[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Thu Jul 21 14:22:38 EDT 2011

Richard: Thank you for your responses.  In this post, you sound to me
(as I suspected) as someone who is looking at the same middle ground
as I am from a slightly different vantage point.  A problem enters in,
though, when we collapse the distinction between art and pornography.
At that point, all nude images must perform essentially the same work,
and that collapsing creates different problems, as is evident in your
response to my Mapplethorpe question.  You actually avoided my
question about Mapplethorpe.  I didn't ask if it should be censored or
if it led to brutality against children.  I only asked if it was child
pornography.  This question does lead to these other questions, but
it's the starting question.  Your answers have to do with the nature
of audience responses, while mine had to do with the nature of the
artwork itself.  How we should respond to pornography is a question
that we ask after we have defined it.

I do agree that a response of sexual arousal to a work of art does not
invalidate a work as being artistic, even if the intent of the work is
to arouse.  But, as we move further and further away from porn and
more into art (acknowledging a middle ground or gray area),
identifying the intent to arouse becomes more and more difficult.
Continuing with the example of Mapplethorpe, I spent a little bit of
time looking over Mapplethorpe's nudes on his website.  HIs nudes are
certainly beautiful, but not necessarily arousing for me: the formal
qualities of his photographs -- geometric proportion, interplay of
shades gray between black and white -- are what seems the most
striking.  His 1986 photograph of Lydia Cheng makes his subject look
like architecture or a bronze sculpture, as does his 1982 photograph
of Derrick Cross.  His photograph of Patti Smith in 1976 emphasizes
vulnerability, which is one heck of a thing to emphasize about Patti
Smith in the 70s.  The formal qualities of these photographs overwhelm
their sexual content and actually seem to approach Milton's "Naked
majestie" at times.

Can a viewer still respond sexually?  Of course, but in these cases
it's hard to see that the photograph attempts to provoke that
response.  Most pornography only aims for that response.  I appreciate
Brendan's follow-up, but I think he has a somewhat rosier picture of
pornography than I do.  Most porn is bad porn.  When it's not, it's in
danger of becoming art.

Jim R

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