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

desires (sex).


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.

Works Cited

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.