Porn at our beloved Brooklyn Museum?? Katie, bar the door!
I admit I’m not talking about a Playgirl centerfold elaborately framed and displayed on the 4th floor in the Schapiro Wing. Well, not yet, at least. Still, I ask: What IS art and what are the distinctions between ‘art,’ ‘erotic art’ and ‘pornography’?
Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s well-known response to the same question–“I know it when I see it”– still sounds just a tad subjective to hold up as a universal definition of pretty much anything. I’m just sayin’.
I wonder if perhaps we could all agree that, like it or not, art is art if the creator deems it to be so. We, the viewers, can thus free ourselves from saying things like, What????? My 3 year old could have painted that. THAT’S not art!!! And, just because an “artist” (and not your 3-year-old), decided to call his canvas ‘art’ does not mean that we have to like it. NOW we can move into the realm of the subjective. We get to say “I don’t understand that kind of art,” or “I have a moral bone to pick with THAT kind of art,” or “That art is vulgar, crude, pornographic, poorly executed, amateur-ish,” or whatever.
Pornography and/or erotic art is difficult to label since perceptions of art in general are constantly fluctuating from person to person, from court of law to court of law, from era to era. Take the paintings of the French 18th century artist Fragonard. The Brooklyn Museum holds in its collection a few quite innocent sketches by Fragonard. Still, that sly French paint slinger made beaucoups francs as what was essentially the royal pornographer; pictures of all of those naked ladies and half-dressed gentlemen running towards one another or already locked in carnal embrace were created to whet the sexual appetite of the royalty of France.
Nowadays, Justice Stewart would no doubt label Fragonard’s work as HIS kind of “art”– those 18th century masterpieces pulled free by the passage of time of any previous pornographic context. Would Stewart say the same thing of the superbly lit and air brushed photos of the beautiful women (and men) seen routinely in magazines currently sold in front (and behind) the counters of the local tobacco shop? Now, nudity is no longer eye candy for kings. It is now purchasable by anyone with a few extra bucks in their pockets (and an understanding spouse).
On your next visit to the Brooklyn Museum, take a look at Gaston Lachaise’s massive statue, STANDING WOMAN. Or YOUNG WOMAN OVERTAKEN BY A STORM by de Bonnemaison. Or Jean Baptiste Corot’s YOUNG WOMEN OF SPARTA. Or one of the 15th Century Madonnas suckling the baby Jesus at her perfect and perfectly exposed breast. Or Boldini’s PORTRAIT OF A LADY, with a come hither look and breasts barely concealed behind diaphanous material, a painting worthy of a 20th century Vargas calendar most frequently seen in men’s workshops or garages.
Then count the number of times the word ‘voluptuous’ is used to describe a painting at the museum.
Please, do not think any of this is critical or judgmental. I LOVE nudity, sensuality, love making presented in ‘art.’ I love art, period. The energy of art, coincidentally, rises from the 2nd chakra–if Hindi beliefs are to be trusted–the home of our sexuality. Is it any surprise art often—subtly or not so subtly—is batter dipped in sex?
It’s art. Only you can decide if it’s erotic, pornographic or just plain not your taste!
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