So. My friend, Nadine, wrote a post discussing the theoretical difference between “art” and “porn”. And I decided to write a response (that got just long enough that it’s going here instead of in her comments section).

Now, you all know that, once upon a time, I was an anti-porn-feminist, the kind who was all for “possitive expressions of sexuality” but who drew a line between “erotica” (which fit my personal, and fairly narrow, definitions of “possivie expressions of sexuality”) and “porn” (which was evil, exploitive, and generally had to be stricken from the earth). Now, since that time, everything has changed and I tend not to make much of a distinction between “erotica” and “porn”. However I find the (theoretical) distinctions drawan between “art” and “porn” is very much like the ones that get drawn between “erotica” and “porn”. E.G.: semantics and ideas about “legitimacy” (there’s going to be a LOT of quotation marks in this post, by the way).

I find that trying to draw a (real) distinction between porn and art is an exercise in futility and frustration. I can get turned on looking at Fabulous Shoes. Someone else might look at the same pair of stillettos (the kind that come with a “do not chew” warning on the label), though, and just see a danger to their ankles. Likewise, I can look at pictures of Big Gay Bears – fucking, even – and think “ew, chest hair”, while others will get totally hot over the same images.

Look. I do a lot of nude modeling. Some of it is officially erotic (stuff that plays with fetish themes, for eg). Some of it is officially not (gesture modeling for an animation class). A lot of it is in a blurry place between the two.
In those case, the “difference” between what’s an “art” shoot and what’s a “porn” shoot is, more often than not, in how much I’m getting paid to do it — what you said about there being assumptions that “porn” is less valuable/worth than “art” is true, but there are also assumptions (big ones) about how a porn model is less valuable/worthy as a person than an “art” model… with the result being that “porn models” (whether the porn is “erotic art nudes” or “hard core fisting”) tend to get paid better than “art models” (because, y’know, clearly a model would be ashamed to being doing porn, and so would need the deal to be sweetened a little before she’d agree to do it).
It’s stupid.
But it happens.
Consequently, I think my definition of “porn” – from a photography modeling perspective – is, more than anything: “Does it appear that the photographer find this imagery titillating? If yes, then Porn”.
So I’ve done “porn” that involved me brushing my hair, fully clothed. I’ve done “porn” that was shot only from the ankles down. I’ve done “porn” that involved fake blood and real biting. I’ve done “porn” that involved me standing next to a woman 18″ shorter than me, with both of us in business clothing (yes, really). I’ve done “porn” that involved close-ups of my genitals…. And I’ve done “art” that involves being nude but for stillettos, or nude but for leather boots[1]. I’ve done “art” that involved visible pubic hair and erect nipples.

Gods know that, if you work in the Porn Mines (as a writer friend of mine calls them), you can end up writing explicitly sexual stuff that isn’t actually explicitly sexual for you (like, I dunno, writing a hero with a really hair chest. I might go “ick” at that thought, but it doesn’t mean I couldn’t put such a character in a story and have the Love Interest totally go nuts over him).

And, yes, “art nude” tends to involve more “bodyscaping” – heavier use of light and shadow, basically – while “erotic nude” tends to, um, not… But I’ve done “art nudes” that are based on (and, occasionally, recreations of) the photographer’s favourite fetish shots by a different artist, and I’ve modeled for student photographers who are practicing portraiture lighting… and just happen to want to shoot portraits of hot girls in lingerie.
See what I mean?
I raised my rates for photographers’ modeling (environmental portraiture) about six months ago because the lines between “art nude”, “erotic art nude”, and “erotic nude” are not wide at all and, before, when I charged different rates for “art nude” and “erotic nude”, I often found myself basically getting shortchanged. Now I charge everybody the same rate, and I’m a whole lot happier (and feel less like I need to by hyper-vigilant) about it all. 🙂

There are a lot of ways that you can define porn – or define art (is there a plinth involved? What about cherubs?) for that matter – but I think it pretty-much comes down to the eye of the beholder.

TTFN,
Ms Syren.

[1] That one actually won a local figure-drawing competition, believe it or not.