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.

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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.


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The Artist’s Muse, The Porn Star

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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

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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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Losing Virginity as an Art Form

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This recent article recently appeared on the Huffington Post. The young artist featured, 19-year-old Clayton David Pettet, is planning on losing his virginity in front of a live audience as a piece of performance art.

The artist student’s former work has explored the concept of sexuality in various ways, mainly through the use of photography. But he claimed in the Huff Post article that in this next endeavor, he was planning to go beyond just sexuality into the convention of virginity and how the concept differs for men, especially homosexual men.

The idea is certainly controversial, but does bring some important issues to the surface. Is the concept of virginity sexist and outdated? Is it made up? But beyond that, it pushes the envelope of contemporary art. What makes it art and not pornography? In this post-postmodernist world, are there any boundaries left as far as what qualifies as art? This question has been asked for decades, most notably beginning with Dada and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain and will probably continue to be asked for decades to come as the boundaries of the art world continue to disappear.