In 2014, a huge controversy erupted over a single photograph on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville Florida. The photograph, taken by Angela Strassheim was of a nude pregnant woman stretched across a sofa and was eerily similar to many other nude photos that have been on display in museums across the world.
The dispute that arose was actually a debate as to whether or not the photographer actually crossed the line of decency in her attempt to capture art. It is a common debate that often arises over nude art in general but interestingly, one that was not considered an major issue in most previous generations.
Art or Porn?
The biggest issue behind nude art photography is whether or not one is viewing true art or pornography. Here, many cultural viewpoints come into question. While one person’s culture may accept the image before them as pure art another is likely to take offense. So, on what side of the line should we take our stand on this controversy? For years, the debate continued to rage on in museums, schools, and even in the courts until it finally reached the US Supreme Court in 1966. The courts reached an official definition of pornography that all of us can refer to in determining whether a nude photograph can be considered porn or not. According to their ruling a photograph or any other piece of art can be classified as pornography if it is …
“utterly without redeeming social value” and it is “patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description of sexual matters.”
It seems clear and easy to understand but there still remains a proverbial line drawn in the sand dividing viewpoints. A perfect example of this is the countless photographs that have been classified as porn because of their nudity but thousands of statues and images displayed around the globe that have been considered art for centuries. It makes it clear that the legal definition of pornography has not resolved the debate at all and it begs us to question what should be the parameters used to determine whether what we are seeing is art or porn.
What Makes it Art?
While each individual brings their own interpretation to the image in question, there are certain elements that can classify it as art. Art lovers do not view nudes sexually but instead look for certain qualities in the image; its beauty, its ability to soothe, and the setting. Many also look for the quality of color (some say black and white photos are more likely to be approved as art than color nudes).
The most accepted nudes are those that do not overtly display sexuality in their images. The focus is often on the lines of the body, the poses of the model, and the naturalness of the image.
Pornography, on the other hand has a strong tendency to cause sexual arousal in the viewer. Whether intended or not, the purpose of the image is designed with a single purpose in mind. The focus on the lines, positions, and even the attitude of the model are concentrated entirely on sex.
While there is much to be learned in this world of modern art, there are many images that will fit firmly on one side of the line or on the other.