Wednesday, August 29, 2007


In 1913, a pernicious little busybody named M. Blair Coan spied on visitors to an art exhibit in Chicago. Coan, an investigator for the State Vice Commission, was upset by the "immorality" of modern paintings and suspected that Matisse's painting of nude dancers might even be "attracting the gaze of young girls."

Coan stirred up a great public outcry against immoral art. He then turned his talents to spreading alarm about the imminent communist takeover of the United States. In one of his books, The Coming Peril, Coan warned that socialism would ruin society by encouraging free love and giving women the right to vote. For Coan, the most "monstrously immoral" threat was that socialism might permit white women to consort with men of other races:

The negro and the white woman, the white woman and the Chinaman, They draw no race line or color line in the [Socialist] party.
Each new generation must battle its own versions of Coan. Personally, I wouldn't know "immoral art" if I saw it. Rodin used to say, "There should be no argument in regard to morality in art; there is no morality in nature." But even if we all agreed on one standard for morality in art, the law is just not well suited to prevent people from drawing dirty pictures. Author Stephen Becker wrote about the futility of using law as a tool to shape human nature:

Man comes first with his lusts, and then the law, usually in the form of an infinitely reticulated mechanism that serves variously as strait jacket, leg iron or chastity belt. Or that should so serve; but in its preventive function it usually fails and thus becomes merely punitive, the rationale for thumbscrew or dungeon or guillotine.
Today, organizations such as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund do excellent work helping to keep that punitive function from getting out of hand.

That's the easy part.

Now let's turn back to the gaze of young girls.

I may have trouble recognizing when art is immoral, but I have no trouble recognizing when art is coarse, shallow or laughably immature. A number of popular artists such as Serpieri, who is an able draftsman, have a penchant for drawing beautiful women being gang raped by monsters.

Dozens of other best selling artists, such as Manara or Noe, make a fine living selling highly explicit pictures of adolescent male fantasies. And these are the best of the bunch. There are hundreds of artists out there who, judging from their work, seem to be training to illustrate gynecology textbooks.

I am not morally or legally opposed to this kind of art. I sometimes have aesthetic objections, but not enough to merit burning the books or jailing the artist.

At the same time, we let ourselves off too easily if we deny that there are gentle young things in the world (girls or boys) that deserve a chance to find their footing unmolested. And you don't have to be Coan to conclude that easily accessible extreme images from books, magazines and the internet can distort that process.

That's what I would like to chat about in the next few postings: the artistic quality and social impact of this kind of art, the virtues of extremism and the virtues of moderation. I trust that, as usual, you will have some strong opinions to express and some good artists to recommend.


High Power Rocketry said...

: )

santissima said...

check Martin Van Maele's work (
porn as social critic. very nice.

Anonymous said...

Heady topic. And one that makes one a bit unhappy to talk about. To consider these matters, is to engage with them psychically.

But the discussion is important I think.


It is my own belief that art is transformative by its very nature. One might say its goal is making the ordinary look extraordinary, and bringing a kind of ordinariness, (say, realism), to the extraordinary. In both cases there is an elevation going on. In the first case offering enjoyable and fascinating new ways of seeing what is before us, and in the second, offering, at worst a (palliative or nihilistic) fantasy or, at best, hope for a new world or a finer or more exciting existence.

Sex, on the other hand, is both ordinary and extraordinary and needs no aesthetic heightening. It requires no transformation. And since real-deal sex signals need no visual heightening, it seems to me, they veer away (as they become more pronounced, moving from suggestive to titillating to erotic to pornographic) from the province and purpose of art.

(Aside: In a similar way, a great work of art is also “finished by its heightening” -- Does a fine Klimt need anything added to it? It is both extraordinary and exists and that is a sort of perfection that requires no further address.)

Back to “back”…

As a kid, I had a subscription to Heavy Metal during Serpieri’s first entries into that magazine.

In my opinion, Serpieri’s artwork (isolated from his narrative) is both beautiful and pornographic, but never at the same time. The moment it becomes pornographic, the beauty seems to vanish before one’s eyes, and the nature of our engagement with the work devolves. Even when it moves from illustration to less-harsh erotica, the aesthetic experience becomes compromised.

This goes, straightaway, to Harvey Dunn’s contention that there is a single core to any work. And two ideas “cannot ride in double harness” as he put it.

Great illustration cannot also be effective porn, and vice versa.

The same goes for great graphic narrative/comic books. It cannot both be great art and effective porn.

In “legit” drama (which of course can include dramatic comic books) we come to empathize and identify with, and project ourselves into, the main characters as they move along in their struggle. And as the risk level to accomplish their goal increases, the tension mounts. We hope for their success and fear for their failure. And this arrests our attention and we watch on the edge of our seat for the conclusion. And with luck it will be simultaneously surprising, satisfying, and edifying.

The drama in Serpieri’s comic work is not about characters struggling to overcome difficulties leading to some epiphany. The drama in Serpieri’s work is all about “waiting for the porn” to happen. His characters are just bodies parading their sexual wares in, essentially, a dystopian dance of the seven veils.

Thus, Serpieri is truly a pornographer. That is the core of his art and his stories. There is a large element of illustration art to his work, yes, but it is shunted aside when he gets down to his real business.

It seems to me, pornography is an unfit subject for art for a second reason.

Porn seems to me in a category of “cheats”. Easy theatrical methods of gaining attention that require little in the way of talent. Sex images are indomitable as visual attention-getters. Why bother with the aesthetics of the buildings if you’ve already exploded an atomic bomb over the city?


My last point is that illustration, at its best, uplifts the psyche. Pornography, I contend, does not. Furthermore, there is the question of whether it actually harms the psyche.

My feeling is yes. Just how, is a very long debate.

But even if it was the societal consensus that viewing pornography is harmful to the psyche, it would be very difficult to tell people they are not allowed to make themselves unhappy. Especially if that unhappiness comes in the guise of a quick, cheap high.

Thanks for the great blog and all the inspiration it provides,

spacejack said...

First, a link. Scroll down for some groovy ink work - is it art or porn? I wouldn't presume to make a final judgement, but I do quite enjoy the drawings.

What I do find a little disturbing these days is how modern day superhero comics seem to have become a kind of porn - porn for 12 year olds, that 35 year olds buy. Whether female or male figures - breasts, pecs, muscles, even veins are all fetishized to an uncomfortable degree. It's as if characters have all had extreme amounts of ill-advised plastic surgery.

The DrawingBoard recently had a thread on Jim Balent's "how to draw women" which illustrates a bit of what I'm talking about.

I dunno. Maybe making this distinction simply identifies me as an old fart. Is there really that much difference between Vargas and Balent? Is it a logical progression to go from Neal Adams to Rob Liefeld?

DUSKE said...

Well personally i do think media can distort and change some ones perception of reality especially at a young age. I believe Lacans mirror stage is a very convincing theory on how we create our external world through our past experiences

that is defiantly worth a read.

But in the end what i would like to say is i do not agree at all with censor ship. by this i do not mean every one should see every thing but when a child is old enough to ask they are old enough to know.

when children encounter things i believe that they need to be allowed to approach it with a open dialogue. so if a child was to see a violent or sexual piece of media i do not believe it would be harmful in any way if they are able to entire it through open dialogue. This asks a lot of parents and others who are in contact with the child. though it maybe a lot i do not think it is to much.

When things are talked about and worked out there damaging effects become neutralized and even the most horrible experiences can become ones that allow for strength and empowerment.

So in conclusion what i believe is much more effective then censoring works is talking about them. if we were able to more actively discuss the things in our world with the other people around us i think we would find out selves in much stronger positions.

i am a little tired right now and hope that all made sense. i have just found this blog and so far find it very interesting and am happy that it is helping to create open dialogues about possibly controversial subjects.

thank you duske
as a wannabe illustrator you may find some work of interest with in my blog particular my illustrations for a small selection of Aesop fables

also my fave erotic illustrator

though i do not like the vore stuff or the chicks with dicks i do believe her style is amazing

BelowGrade said...

I am looking forward to the development of this discussion.
Very much like you, I see no pornography in art even when there is explicit sexual content or gore and violence.

Bit there is an important aspect I think should be taken into consideration when discussing this matter.
The fact that no art is completely detached from its time and environment. Some might argue that it is somehow the product of environmental influences and stimuli, although personally I think this kind of reasoning is way too simplistic,because it doesn't take into consideration individual psyche and and perceptions.

So what is at one time considered outrageous and immoral, later on might become acceptable.

Because just as artists are in part a product of their times, so is the public. And that includes our youth, which we so fiercely try to protect, based mostly on our own individual references of what is acceptable or morally sound.

Somehow I feel that we try to give our kids, the childhood and youth we had,(or wish we had), thinking of them as the child or teen we once were.

Truth is.. they are NOT. Not one bit. They had different experiences, were exposed to different stimuli and on top of that, there is the mysterious mental uniqueness that causes two children born and raised in the same household to behave, act and think differently.

Therefore I get really uncomfortable when I see people trying to determine what can or cannot be produced, published, exhibited, showcased, written, played or sung based on such a subjective and temporal concept as human morality.

And when they start to do it to "protect the innocent" I get even a bit irritated.

In life as in art, when it comes to choosing what kind of experience one might or might not be ready to be exposed to, there is no replacement for individual judgement. And in the case of our youth, the good ole parental discretion and even the success of that, is extremely dependent on how much your child is willing to abide by your rules and judgement.

If they come to distrust it, there is no V-Chip, rating system, parental control, cell phone bugs and video surveillance that will keep them from accessing "objectionable" content. Objectionable content being whatever we think our children are not ready to see yet (or worse, everything we are not ready to explain, discuss with them).

Although I'd not be very happy to see my underage kids flipping through pages of my Heavy Metal collection, I was more concerned about him watching two planes fly into a couple of crowded buildings, or listening about kids killing kids on school shootings,drug related drive by shootings. And then seeing their sports heroes and favorite pop stars on the news getting busted for drug use and dog fights, not to mention the names and numbers of war casualties every single day.
That is objectionable to me, and unfortunate there is no way around but damage repair.

At least when it comes to art forms, there is some sort of rating system,not so much for everyday life.
Imperfect as it is, the rating system is the only feasible alternative I see to censorship. (let me note that all the works mentioned here were published in adult magazines).

Now censorship is something I personally find indecent and immoral.

Oh... and let me compliment you on your blog. Just found it, will be coming back often.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Kevin, for a very thoughtful take on things. You're right, this is not a "feel good" topic, but it is nevertheless important if our art is to have any intellectual integrity. We can't simply bash the censors (which is like shooting fish in a barrel) and then avert our eyes from the collateral damage caused by our fun pictures.

I enjoyed your analysis of Serpieri and agree with it. As Robert Coane once put it, "you can't drool and draw."

I'm mulling over some of the distinctions you draw between porn and art. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to hold up as the discussion progresses.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to understand the heart of the post. Is it that censorship is a bad thing? So in the past, we censored things because of their explicit sexual content, but now things are better because there is no censorship? Really? Are things better now?

I don't think so. You think things aren't censored now like they were back then? Take a good look at the censorship involved when unflattering remarks or facts about ethnic groups are made. How about those islamic cartoons that started riots? What about the forced racial pairings that ad agencies require in all their advertising now? Can anybody say anything critical about blacks or gays? I this free speech?

Let me tell you something. Censorship is present in all societies at all times. It relates to the idea of good and evil--you don't give equal time and weight to good and evil, you support one and mitigate the other. Plurality seems like a really good idea until it actually occurs, and then everything falls apart, like it is here in America now. I don't think any kind of functional plurality is possible unless all parties agree to a certain set of fundamental principles. Then an open debate is possible. But without that agreement on first principles, it just who can overwhelm the other with raw force. In other words, chaos.

Another thing worth noting is that the censorship of the prurient and the censorship of the unflattering are not the same. The basis of the moralities is not the same--the religious view on sexuality is a far deeper well than the stroking of the ego, or ethnocentrism. And what has the destruction of the censorship of the prurient accomplished? The use of sex to sell just about everything, the descent into animal behavior and appealing to the basest instincts, and the coarsening of language and culture, that's what.

In my opinion, the creativity that the censorship of the prurient spurred was great and welcome, and a lot of good was accomplished. I don't think that can be said of our alternate censorship of the unflattering, and present innundation of the carnal. Where is the great PC art? How does it compare to the religious art of yesteryear?

We don't live in a perfect world, and you can't have everything. Some things have to give. I can live with a bit of hypocrisy if it results in the betterment of society. In my opinon, the censorship of the prurient falls under that category.

One last thought. Censorship always occurs at some level, whether at the indivdual, group, or govermental level. It used to be that the game was to leave it to the local level (community standards), absolving the government for the most part in undertaking a censorship role. Towns had risque parts where vice was strictly limited and controlled, and the rest of the town or city know where to go and where to avoid if they wanted a certain kind of atmosphere. That is no longer the case. Now pornography is all over, from television to the internet, and the community has no say in the imposition of standards. The government is constrained by its idealized pluralistic role, and we all are the less for it. No hypocrrisy now, no, things must be ideal and perfect! And its all falling apart.

I think I can live with a few limits and a bit of hypocrisy, David. I'm a gen X-er, but I remember what it was like before the smut seriously hit the airwaves in the 70's. I also remember what it was like before PC. Things are every bit as oppressive now as they were in the old days, just the arbiters of (im)morality are different. Don't ever think the censors now won't be just as oppressive as the previous ones. Yet now, these censors will allow no execptions to their rule, no red-light districts, no slips for the failings of human nature. These censors are all about human perfection. These censors are the really dangerous kind--no hypocrisy allowed. These are the really scary censors.

scruffy said...

Alcohal is not evil in and of itself. It's just a liquid. How people use it is what makes it destructive or beneficial. The ability to make art is a God given talent and is obviously good. The fact that some of us are not mature enough to use it well nor view it without damage should't really surprise us all that much. Censorship is nominally along these lines too. If i keep my children from drinking alcohal, i'm a good parent. If i try to keep everyone from drinking alcohal because i myself am not mature enough or physically able to use it then i am merely imposing my fears and weaknesses on the general public. I think we brush up against censors like this when we're young, there are always going to be people who think they know what's best for you no matter what age you are, and these sometimes well-meaning, sometimes just power hungry folk poison the entire notion for us. Censorship to protect the innoncent makes sense, they are not able to make the decision for themselves. Censorship, really universal outlawing of whatever is considered prurient and despicable at the time just tends to drive it underground.

Only God knows what's best for all of us and even He gives us our choice.

Nicolás Meza said...

Hola, este sitio es increible, disfruté viendo los dibujos. Soy Nicolas Meza, tengon 18 años soy ilustrador, seguramente quieren pasar a ver mis obras en mi web blog. Se los recomiendo añigos.


Anonymous said...

good works, a great blog

walk into my blog too if you want

jennifer harmon said...

You make good points. I feel the same way about allowing young men and women to discover their burgeoning sexualities together unmolested by violent, objectifying and often misogynistic pornography and depictions of women. Young women, being more often than not blissfully unaware of the content of average pornography, are in no position to discover their sexualities with men of their own age who have already been exposed to objectifying depictions of the female body. And young men develop an unhealthy and false image of women through their exposure to this same pornography.

Rosaria said...

The art of Matisse with to Deran and Braque, rivoluzionano the colors. Their Art becomes a sign, on the equilibrium of the shapes. 'work of the dance that you have postato, and for me is the one which better represents the artist. Grazie.rosy.

Unknown said...

This is an interesting topic. As the father of children. I am concerned about exposing children to certain images before they are mature enough to understand them. However, with children being surrounded by images on TV and the internet I think that illustrations are only a relatively small factor. As far as adults go, let them see whatever they want.

BelowGrade said...

Ok let me clarify here what I understand as censorship.

What I understand as censorship has something of a witch hunt nature... book burning, atelier invading, artist persecuting and banning state sponsored censorship.

As I understand, what you are pointing to is something I'd rather call "content filtering".
Not burning books and ripping pictures off the walls of public museums, but keeping those works from the eyes of young and unprepared audiences.

Not persecuting and scaring artists into not expressing themselves through their works, but in educating them on how to choose their audience and on artist's individual and social responsibility.

And that is not only commendable, as it is part of our responsibilities as parents, educators, artists, citizens.

Worries me though, when this content filtering is done by either state or press and media, because those institutions and entities, unlike the vast majority of us, have an agenda, which rarely has to do with our youth's best interest.
A proof of that is what is going on in pop culture today.

While we are here worried about our youngsters getting their hands on adult graphic novels, they are watching some MTV videos with images that would make Crepax's Valentina most erotic scene's look innocent.

And they are there with their little MP3 players or radios listening to some songs and singing along to some lyrics that are sexist, violent and very foul in language.

Which is why I insist that there is NO WAY, system or law that will ever replace individual responsibility. Content filtering can only be made by individuals and sometimes by small groups of like minded folks. Other than that, is dangerous censorship, that can get out of control.

We all have a little but absolute and atemporal set of core principles we base our lives and laws on, we call ethics, under which some things are universally deemed as unacceptable no matter how you look at them.

The laws we created and enforced based on such principles are the best we can do as human beings.

nalfia said...

The sexualization of young girls and women in modern art is disturbing to me. I find that alot of this sexual art is brutal and sadistic. I don't know why so many men hate women so much , but they do and it comes out in their creativity for all the world to see. How this art effects the young impressionable mind, I can only imagine that it would have a negative effect, but what do we do as responsible adults who want kids to see only good things? Censorship certainly is not the answer. The answer is in teaching our daughters to be strong,independent, and to have respect for themselves.The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.We must fight negative influences with a positive flow of love and integrity.

Jack R said...

I'd like to propose that gang rape should not be labeled as an adolescent fantasy, at least a typical one. Sex, yes but violence using sex, no (or at least I hope not). And that for me is the issue. It's one thing to pander yourself by drawing sex comics but another to combine it with brutality and violence. I think Kevin F. is right about Serpeiri; his comics are the equivalent to fast forwarding the VCR to skip the boring parts. If Serpeiri was a crummy artist well would anybody bother to argue that he wasn’t producing porn? But it seems if you can draw you get some sort of 'art pass'.

As for censorship, I have little kids and I'm all for making the sort of stuff David is talking about much less readily accessible. Keep it legal but keep it off the bottom rows at the comic store!

Anonymous said...

Cool. I'm born with artistic skills. My childhood days was the time I practiced much of this talent. I love your blog. It reminds me of those days. I have added yours to my list of favorite blogs. I'm into programming now. So your blog is next to Smart Pad, my favorite blog on programming.

Suzi-k said...

delighted to find your blog yesterday and spent happy hours digging through past posts and revelling in meaty debates in the comments... good stuff! Thanks, I'll be back regularly. Yesterday I came across some interesting examples of South African Anti-Apartheid posters, if you are interested follow the link, to the middle of a post called jumbled ramblings, and if you want more, e-mail me and I'll send them. Sadly bad quality photos, but I will be back there to take better ones sometime soon.

The Sanity Inspector said...

These are very nice scans, and congratulations on landing Blogger's featured blogs list. If you'll forgive the self-spammage, you might like to see some of the images I have on my similar (though not as learned) blog, All Edges Gilt, I only just got started, so there isn't much, but it sounds like it's the sort of thing you would enjoy. Best of luck with yours in the meantime!

Unknown said...

I cam across you blog today, and although I am not much of a blog reader I liked yours so much I am adding it to my Favorites. I would like to add a like of it o my own blog, but will only do so with you permission, of course.

Anonymous said...

so cool
kaytrem says he'd read again

David Apatoff said...

Gracias por la escritura, Nicolas. Aprecio tus comentarios e Ilook adelante a ver tu arte algún día.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Jennifer, Charles and Nalfia. My views are very close to yours. (Charles, I am a father too-- it does change your perspective on things). Like the three of you, I am concerned about the impact of this kind of art on young and impressionable people who don't yet have the perspective and judgment to understand it and deal with it. Government censorship is too high a price to pay, but we need to explore other alternatives.

David Apatoff said...

Suzi-k, thanks for the nice comment and the very interesting blog. It looks like your life in Africa is very different from what I experience on a daily basis, and I shall enjoy revisiting and learning more.

David Apatoff said...

Brian, I guess I would say the "heart" of my post is just that the situation is sufficiently complex that we should resist the easy temptation to ridicule anyone who expresses disapproval of such art. It may not be "immoral," but that doesn't mean it isn't shallow or destructive or just plain lousy art. Lots of critics are afraid to distingush between "good" and "bad" art because they think art is subjective and all art must be equally valid. I for one think that is an abdication of our responsibilities as human beings.

David Apatoff said...

Spacejack and Duske, thanks for the recommendations and links. One of the things I like best is getting the names of new artists to follow up on. Spacejack, I am right with you on the Jim Balent thread.

David Apatoff said...

Silksatin, thank you for a thoughtful analysis and follow up. I agree with you about censorship, although I don't know what kind of a formalized rating system could be applied to a sprawling universe of art out there. I'll be interested in your thoughts as this discussion evolves.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, r2k, tragicoma, Scruffy, sanity, forge, creative, and others. Let's see where this topic takes us.

David Apatoff said...

Jack r, I agree with both you and Kevin about Serpieri. I don't know how you keep it away from kids in Bud Plant's catalog, let alone on the internet. But I don't think one should hesitate to opine publicly that Serpieri is a decent draughtsman with a badly arrested emotional development.

Suzette McD-Bija said...

As an artist, I value self-expression in the creative process, beautiful, ugly, violent &/or pornographic. As an adult, I can choose what I like or what to avoid or ignore. As a parent, it's my job to edit what could be harmful to my children and to explain and support open, on-going discussions about their ideas & feelings to what they've viewed. I think it's a personal experience for the artist and the viewer with an ever-changing answer.

Fátima Camó said...


Anonymous said...

I thought you said this was not hardcore. Just because they are cartoons.that is even worse because cartoons are usually geared at at originated with children. If children are veiwing this it is because of loose parental control


David Apatoff said...

Joyangel, I guess that "hardcore" has become a relative concept. But on the spectrum, my examples are as far to the"soft" side as I could get and still make my point.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Suzette. I have noticed that parents (of which I am one) often have a different perspective on this than non-parents.

TTT said...

You have...surprisingly...struck a nice balance....just because we can, should we...that goes to the idea of wisdom. Thank you.

TTT said...

You have...surprisingly...struck a nice balance....just because we can, should we...that goes to the idea of wisdom. Thank you.