A.W. Eaton's “‘A Lady on the Street But a Freak in the Bed’: On the Distinction Between Erotic Art and Pornography”
just came out in The British Journal of Aesthetics
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 16th-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.