opaqueness in art, and transparency in
pornography, should not be organized as either art or pornography as he declares them
to be. The latter can encompass either as expressed in the abovementioned piece by
Klimt. Pornography is therefore art through the transparent and opaque transformation
of the mind to further levels of arousal, regardless of second or first hand visual
The lack of physical form or dimension in pornography is what departs
pornography from art, according to Levinson (236). On the other hand, Kieran
discusses the thin formulas of pornography as unnecessary to the stimulation, as they
can still be artistically manipulated by the mind of the observer (39). The lack of form in
pornography is not a crutch for pornography as art, but a tool that makes pornography
art via the observer. In defiance of Levinson’s argument, one may consider the art of
sound. A single note does not have form but is transparent. However the alteration of
mind through the interpretation of a single note - whether it is a sharp or flat note - can
cause happiness, melancholy, and even arousal through mind stimulation. Layered
notes (called music) are formulaic and can inspire art. Even a single sound itself is still
art, despite a lack of form (Levinson) because of how it massages the mind to another
level beyond awareness.
Sexual climax is a realm beyond physical awareness. Although Klimt’s sketch
mentioned beforehand does have artistic form, Levinson’s argument that the lack of
form in pornography is what separates pornography from art is incorrect; form is not
necessary to create art. Pornography can alter the mind to another level of awareness
through sexual inspiration, or arousal. In this way, the alteration of mind is the art
provided by pornography and therefore in any form or lack thereof, pornography is art.
Consider Kieran’s example of the rise of pulp fiction as an example of how
pornography was, is, and becomes art. Pulp fiction became popular as an art as the
popularity grew; it did not start out with artistic merit (Kieran 33). However anyone
regarding original pulp fictions today would consider them early forms of the art. Sexual
expressions humanity could not keep away from art on exaggerated cave paintings, and
this kept fire throughout time. Pornography became an intrinsic tool to spruce sexuality
in humans and became art.
For example, as the popularity of film began in the 19th and 20th centuries, the
debut of pornography in film became sex and art. One such example of heterosexual
pornography from 1945 is the film “Mom and Dad”, directed by William Beaudine. In it,
the woman who gives birth is shot explicitly showing her genitals open as the baby
emerges. The National League of Decency argued the film against its screenings, yet it
was still shown (Dolphin, n.p.). This example of pornography in film as art is how some
mediums of art contain pornography, yet remains art, and therefore pornography is art.
Pornography is art as it engulfs the outer worldly transformation it represents,
whether or not the passion is transparent or opaque to the observer. Art is a stretch of
imagination that combines technical approaches, such as blatant portrayals of sex acts
with intent to sexually aggravate. Art is exaggeration, and pornography is an
exaggeration of sex and sexual organs to induce stimulation of the mind and physical
body. One may consider that the way pornography may simultaneously be called art,
and not art is when it uniquely emulates both human needs (reproduction) and human
In this way I do not concur in Kieran’s belief that the expressive possibilities of
sex through pornography cannot be artistic when they are physically and biologically
accurate (34). Accuracy is not disconnected from pornography, or from art. There can
be a combination of exaggeration and accuracy in art, just as the birth scene in “Mom
and Dad” depicted. Art is a stretch of imagination that combines technical approaches
with extended emotion from the subject- art is exaggeration, and pornography is an
exaggeration of sex to induce stimulation of the mind and physical body.
Therefore pornography is art. It can be transparent and opaque from the artist to
the observer at the same time. The pornographic actors are both subject and object that
induce sexual release. The form and formulas in art and pornography do not matterone
can create their own relatable sexual formula whether or not a form is present in the
artwork. Pornography can also be physically accurate whilst exaggerated to arouse the
observer. As I do believe pornography is art, titles create deviants and induce
discrimination, and so pornography as an art is subjective. Neither art nor sexually
explicit art can be labeled as pornography or art, and so what is art is stimulation that
belongs in the reaction of the viewer.
Dolphin, P.W. “Those Who Came Before: The 10 Most Important Erotica Pioneers.” Paper. Paper Magazine, 19 Nov. 2015: Web. 19 November 2015.
Kieran, Matthew. “Pornographic Art.” Philosophy and Literature 25.1 (2001): 31-45. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
Levinson, Jerrold. “Erotic Art and Pornographic Pictures.” Philosophy and Literature 29.1 (2005): 228-240. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
Parsons, Glenn. “Kieran’s View: Pornography Can Be Art (Though Most Of It Isn’t).” Ryerson University. Ted Rogers School of Management, Toronto, Ontario. 20 November 2015. Lecture.