Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kitty Porn: Art, and Pornography

The difference between art and pornography is a discussion that is likely to continue indefinitely, at least so long as it is meaningful to distinguish between them (and this will continue so long as porn is discriminated against). I think there are two main reasons for this. First, "art" and "pornography" are both labels with very vague definitions. People have argued what qualifies as "art" and what qualifies as "pornography" separately for a long time. What does it mean to be art? At what point does something become pornographic? The other reason for the continued discussion is that there is an overlap between art and pornography, yet they are not equivalent - think of it as a Venn diagram. There is some art that can be considered pornographic, and there is some pornography that can be considered artistic, but there will always be examples of art that is clearly not pornography, and pornography that is clearly not art. And to complicate things further, the placement of the circles in the Venn diagram depends on one's definitions of art and pornography, which, vague as they are, is something we as a collective haven't been able to agree on.

Nevertheless, as an erotic artist who sees what I do as being qualitatively different from pornography, I often consider ways that I might explain how my work is separate from porn, even if it may sometimes be considered pornographic. When we talk about the issue directly, there are all sorts of assumptions involved, as well as the value judgments we make about sexuality and anything dealing with it. So let's, for a moment, transfer the issue to something benign - rather than pictures of nudity, let us consider pictures of cats.

There are two very different approaches to taking pictures of cats (or anything else). And which one you use has a lot to do with your intent as the photographer. Are you taking pictures of cats because you think cats are beautiful and you want to share that beauty with the world? Or are you taking pictures of cats simply because you like cats, you like looking at cats, you know that other people like looking at cats, and you want to take lots of pictures for other people to look at? I'm not saying the difference in these approaches isn't subtle, as there are a lot of similarities, but the result - the pictures that are taken and shared - often reveal a fundamental difference of intent.

To play on the comparison further, I will refer to "cats" as pussies from here on out. You can imagine that there are a lot of people out there who love pussies and get a lot of enjoyment out of looking at other people's pussies. They aren't particularly concerned about the artistic quality of these pictures - obviously, they'll like prettier pictures more, but they like the bad ones too because what they're really in it for isn't the aesthetic quality of the pictures but simply the opportunity to look at pussies. Lots of 'em.

Now imagine an artist who recognizes a quality of beauty inherent to pussies, and wants to emphasize that quality in his photographs, and share it with others. He takes lots of pictures of pussies, but he doesn't share them all, because they're not all particularly good pictures. His intent isn't merely to take pictures of pussies, but to take good pictures of pussies. And so he puts in effort to take better pictures, and he is less enthusiastic about sharing the bad pictures than our previous pussy photographer - because for him, it's not just about looking at pussies and sharing them with people, it's about capturing an aesthetic beauty, elusive and captivating, and sharing that with people. That's the art. It's that ineffable quality one is chasing.

And I'll reiterate that this is just an example to get the concept across. It would be far too simplistic to say that the difference between art and pornography is merely the quality of the images, and it would be pretentious for me to say that an artist perceives something ethereal where the pornographer sees just flesh. Although both of these things may be true on some level. I'm not trying to draw up stereotypes - because I don't think you should use them - and I still maintain that an artist can be a pornographer and that a pornographer can be an artist. But hopefully this example will give you some idea of what it means to create porn versus what it means to create art.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Good Listener

Here is my latest work of art:

The Good Listener

I really like this concept, but I'm not completely satisfied with how it turned out. I don't like how I look in the red dress here (I hate my shoulders), and I probably should have switched the figures, because the composition draws your eye toward the figure on the right, who is slightly more in the foreground (which makes the girl look bigger than the guy, which is not good), whereas the focus of the image should be on what the guy is doing. I'll try it again someday.

Check out this behind-the-scenes footage of my transformation from girl clone to guy clone:

Here's an outtake from the shoot. This is a concept (having sex with my clone) that I want to explore further. This isn't exactly what I'm going for with the concept, but it's a fun little outtake that I thought some of you might appreciate.

And the other piece that I got out of this shoot. A little classic gender-bending:

Mixed Signals

Plus an exclusive outtake for my loyal blog-readers:

And here's a special video that I think you'll like. Flickr wouldn't let me post this in a million years!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pushing (Not Flooding) The Boundaries

How do you create an environment that attracts erotic artists, while fulfilling the following two conditions:

1) There are to be no unreasonable restrictions on the accepted forms of expression.

2) It must not become a haven for porn addicts.

As an erotic artist myself, some of my work, and some of the work I'd like to do, is such that it would not unreasonably be deemed "pornographic" in content (regardless of intent). To outlaw pornographic material would be to put an unreasonable restriction on my expression. The problem here is to avoid hypocrisy in allowing porn yet not allowing the environment to degenerate into a den of pornography.

What's the difference between porn and pornographic art? For an individual piece, I don't think there is any meaningful way to tell that difference. But there is certainly a difference between my body of work and the body of work that a pornographer produces (amateur or otherwise). The majority of my work is not explicitly pornographic - this is a matter of proportion. And my work, whether pornographic or not, possesses intent above and beyond the seeking of sexual gratification (even if that is a primary component of the intent - so long as it is not exclusive).

My body of work is clearly distinguished from a pornographer's - at least as I see it, and this is often a matter of taste and opinion. Let us imagine the case of an artist whose work is predominantly pornographic, and yet still possesses something above and beyond porn that makes it worthy of being called art. How can we tell, and how do we avoid discriminating against this artist, while not encouraging others who lack the added artistic element? And how do we deal with self-proposed artists whose work is apparently indistinguishable from porn? What about the amateur pornographer who insists that his porn is artistic? We can't simply take a person at his or her word, or we'd be opening the floodgates to exactly what we want to keep out.

The only way I see this working is on a by-invitation system, as much as I hate the idea of creating a system where you have to be evaluated/know the right people/have experience in the business to get in. But it seems like the only solution, and shouldn't there at least be that solution, if no better one? So I ask you to point me in the direction of the secret global community of erotic artists so I may present myself to them and ask for their approval, and acceptance into their privileged club.

I guess an alternative solution would be to just create a porn site that doesn't advertise itself as such, like flickr has done with images (though not videos). Have you ever seen one of those? I imagine they'd be hard to find, since they'd look just like other non-porn-friendly sites...

My Interest in Sex (The Value of Pornography)

It seems to me that there is a not insignificant subset of the population that carries the opinion that sex, at best, is something that should remain private, between two individuals, behind closed doors (doors usually leading to the bedroom), and often within the confines of marriage. And this type of people has a tendency to regard pornography and loose sexuality and such as evidence of the moral decline of civilization. I am obviously not part of this privacy and purity cult. (The purity I espouse is much different from this concept of freedom from sin, and I view it as a preference, not a moral obligation). Whereas members of this cult are often quick to utilize the oppressive tool of censorship, I make it my crusade to support and celebrate the individual's freedom to sexual expression.

And there are different kinds of sexual expression. One of my pet peeves is a person who can't tell the difference between any of them, thinking that every instance of nudity in art is pornography. But there is erotic art, and there is pornography, and they are not the same. (I won't go into the differences and similarities between them here, because that's a huge issue of its own). The reason I bring this up is not to disparage pornography - which I am about to defend - but to raise the point that even a person who is against explicit and "obscene" representations of sexuality has no grounds to argue for the elimination (censorship) of sex in art. Sex is a significant part of life, and a powerful inspiration, and it belongs in art, music, literature, and all the creative pursuits of mankind.

I am an artist myself, and I believe that sex should be explored. That beauty should be shared, not horded. You don't have to agree with me, but you do have a civil obligation to permit me my pursuit. And some people are too quick to jump to the conclusion that someone who pursues an interest in sex is necessarily addicted or obsessed. It's true that any addiction is unhealthy, but a concentration needn't be viewed as such. All sorts of people pursue all sorts of interests, so why should sex be less valid than any other topic?

Getting back to my initial point, I wonder how many of those privacy and purity cult members are happily married to the love of their life. The expected social track, as far as I have gleaned through observation, is that you work on your education as you grow up, date a little bit in high school and college, find a partner at some point, get a job once you graduate, get married, and raise a family (at which point the cycle repeats). Well, not everyone follows that track. I met the love of my life, and she didn't love me back. She didn't even like me. So should I be denied the enjoyment of sex with girls I am attracted to because I choose (or perhaps fate chose for me) not to marry?

What about people who are socially awkward? People who can't get a date? Do they deserve not to ever see a girl naked just because they haven't had the opportunity to make a life commitment to one? Even socially capable people don't always have the luck. Not everyone finds their perfect mate, and not everyone is able to win over the type of girl they are most attracted to. I think there can be a separation between the emotional and physical aspects of mating, as well, but that's another issue that deserves its own discussion.

I am an aesthete, an admirer of beauty. This includes erotic beauty, which happens to be my focus. I believe that beauty exists to be admired, and I think it's selfish for a person to horde their beauty (or their girlfriend/wife's beauty) for themselves and themselves only. I wouldn't force anyone to show off who is not comfortable doing so, but I do encourage beautiful people to share the wealth. It is only my opinion, and I'm willing to respect others, but I feel that beautiful people have some measure of obligation to share their beauty with others.

Maybe not every guy can reasonably be expected to be given the opportunity to have sex with the type of girl they are most attracted to, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to believe that, with enough willing participants, every guy can at least have access to some kind of material that would facilitate fantasies towards that end. Having your picture taken, or being filmed while having sex, is really not a big deal. Okay, the social stigma against sex makes it a big deal, but we can eliminate that stigma if we want to. The point is, you can record yourself, and then you can give that gift to countless others, and it doesn't mean you have to have sex with anyone you don't want to. Why wouldn't anyone want to share that wealth? It's a harmless act of altruism that benefits the entire human race - and the most needy are the ones who reap the greatest benefit!

If you have much, give of your wealth.
If you have little, give of your heart.
If you have smarts, give of your mind.
If you have beauty, give of your body.

Nudity = Sex

How many people actually believe that "nudity equates to sex"? Is this a real phenomenon, or is it a phantom we've inadvertently invented? When somebody sees nudity, and instantly thinks sex, this alone is not evidence that this person equates nudity with sex. If I see an attractive person nude, I might immediately think about sex (then again, I might not), but it doesn't change the fact that I recognize that nudity can be completely nonsexual. The existence of these feelings and reactions are not at fault, and need not be excised.

The problem, I think, is that sometimes people see nonsexual nudity, and they presuppose a sexual motive or atmosphere. And why is that a problem? It's a problem only insofar as sex is a problem. They see sex, so they go into sex-reactive mode and attack us - us perverts having public sex orgies in full view of children. This is counterproductive because it's out of place. It's an incorrect reaction. It's not a sex orgy, it's just a nudist gathering, and thus the sex-reactive mode is completely inappropriate. Yet nudists do get attacked in that way, and more often than not, the powers that be - instead of recognizing the truth that nudism is nonsexual - punish it as if it were sexual.

So we push away sexuality. But this isn't healthy. We can't just cut sex out of our lives. If we have problems with sex, we ought to deal with them. When exactly is the sex-reactive mode appropriate? What if it were actually a public sex orgy, and not a nudist gathering? What's the problem with that anyway? We shouldn't respond with repressive hysteria, we should be reasonable and view it like anything else. Is anybody being forced to do something they don't want to do? Is this orgy in any way disturbing its neighbors unreasonably?

If we have a problem with people having sex, or a problem with other people seeing people having sex, we need to deal with it. People are gonna have sex, and they're gonna be seen having sex, and we ought to come to terms with that, and learn to accept it. And for those of us involved, shouldn't we learn to enjoy it? If we could overcome this problem, it would no longer matter whether the nudity was sexual or not, it wouldn't be a problem either way. And that would be a better world for both nudists and perverts. And I'm all about equality and the fair distribution of rights and freedoms. I refuse to attack sex in my defense of nudism.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nice Guys Get Hard Too

I was recently having a friendly discussion with a nudist about the merits of admiring the beauty of an attractive individual versus the dangers of encouraging gawking and similar rude behaviors. I (of course) insist that there is such a thing as polite voyeurism, despite the fact that sex-negative stereotypes portray it as something harmful and contrary to the interests of those being viewed.

Nudists, you should be well aware, are concerned about gawkers, because, due to society's treatment of nudity (a repeated cycle of repression and titillation), they have not uncommonly had a problem with those individuals who are not really interested in nudism, but show up only to take advantage of the nudity, presumably for some sexual thrill (whether it is primarily exhibitionist in nature, or voyeuristic, or a combination of the two). Naturally, they wish to discourage gawking, and this has the unfortunate side effect of having a negative impact on persons such as myself, who are polite and non-confrontational, yet have an interest in admiring the beauty of others in a somewhat voyeuristic fashion.

Now, in my defense, whatever pleasure I might gain from seeing an attractive person, I have no intention of behaving in a rude manner, and the last thing I'd want to do is anything that would make another person feel uncomfortable or in any way threatened by my behavior. Let's assume that it is possible to admire a person in a way that does not involve gawking or other rudeness. The course of the discussion led to the question of what kind of reaction would be appropriate if a guy was admiring somebody, while sporting an erection.

Now here, the automatic image is to assume that we're talking about a guy jerking himself while staring at a beautiful stranger, and clearly, this kind of behavior is not polite, and a nasty reaction is not unwarranted. But is this the necessary picture? What about somebody who happens to get an erection while admiring a beautiful stranger, but yet remains concerned about his demeanor, and whether he is bothering anyone? As it stands, the erection alone would usually been seen as an affront to the civility of the environment, but I'd argue that erections are a natural occurrence, and that even evidence of sexual arousal does not presuppose any kind of intent on the part of the aroused, and even if it did, the intent would not have to be aggressive or inappropriate in nature, by necessity.

We imagine those who are sexually open and free and liberated as being fiends and perverts. We assume that if they would go so far as to openly embrace the realm of sexual delights, that they must be lacking in morality and civility and self-control. The man who gets an erection among polite nude company then is necessarily seen to be a dangerous predator, or at best, a pathetic nuisance. Either way, he is to be captured and disposed of. But this is not the only picture that exists.

In truth, nice guys get hard too. Guys who don't want to cause problems. Guys who are friendly and funny and like to make people feel comfortable, and have no desire to impose their will on others. Guys who promote social harmony. They get hard too. They have sexual desires, and sometimes those desires show. It doesn't mean their demeanor will change. A nice guy who responds physiologically to an attractive girl isn't going to start acting all perverted and aggressive and controlling towards that girl. And when we see a guy get hard, why should we assume he's a bad seed?

Granted, social norms and customs, especially nudist ones, don't allow for public erections, and thus chances are you aren't going to see the nice guys in this predicament, because they know well enough to keep themselves in check. But if we speak hypothetically (because this issue can be ported to other situations), we shouldn't automatically assume that anyone who gets hard is some kind of perverted sexual predator. Maybe it's a safety precaution, to protect us against those who are like that, but how many are? And in the meantime, how many nice guys do we end up sacrificing? And what about our approach towards sexuality? I don't think it's healthy to assume that sexual desires are dangerous and aggressive, until proven otherwise. What does that say about our attitude towards sex? And how much does it promote the adoption of those kinds of attitudes, as a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The result of this kind of approach is that, when a perfectly nice guy like myself, without a hint of a predatory instinct, decides that he wants to compliment an attractive girl politely, in the hopes of boosting her confidence and spreading good cheer and positive sexual energy, he instead gets attacked in self-defense, being thought of as disgusting scum, or worse - dangerous disgusting scum. The fact that I am polite means nothing. Because we've lost the ability to make that distinction. All sex is dirty. All sexual speech is insulting. All sexual expression is obscene.

All I want is to live in a world with a healthy and positive approach towards sexuality, where sex can be a positive force that enhances a person's experience of life - sex feels good, and it's only natural for us to feel good about it in turn. But all society seems to want to do is reinforce its views on sex being dirty, and icky, and immoral, and, essentially, evil. And also aggressive and animalistic. Which it sometimes can be, but whatever happened to nice and gentle sexuality? Just because a person takes their sexuality out of the bedroom with them, doesn't mean that it necessarily has to be the aggressive kind. Enough with these sexual stereotypes. Don't judge a person based on their sexual desires, or the simple fact that they have them, and that they show them. Evaluate instead the nature of those desires, and the behaviors that accompany them. Give birth to the concept of the polite pervert!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Privacy in a Digital World

One of the concerns that I see coming up often in discussions of the ways that the digital revolution is changing the world, is how our privacy as individuals is being affected. With digital convenience comes increased interconnectivity. Through a digital signal people are closer than they've ever been before, regardless of the physical distance between them. And though digital storage can be fragile, it is becoming cheaper and smaller, and much more convenient to store all kinds of information for extended periods, as well as to share and transfer that information across the globe. And while there is such a thing as digital security, not everybody knows as much about it as they should, and like with all things, there are back doors.

In a different age, before computers, before telephones, before recording technology existed, one could imagine that people could have a great deal of privacy, if they wanted it. They could engage in activities in secret, and the only record would be the imperfect memories of those directly involved.

But what is the value of privacy? There is an intrinsic value, which is related to the desire to be alone, to remain unjudged, and to simply be, free from the observation of others. Some people are more comfortable doing some things on their own. I think this should be respected. It's when people feel a need for privacy, when they might like to share but refrain in the interest of self-protection, that I am concerned. Ideally, nobody should feel compelled to shut up if they'd rather speak out (isn't this the principle behind free speech protection?).

A question arises regarding the judgment of others. Firstly, do we deserve to be judged by others? Do others have the right to judge us, and to adopt patterns of behavior towards us based on that judgment? Of the things that a person might want to keep secret from others, there are criminal acts, and there are unpopular acts. You might argue that criminal acts don't deserve privacy, but what if a homosexual wants to keep his sexual orientation a secret in order to avoid social and moral condemnation in a society that does not criminalize, but still discriminates against homosexuality? I think that's a valid justification for privacy. But what if it were possible for us all to mature, and stop judging people based on these kinds of factors?

I think that what the digital erosion of privacy is doing is bringing to light many private behaviors that have been going on for a good long while, but were simply less known, or less talked about, in days of broader privacy. And I think that this could be a good thing. If we could replace the attitude of "whatever you wanna do behind closed doors, as long as I don't have to hear about it, I don't care" with "I see, people do these things, and there's nothing wrong with it", then I think a lot more people could be a lot more honest with themselves, and with others, and that would promote good self-esteem and better, more honest relations between people.

Naturally, before we progress from one attitude to the other, there will be an exposure phase, in which people will overreact to behaviors they are not used to. This is a dangerous phase, where many people stand to be prosecuted for things they really shouldn't be prosecuted for, like the discrimination against homosexuality for example. But if in the long run it means that we, as a group, as a species, can come to terms with a wider range of what it means to be human, I think this will be a good thing. I just think that in the meantime, we should be careful not to attack people for things that offend us, that disagree with our moral codes, or our sense of values and decorum. I realize this is asking a lot, but it's important for our humanity.

And this isn't to say that we should begin to accept anything and everything that someone could do, just that we should redefine our eroded principle of harm, and learn which sort of things truly are worthy of restriction and punishment, and which aren't. As an example, I have heard about an event in San Francisco that sometimes involves explicit displays of sexuality in public streets (even if it's not officially sanctioned), and a reporter, responding to this, made the all-too-easy comparison to the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. If some people like to fornicate in the streets, I don't see how that's evidence of the corruption of society. Now, if people were being raped in the streets, that's clearly a different matter. But otherwise, this is a "moral" offense, and should not be a criminal one.

And ultimately, you might not want to see that happening in your streets (that's probably something your community should decide), but the fact that it happens somewhere (the revelation of which is being facilitated by digital transparency) isn't a good reason for you to get on your high horse and start judging others. Live, and let live.