‘A Lady on the Street but a Freak in the Bed’: On the Distinction Between Erotic Art and Pornography

British Journal of Aesthetics 58 (4):469-488 (2018)
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How, if at all, are we to distinguish between the works that we call ‘art’ and those that we call ‘pornography’? This question gets a grip because from classical Greek vases and the frescoes of Pompeii to Renaissance mythological painting and sculpture to Modernist prints, the European artistic tradition is chock-full of art that looks a lot like pornography. In this paper I propose a way of thinking about the distinction that is grounded in art historical considerations regarding the function of erotic images in 16 th -century Italy. This exploration suggests that the root of the erotic art/pornography distinction was—at least in this context—class: in particular, the need for a special category of unsanctioned illicit images arose at the very time when print culture was beginning to threaten elite privilege. What made an erotic representation exceed the boundaries of acceptability, I suggest, was not its extreme libidinosity but, rather, its widespread availability and, thereby, its threat to one of the mechanisms of sustaining class privilege.



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A. W. Eaton
University of Illinois, Chicago

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Feminist Aesthetics.Carolyn Korsmeyer & Peg Weiser - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Erotic art and pornographic pictures.Jerrold Levinson - 2005 - Philosophy and Literature 29 (1):228-240.
Pornographic art.Matthew Kieran - 2001 - Philosophy and Literature 25 (1):31-45.

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