Let’s Talk About All The Ravenous Sexual Display in The Arts

Sexuality is a normal trait for all animal species. It permits intimacy, immunity, reproduction, and other conceivable benefits. This is why the display of sexual acts by artists in today’s society aren’t much of a surprise; in many cases, art imitates life.

Yet, if you’ve observed sexual display in the arts like I have, I’m sure you would’ve noticed that many artists handle the topic of sexuality differently. Some showcase minimal sexual display and others reveal everything… every damn graphic detail.

Is there a fine line between art and pornography?

Is there a line at all?

My experience

My Grade 12 Visual Arts teacher told all the art students to find photos of nude men and women on the web, and to select a favorable photo amongst them to draw. While picking an image we were told to select one based on the position of the model in the picture, their setting, and their stance. Our art teacher wanted us to draw a photo that was “raw” (e.g. with an unshaved man or woman), “expressive” (e.g. conveying movement or feeling), but also “tasteful”.

Tasteful.

They word revealed that we weren’t allowed to be too raw or too expressive after all. It suggested that all displays of nudity can be classified as either ‘appropriate’ and ‘not appropriate’. This perception isn’t necessarily a bad thing in many settings (e.g. schools) but it proved that there are implied limitations to sexual display.

So for my nude project, I drew an African woman with a thick afro, dark skin, and a slim build. She sat on stool, where a dim light bulb shined above her naked body. The dim light bulb lit up some parts of her skin and darkened others. Also, her hands were crossed over her private parts, strangely, acting as a form of censorship.

 

 

 

 

My Grade 12 Nude Project (2015)

Yes, I was following my teacher’s guidelines, but I also thought the picture was interesting. It was aesthetically pleasing because it had an expressive bodily placement, a unique setting, and used censorship creatively.

I had found my notion…

Dear Artist,

Please, if you must censor your content, censor as creatively as possible. Forget the typical censorship eye sores and create your own identifiers because there is some fun for your audience in the hinting and/or teasing of sexual content.

The typical ‘blurring’, ‘pixelating’, ‘muting’, ‘beeping’, or the use of censorship bars or stamps aren’t appreciated (at least not anymore). This is because, nowadays, the censoring of sexual displays are inconsistent. We censor art in some places and practically sell sex in others (think about advertising…think about TV content). That’s why there are annoyed people scowling at their TV screens:

Kanye Twitter
Source: Twitter

Like this sarcastic Twitter user, my previous response to content distributors was to either allow sexual display completely or remove all of it because partial censorship seemed outrageous. However, after my search for “tasteful nudity” in Grade 12, based on the artworks I found online, I began to believe that partial censorship can be done right.

Jon Lee aka “IAmLeegit”, a hilarious YouTuber, perfectly summarized my new outlook on the ‘art of censorship’. Censoring graphic content to me (and to my new spirit animal, Jon Lee) isn’t just a way to appease sensitive audiences but also something we can experiment with:

We can add inside jokes, allusions, sarcasm, satire and more, to adult content!

Here are some of examples of both extreme and limited sexual display done well:

In Music

Extreme Sexual Display

Source: Tumblr

One of the most provocative song I’ve ever listened to would be “Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-N-Pepa, which was released in 1991. I’m categorizing this song as an extreme example of sexual display because of direct referral to sexuality in the song’s title, lyrics, and music video. However, the songs provocative nature doesn’t take away it’s worth. “Let’s Talk About Sex” was a powerful song. The African-American female group and their songwriter Hurby Azor, advocated the normalization of discussions about sex as natural part of life. “Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic,” they say. The song was quite revolutionary for its time because in the early 21st century that level of sexual transparency was still lacking. Sex is not something idolize, it should be portrayed realistically because sex can have both good and bad characteristics.

Honorable mentions:

Limited Sexual Display

Most singers tend to hint sexuality instead of putting it on full display. However, the singer’s music videos and body language in live performances usually protrude the suppressed sexual meaning in their lyrics. For example, “Good For You” by Selena Gomez had subtle references to sex but the music video ensures that all the graphic connotations in the lyrics are known. Overall, the connotations + high-quality setting + nice background colors + good beat = quite a great song.

Honorable mentions:

In Movies

Extreme Sexual Display

I found this fun gif that censors Halle Berry’s reoccurent boob shots in this movie, Monster’s Ball (Souce: Funny Junk)

If you haven’t watched the Monster’s Ball (2001) I encourage you to watch it (well, if you’re mature enough). The film, starring Halle Berry as “Leticia” and Billy Bob Thornton as “Hank”, had many layers in its storyline. The subject of law enforcement, social class, racism, abuse, sorrow, sex and death were all displayed in the film. You get to see how Leticia (a black woman) and Hank (a white man) find each other, the hardship they’ve faced (e.g. death of loved ones) and the aftermath (e.g. the development of a sexual relationship and their journey to being content with their lives).

Honorable mentions:

Limited Sexual Display

Source: Tumblr

Dirty Dancing (1987) celebrates youth, rebellion, drama (e.g. secret abortions, feuds, love affairs) and dance. There are many conflicts in the lives of the main characters Johnny and Frances (aka Baby) but one thing stays constant, the dancing. Overall, the movie was engaging; It was sexual, comedic, and most importantly, liberating.

Honorable mentions:

In Books

Extreme Sexual Display

Source: Buzzfeed

The Fifty Shades (book series) really shows what people are willing read. The erotic romance novels by E. L. James has had a lot of success in the writing and movie scene. Why? The novels have many layers. Yes, its sexy but it also has displays of love, abuse, fear, and moments of power and weakness within its storyline. The novel had, dare I say, quite an ideal representation of erotica.

Honorable mentions:

Hmm…I don’t think I’ve read anything else that is as erotic as the Fifty Shades book series (if you have suggestions for good books with extreme sexual display let me know!)

Limited Sexual Display

Source: badbookgoodtimes

The Twilight book series by Stephenie Meyer is one of the first mythology/fiction books I’ve ever read. The book series has humans, vampires, werewolves and hybrids (half-human and half-vampire). There are interrelationships (e.g. the sexual relationship between the human “Bella” and vampire “Edward”). Bella and Edward, like many other characters, experience love, jealousy, mental and physical boundaries, and great wars.

Honorable mentions:

 


Is there a fine line between art and pornography?

I believe that there is.

Art (e.g. visual art, performance art, music, writing) tends to be expressive in many ways, not just through sexual display. Whether it’s extremely sexual or has limited sexuality, good art has an array of characteristics. There are serious and fun themes in art, while pornography tends to focus on just bodily pleasure.


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