From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Defining erotic art is difficult since perceptions of both what is erotic and what is art fluctuate. For example, a voluptuous nude painting by Peter Paul Rubens could have been considered erotic or pornographic when it was created for a private patron in the 17th century. In a different context, a sculpture of a phallus in some African cultures may be considered a traditional symbol of potency though not overtly erotic.
In addition, a distinction is often made between erotic art and pornography (which also depicts scenes of love-making and is intended to evoke erotic arousal, but is not usually considered art). The distinction may lie in intent and message; erotic art intended as pieces of art, encapturing formal elements of art, and drawing on other historical artworks. Pornography may also use these tools, but is primarily intended to arousal one sexually. Nevertheless, these elements of distinction are highly subjective.
For instance, Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United States, in attempting to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, famously wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . ."
Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings, but many cultures have created erotic art. The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty, and there are numerous sexually explicit paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii. The Moche of Peru in South America are another ancient people that sculpted explicit scenes of sex into their pottery.
Additionally, there has been a long tradition of erotic painting among the Eastern cultures. In Japan, for example, shunga appeared in the 13th century and continued to grow in popularity until the late 19th century when photography was invented. Similarly, the erotic art of China reached its popular peak during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty. In India, the famous Kama Sutra is an ancient sex manual that is still popularly read throughout the world.
In Europe, starting with the Renaissance, there was a tradition of producing erotica for the amusement of the aristocracy. In the early 16th century, the text I Modi was an woodcut album created by the designer Giulio Romano, the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and the poet Pietro Aretino. In 1601 Caravaggio painted the "Love Triumphant," for the collection of the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani. The latter is reputed to have kept it hidden behind a curtain to show only to his friends, as it was seen as a blatant celebration of sodomy. The tradition is continued by other, more modern painters, such as Fragonard, Courbet, Millet, Balthus, Picasso, Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, who served time in jail and had several works destroyed by the authorities for offending turn-of-the-century Austrian mores with his depiction of nude young girls, and so on.
Today, erotic artists thrive, although, in some circles, much of the genre is still not as accepted as the more standard genres of art such as portraiture and landscape. During the last few centuries, society has broadened its view of what can be considered as art and several new styles developed during the 1800s such as Impressionism and Realism. This has given today's artists a broader, almost infinite, spectrum with which to work.
While we still have the traditionalist such as the erotic surrealist Anthony Christian and his students, who use the same techniques that have been tried and tested by countless artists since the Renaissance, we also have more contemporary schools and techniques, such as the bizarre drawings of Julian Murphy, which he describes as "Tantric Pop Art," that clearly show the influences modern culture has had on Erotic Art.
In the 2000s, there were two exhibitions dedicated to erotic art: Seduced, Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now in London and Diana und Actaeon - Der verbotene Blick auf die Nacktheit in Dusseldorf.
Whether or not an instance of erotic art is obscene depends on the standards of the community in which it is displayed.
In the United States, the 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. California established a three-tiered test to determine what was obscene - and thus not protected, versus what was merely erotic and thus protected by the First Amendment.Delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote,
The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
As this is still, almost by necessity, much more vague than other judicial tests within U.S. jurisprudence, it has not reduced the conflicts that often result, especially from the ambiguities concerning what the "contemporary community standards" are. Similar difficulties in distinguishing between erotica and obscenity have been found in almost every legal system in the world.
- Art as an excuse for depicting prurient interests
- Fetish art
- History of erotic photography
- History of erotic depictions
- Lesbianism in erotica
- Nudity in art
- Sex in advertising
- Sex in film
- X Portfolio
- Venuses, nymphs and satyrs
- The Erotic Arts (1975) by Peter Webb.
- Erotic Art of the Masters the 18th, 19th, 20th Centuries Art & Artists
- Sexuality in Western Art, 1991 by Edward Lucie-Smith