Deep Thought



I ztk05cawa8hfrca46uzf9cav3h1u1caqiep1tcayn4zkqcayz56ydca3xqx5wcawbmsukca0kt8xdcagmvys8ca81stxhcab6r3lbcavgu7k1cao0cd2pcaa1p8e5cahhyutican8xi45cajm5gvgcavlfsmw.jpgztk05cawa8hfrca46uzf9cav3h1u1caqiep1tcayn4zkqcayz56ydca3xqx5wcawbmsukca0kt8xdcagmvys8ca81stxhcab6r3lbcavgu7k1cao0cd2pcaa1p8e5cahhyutican8xi45cajm5gvgcavlfsmw.jpghave just jumped out of the shower where I was contemplating oral sex.  Well, sex and art or something like that.  Let me explain before you start thinking I have just made the world’s most inauspicious start to a blog entry!  I was thinking about a film I saw once, which was called “Inside Deep Throat,” a documentary of that somewhat famous porn movie (which, as it happens – but nothing to do with virtue – I have never seen).  It was funny, interesting, and sad and provoking e.g. Gore Vidal saying, “People always lie about sex because they are taught since they are children to lie about everything.”  Anyway, I wasn’t thinking about the film per se but about the strange dynamic that occurred amongst the audience when, all of a sudden – and only for about ten seconds – the big screen was filled with Linda Lovelace performing her most famous act.  And suddenly I was embarrassed and awkward and wishing I was anywhere else!  And I sensed that other people were also.  And I thought this was very strange because we were watching a sex act in the dark and we were all grown up and know that’s how grown ups act and that it is not shameful or dishonest or bad; that we would not feel the slightest embarrassment to see our fellow humans shooting each other – for longer and in slow motion and even with great cruelty.

Now, where exactly am I heading with this?  You see, the protagonists in the film could mainly be drawn into two main camps – those that see even bad performance as a form of art and those that see pornography as non-art and offensive and demeaning.  As usual, I kept thinking that neither was quite the whole story – even if you accept Oscar Wilde’s dictum that there is no such thing as a bad book or a good book; only a badly written or well written book.  Anyway that is another story because I wasn’t even thinking about the pros and cons of pornography as art (if it isn’t, then what else is not art  – war like Guernica by Picasso, martyrdom like all those religious pictures of St Sebastian with arrows in him, Jesus on the cross?)  Or does art stopping being art when it is based on exploitation?  Is that why pornography makes us feel a little morally bereft?  And if a film about oral sex is not art then what is a documentary about a film of oral sex? Buggered if I know – it’s not what I was thinking about!

I was trying to get my head around how when we look at something we change its nature.  This is not making much sense, I know, but I find it puzzling and interesting.

A few years ago in New York, I went to the Guggenheim Museum.  There was this photo, very large, a colour print of a naked woman with a very newborn baby in her arms.  She is standing, facing the photographer in front of a white (hospital?) wall on which only a light switch is evident.  A thin trickle of blood runs from between her legs and down to her ankle.  Her expression is difficult to judge, ambiguous – though not unhappy.  The nakedness and starkness, the blood and the tiny baby create such a sense of vulnerability yet, at the same time, of a greater, simpler truth about us all that it strikes deeply, an effective amalgam of the profound and the everyday.  Mostly though, it is the framing and viewing of the scene that changes it, transforms it into art.  After all, it portrays an event, a moment of the ordinary and common.  Most of the adults in the museum have experienced variations of this event, have known women and babies and hospital walls – why do we pause now and so troubled? 

Another picture, smaller and black and white, was also confronting but for different, though related, reasons.   A naked couple are about to kiss, she slightly on top of his prostrate body.  She is also holding him erect in her hand.  They both look at each other’s eyes.  This picture is avoided by most people, even their conversations pause then move on – not out of offended dignity but out of social discretion (like me in the movies!).  Out of good manners!

Do you see what I mean about the act of viewing, the public presentation of this private moment that leads to the transcendence of the act itself?  This last picture could have as easily been a single shot from an X rated movie, there is little abut the photograph that is “artistic.”  But its enlargement, its framing, its placement on a museum wall for viewing has created the effect of art.  Now this moment is held up for public view, placed in a context where social conventions are different and somehow inadequate.  We are challenged by a variety of emotions – embarrassment, voyeurism, titillation, confusion.  And all in public!  It’s as if the act of stripping away the walls from these intimate scenes has somehow stripped the walls from us.  The formal expression of intimate acts somehow confounds us and changes the meaning of the acts themselves.

And yet, if the man and woman in the photograph or the woman with the baby were actually in front of us, this would not be art, would it?

Or would it…?



Filed under art, Film, life, sex, sex pictures

7 responses to “Deep Thought

  1. Tim

    For some reason, this immediately made me think of several parallels about how there cannot be “non-intrusive observation.” In various branches of science, we find that the very process of observation introduces changes in the measured results.

    Fascinating that you’ve twisted this around a bit, and made me think about the same effect in a social context. – Tim

  2. S

    This is very much like the point I raised on your other art/sex post – when does art stop being art and become pornography?

    When does pornography become art?

    Are art and pornography one and the same?

    In general, I do not have a problem viewing (filmed) sex acts or porn in mixed company… unless that mixed company consists of my family members. But, that’s a completely different issue.

    In college, my friends and I once had a “Porn and Chicken” night (I skipped the chicken) where we watched a horrendously disgusting porn while consuming a bucket of KFC. Similar to how a group of friends would watch a typical non-pornographic film while eating.

    I think that one of two things what happens when people watch porn – they either begin to feel voyeuristic, or they detach themselves from what is on the screen.

    I think that when people begin to feel voyeuristic, it is because it’s similar to having your own intimacies aired for everyone to see. So, if a blowjob is your ultimate sex act, watching a woman suck a dick on a giant screen in the middle of a documentary may hit a little close to home.

    In my own personal case, I tend to detach myself from the “pornographic experience” in that I can watch it, comment on it, crack a joke here and there, and walk away as if it were your run of the mill movie.

    On the other hand, when I’m at a museum, I don’t want [explicit] sex acts to be “thrown in” masquerading as what I think of as art (such as the masturbation sequence at the student show). What is deemed as “art” is 100% subjective, which is why this is a very debatable topic.

    Sorry, that was very wordy. Hopefully, it made sense.

  3. i must agree with the comment above, though wordy, which is okay; art is %100 subjective. For instance, and while we are on the topic of sex and nakedness, while touring several museums in New York City i came upon a video of a man sprawled out on the floor with non-erect penis. The shot was black and white and of the waist down. All that was visible was the man’s lower belly and between his legs. Personally, i did not see the need to have this displayed, especially in an art museum, because i did not see it as art. but, to the creator, to the artist, this was art, it was their art.

  4. Interesting post……I think for me the lack of a story in filmed pornography makes it unartistic….I mean I could watch Lady Chatterley’s Lover graphic as could be and that would be art, as is Last Tango in Paris, but most porn has little story, and seems so fake and over-the-top (not that i’ve seen scads of the stuff you understand but…. 🙂 ). A photograph does frame a moment and allows the viewer to bring the story, so for me that is artisitic. As for the people standing in front of us, isn’t it only art when we write, paint, photograph it? Good, thought-provoking post.

  5. loubird

    I admit, I hate getting into conversations about what art is. It’s like the difference between prose and poetry, the boundaries constantly change based on current cultural context.

    However, I can definitely understand the Western aversion to sex and nudity. Not meaning that I understand it in a sympathetic way, but understand it in a ‘god, my culture fucked me up’ kind of way. It reminds me of a bible study I went to once that was run by a young married couple, the man happening to be the youth pastor at my parents’ church. He confided in the group about a problem he had with watching pornography in College. That this was a weakness of his. On the other hand, his wife (girlfriend while in college) was an art major. For one project a nude, male model sat in on the art class and they were all to draw/paint him. Well her boyfriend at that time was livid. He accused her of lusting and putting herself in the path of sin. Of course part of his confessional to the group was that he realized after a little while that what was a temptation to him (seeing nude bodies) was not a temptation to her and that his anger had been misplaced. To me, this story is an interesting example of how western culture views nudity and sexuality. It’s a weakness, a sin. If we look at a naked body it inspires lust. I, for one, wish that everyone could look at a naked body like a tree or a rock. It is a beautiful product of thousands of years of Nature. I suppose that’s why it can be a good subject for art, in all its forms.

  6. I think intent might have something to do with the discomfort of viewing porn in a non standard porn viewing setting. I mean the intent of porn is pretty uncomplicated, but when you come find it in a setting where you are not really in the mood, so to speak, it is a bit cringeworthy. Whether or not it is any good.

    Where that leaves Art on the subject of the sex act I don’t know, but I suspect it has something to do with how conciously the artist was influenced by porn when they were making it.

    As for the recent birth photo thing, personally I can’t help feeling that everyone involved should have had rather better things to be doing with their time than posing for a moody artistic photo. The calculatedness of it – it does sound terribly contrived – at that moment does actually annoy me a bit.

    Oddly enough, I’d be happier with it if it weren’t real. If the woman were a model and so on.

    I do hope the photographer wasn’t the Dad at least.

  7. David

    This was a very interesting post. I may have something more coherent to say later, but right now, I’m digesting it.

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