Throughout artistic history stretching back to antiquity a question has always lingered: Can pornography be considered an art form?
Pornography is vastly considered a business where artistry is non-existent. How can a handful of sexual positions that have been captured numerous times before actually hold creative value? There are many different ways that not only artistic expression is argued for pornography, but that it is propelled by cultural motivation. One very popular genre is Alternative, which focuses on the goth/emo/punk subcultures. Many directors like Stephen Sayadian, Gregory Dark, and Eon McKai have used this medium as an outlet to express cultural beliefs through elements of these lifestyles in their work.
One of the most profitable and lasting genres of pornography is Amateur. There is very little to say about this except people who are not in the vocation professionally having their way with each other. Pretty simple and marketable concept; introducing an entire genre and serving as the most basic stepping stone for many people looking to be in the industry. Several film directors that many know and love like Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) and Lars Von Trier (Antichrist, Melancholia) began in or helped promulgate pornography. Does this mean that all of the directors that come from porn will be mainstream successes and critical wonders? Not at all, like the ranks of ordinary narrative filmmaking, there is far more dirt than gold to sift through.
Other forms of expression come out in fetishes, which actually, to stretch the idea thin, could be a real play into the imaginative side of the porn industry. In 2005, pornographic director Joone, screenwriter Max Massimo, and veteran adult entertainment producer Samantha Lewis brought Pirates into the market. It is the most expensive pornographic film ever produced; costing around a million dollars, and it is one of the most highly awarded adult films of all time. In many reviews of Pirates, even if you took all of the sex out of the film, you would still have a relatively decent story and characters. This makes me believe that pornography is not only getting larger in its scope and drive, but also is becoming more and more of a complicated art form that is appreciated for more than simple smut.
The last major market is the Orientation sub-genre. This is associated to mainly homosexual, transsexual and bisexual pornography. However, this is not to say that Orientation is a small sub-genre in the industry; it actually attracts a huge customer base. Feminists have cited this type of pornography as an example for and against the cause of woman equality. Many feminist organizations claim the porn industry is disparaging towards women, disregarding the homosexual market completely. While others, such as renowned social critic Camille Paglia, cite pornography as an example on how women are empowering their uniqueness. Many female directors such as Candida Royalle and Tristan Taormino, use the pornographic medium to express their acute personal philosophies on feminism.
Erotica is inspired by pornography, except it has a completely different intention. Italian erotica director Tinto Brass (Caligula, Salon Kitty) said, “Pornography is there to give you an erection. Erotica is there to give you emotions.” Pornography thrives on the concept of ‘the fantasy’ where erotica depends on a connection with the audience on an emotional level rather than bestial.
Is pornography on par with great artwork? Some truly interesting works of art have stemmed from pornography, such as lithography from Peter Fendi in the 1830s, the collected works of Édouard-Henri Avril, the writings of the Marquis de Sade and many more. Even in Ancient Rome pornography was considered a respected art form. Regardless whether or not it is referred to as art or smut, it isn’t hard to believe it will be seen as art well into the future.
Written by Matthew Roe