Can Pornography be Art?
In The Invisible Dragon, Dave Hickey tells why he decided to write on beauty, saying that the "actual occasion for . . . writing anything about beauty was the plague of intellectual dishonesty that affected every aspect of the controversy surrounding the public exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's beautiful, pornographic photographs" (5% into ebook). But can art be pornographic? Can pornography be art? Roger Scruton, in his book on Beauty, has this to say on the nature of pornography:
In distinguishing the erotic and the pornographic we are really distinguishing two kinds of interest: interest in the embodied person and interest in the body - and, in the sense that I intend, these interests are incompatible . . . . Normal desire is an inter-personal emotion. Its aim is a free and mutual surrender, which is also a uniting of two individuals, of you and me -- through our bodies, certainly, but not merely as our bodies. Normal desire is a person to person response, one that seeks the selfhood that it gives. Objects can be substituted for each other, subjects not. Subjects, as Kant persuasively argued, are free individuals; their non-substitutability belongs to what they essentially are. Pornography, like slavery, is a denial of the human subject, a way of negating the moral demand that free beings must treat each other as ends in themselves. (Roger Scruton, Beauty, page 159)Scruton goes on to say that "Pornography addresses a fantasy interest, while erotic art addresses an interest of the imagination," to which he adds that "[t]he purpose of pornography is to arouse vicarious desire; the purpose of erotic art is to portray the sexual desire of the people pictured within it" (page 159) but doing so without arousing the viewer's sexual desire. A few pages later, he adds:
[P]ornography lies outside the realm of art, . . . [for] it is incapable of beauty in itself and desecrates the beauty of the people displayed in it. The pornographic image is like a magic wand that turns subjects into objects, people into things -- and thereby disenchants them, destroying the source of their beauty. (Roger Scruton, Beauty, page 162-163)Hickey and Scruton would seem to disagree . . . unless Mapplethorpe's images are beautiful but not pornographic, despite Hickey's words -- and I, by the way, have seen Mapplethorpe's striking photographs, but I was not aroused to any vicarious desire, so perhaps they're not truly porn . . .