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Who Says Pornography Can't Be Art?

Maes, Hans R.V. (2012) Who Says Pornography Can't Be Art? In: Maes, Hans R.V. and Levinson, Jerrold, eds. Art and Pornography: Philosophical Essays. Oxford University Press, pp. 17-47. ISBN 978-0-19-960958-1. (KAR id:31445)

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This opening chapter provides the contours of the debate about whether art and pornography are mutually exclusive and is meant as an introduction to the main themes of the book. It begins by looking at some of the classic ways of explaining the difference between art and pornography. Pornography, some have said, is sexually explicit and focuses exclusively on certain body parts, while art possesses emotional and psychological depth and is essentially suggestive. Others have stressed that pornography, unlike art, is inherently formulaic, or that pornography is exploitative in a way that art is not, or that pornography aims for a particular response, sexual arousal, that is incompatible with artistic contemplation or aesthetic experience. Such dichotomies, it is argued, are illuminating insofar as they help us to clarify how typical examples of art differ from typical examples of pornography, yet it would be wrong to see them as absolute distinctions. Whenever one attempts to draw a strict line between the two domains, whether it is on the basis of representational content, moral status, artistic quality, or prescribed response, one can always find examples of art or pornography that would fall on the ‘wrong side’ of the divide. Furthermore, it is argued that a value-neutral definition of pornography is to be preferred over any normative characterisation that stipulates that pornographic works, by definition, lack any significant artistic or aesthetic aspect. Finally, after providing a critical assessment of Christy Mag Uidhir’s incompatibilist account, which contrasts the ‘manner specificity’ of art with the ‘manner inspecificity’ of pornography, Maes highlights some of the practical implications of this philosophical discussion.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: pornography erotic art definition, beauty, categories of art, pornographic art, Mag Uidhir, Scruton, sexual arousal
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Depositing User: Hans Maes
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2012 13:24 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:09 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Maes, Hans R.V.:
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