Sexuality in Art

an exploration of sexuality, feminism, LGBT issues, and other related topics in the contemporary art world.

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“I Make Art Not Porn”… But… You Do Make Porn.


This is an interesting one.

I have been a fan of Thought Catalog for a long time, except lately their increasingly sexist / anti-feminist and plain idiotic posts have left me really turned off.

However, I recently found this article about an MFA student who is doing an “art project” by essentially making a porn site. I, much like her peers, professors, and audience, am skeptical.

She’s received a lot of criticism, which is understandable. She’s running a “photography” site which consists of photos of her, naked, which she makes money off of, and is doing it as a sort of performance / identity art piece.

She makes a few interesting points in the Thought Catalog piece she wrote, comparing herself to the Duke university porn star as well as speaking out about her opinions on how LGBTQ peers have been praised for work that she feels is similar to her own.

I will say this: I am intrigued by her work. I didn’t pay to view her full site, but I support the free expression of sexuality. And, as we all know, I support sexuality in art. It’s a shame that she gets such violent backlash, but I suppose, as unfortunate as this is to say, that that’s to be expected with a “project” of this nature. It’s an interesting take on “art”… she is asking for curation and critique, and takes artistic aspects like composition, etc. into mind… and as performance art, she is making a variety of statements about feminism, sexuality, and the fine line between art and porn.

That’s where the main problem arises for me. The title of her TG article is “I Make Art Not Porn.” Not true. She’s making porn… as an art form. She is making porn. I just want that to be clear… she’s making sexually explicit and blatantly pornographic (in my opinion) images that you have to pay for and have to be 18+ to view… that is porn. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not art. She is making art. She’s making an expression of identity, a documentation of a journey, a presentation of artistic work… but… once again… it very very much is porn.


Lady Gaga discusses art and sexuality on set | PORTER magazine

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I don’t always… “agree” with what Lady Gaga says and does but I have to say that I do respect her as an artist, and as hard as it is to admit, I can sometimes actually identify with some of her artistic philosophies.

However, this video kind of annoys me. She seems like she’s trying to claim that her own sexuality and sexual identity are totally separate from her work, which I kind of feel like isn’t true. As a celebrity, your identity is your brand. I don’t know her personally so I can’t speak to her but her music, videos, and performances often have a highly sexual nature and since she writes all or most of her music it would be very difficult to keep all of that separate from your own identity.

I kind of feel like she’s just trying to be “cool” and have this sort of androgynous hippie vibe with this video and as much as she’s done for the LGBT community, I personally feel like she doesn’t always totally get it – especially when it comes to gender fluidity and queer culture. But maybe I’m just mad because she has a lot of money and I don’t.

I don’t know, watch the video and decide for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Calm Beauty // Confronting a Demon // The Work of Kelly Surdo

Kelly Surdo is a 22 year old photographer based in Portland, OR. She majored in Photography at SUNY New Paltz and now has work up on Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram. Her work has a uniquely quiet and subtle sexual nature which she says comes naturally. Her complex relationship with sex and sexuality is a journey she explores through the camera.

“I have a complicated and frightening relationship with sex and how it relates to intimacy,” Surdo confessed, “There is a close proximity I like getting to with people, sometimes in a way that hurts me, sometimes in a way that I’m in control of and feels reassuring.”

Surdo says that viewing the world through a lens was a natural process from an early age and has helped her to better understand her own life and relationships, as well as her identity as both an artist and as a gender fluid individual.

View the full interview and some of Surdo’s work here.

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The Artist’s Muse, The Porn Star


New York-based artist Molly Crabapple has found a muse in one of her good friends. She has been the subject of portraits, a featured guest at gallery openings, and is the main source of inspiration for an upcoming exhibit. This woman who has captured the art and lit the flames of inspiration in Crabapple’s heart is none other than the famous porn star, Stoya.

It began around 2011 with Crabapple’s portrait of Stoya. Earlier this year, the adult film star appeared semi-nude at a gallery opening for Crabapple’s exhibition of her most recent works, “Shell Game” (pictured above). Now she is in the process of creating a mysterious new project entitled “stoyaville” to which she is giving little information about the content, but being quite explicit about the conceptual subject.

Molly Crabapple’s work often touches on the controversial. She creates gorgeous and highly detailed paintings, but also works as a writer and journalist, and usually finds a way to incorporate art into the journalism world. From the artist’s about page:

Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer living in New York. Her work has been described as “God’s own circus posters,” by Rolling Stone, but beneath the lavishly detailed surface, it engages injustice, subversiveness and rebellion.

Because of Molly’s 2013 solo exhibition, Shell Game, a series of large-scale paintings about the revolutions of 2011, she was called “an emblem of the way that art could break out of the gilded gallery” by The New Republic. She was shortlisted for a 2013 Frontline Print Journalism Award for her internationally-acclaimed reportage onGuantanamo Bay.

Molly is a columnist for VICE and has written for The New York Times, Newsweek, The Paris Review, CNN, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Corriere della Sera and Der Spiegel. Her published books include Discordia (with Laurie Penny; Random House, 2012) on the Greek economic crisis and the art books Devil in the Details and Week in Hell (IDW 2012). Her illustrated memoir, Drawing Blood, will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.


Crabapple is clearly a highly acclaimed artist and journalist. Her work is both beautiful as well as political. Stoya is a celebrity in the adult film world. Her relationship with porn actor James Deen has been highly publicized especially during his transition into non-pornographic work, recently costarring in “The Canyons” with Lindsay Lohan. It’s not particularly surprising that an artist would find a muse in a very beautiful fair-skinned celebrity, but how does Stoya’s work correlate with Crabapple’s? Although Crabapple’s work sometimes includes nude or semi-nude figures, I hardly think many would call it pornographic.

I think that Crabapple is making an important point, whether intentional or not (but I think it probably is). Porn stars, and sex workers in general, aren’t part of a lower class of society; they’re not “trashy” just because of their chosen field of work. Stoya has made a career out of sex, but Crabapple doesn’t particularly acknowledge that in her work. She is celebrating Stoya the woman, the work of art, the person.

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Sex as the Medium


A couple of years ago, a New York-based artist began an exhibition where his media was one part paint, one part intercourse. Alexander Esguerra had the idea to allow couples to express their love visually on a canvas. He would set up the heated canvas and provide them with paint and an intimate setting, and leave them alone to… express themselves.

In this article about the exhibition, Esguerra describes the concept behind the coital compositions: it’s all in what you don’t see. The marks, prints, streaks, and splatters left by the passion of the lovers results in an abstract piece of art without the information necessary to ruin it for bigots – awesome! “Sex is basically the great equaliser,” he explains. Without the couples present, the remnants of their lovemaking appear free of race, age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The viewer sees sex in its most naked form.

Esguerra’s exhibiton not only resulted in compelling paintings, but in an important statement about the freedom of art. Without creating explicit or pornographic images, but by using sex as an artistic medium, Esguerra proved that sex may be messy, but doesn’t have to be dirty.

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Sarah Annesley: The Intrinsic Sexual Nature of Art



Artists are constantly receiving inspiration from all aspects of their life, and often times not even intentionally. Sexuality is one of those aspects which can very easily subconsciously affect people, and therefore often shows up in artwork or other forms of expression. Sarah Annesley, a BFA student at SUNY New Paltz, says that sex and sexuality are an inherent part of the process for all artists, whether they are aware of it or not.

“A lot of my figures are coupled with writing, and they are usually addressing and emotion connected to an experience or issue I was dealing with at the time. The figures, in this way are self portraits exposing my mental state. A lot of my drawings touch upon how I see my gender or my intimate relationships with other people. At one point in time, I used my figures to explore what the idea of being a woman was, and how I don’t necessarily feel like I fit that mold. I think in a general sense, art is always going to somehow relate to your sex, because it is something that is so intrinsic. Even if your work doesn’t directly deal with sex as a subject matter, you are going to find traces of it in your work.”

Sarah Annesley is a Printmaking BFA at SUNY New Paltz in her senior year. She works primarily with the human figure and some portraiture. She Enjoys using water media in her work as well. More of her work can be viewed on her website.

Sharmistha Ray, Growing Up in an Islamic Culture as an Indian Lesbian Artist

Artist Sharmistha Ray has spent her life moving between India, the Middle East and the United States, discovering, layer by layer, her own sense of self, sexual identity and artistic vision in contrast or harmony with each new environment. Now, as her latest exhibition Reflections + Transformations is set to open at the Aicon Gallery in New York City on October 24, she tells the TED Blog about how her journey has unfolded so far, taking her from figurative art to abstraction and back to vibrant colors and lush, sensual textures that celebrate and reclaim the female body.

“Growing up gay in a traditional Indian family in an Islamic society in Kuwait also created its own displacement. I experienced oppression very early on within my family and society. My sexuality, which started to emerge in my early teens, was a terrifying realization for me. I lived in mortal fear of anyone knowing my dark secret. But ironically, the fear also bore my love for art. It was through art that I was finally able to find my own voice.”

I find that this speaks volumes and has relevance to many issues. Many artists express that their life struggles and internal battles fuel their art and that their most difficult times result in some of their best art. Sharmistha certainly has plenty of content to reflect upon. Religious issues and conflicts with feminism and sexuality as well as her own sexuality in the context of her Indian heritage, and then what all of that means for her as a contemporary artist. This results in not only an intriguing interview with, but can be viewed in her vivid and unique art itself.