Monday, September 03, 2007


Viewer warning: to illustrate our continuing discussion on censorship, art and pornography, this post contains a few images that are more explicit than usual. None of them qualify as "hard core." All of them are readily available to our children, so I figure you should be capable of dealing for a few minutes with what they are seeing.

A number of you seem to share my view that government censorship of art is unacceptable. At the same time, you also agree there are lots of trashy pictures circulating freely that might mislead or even damage young people in their formative stages.

As one of the commenters on my last post noted,
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.
The following pictures are benign versions of images that are easily available to most children:

Children who consume such stuff may have a harder time developing the patience and sensitivity to search out the genuine poetry and lyricism in sex.
If we don't believe laws or moral standards are a suitable way of limiting the adverse effects of such material, do we have to accept it as the inescapable price of free expression? Or can we turn instead to the language of aesthetics for help?

Neither law nor morality are useful tools for policing art, but artistic standards don't have to be based on laws or morals. Personally, I don't view the above pictures as immoral, just stupid. Rather than making such art illegal or saying that people will burn in hell for viewing it, maybe it's enough to condemn such pictures as artistically shallow, lacking in taste, judgment and other aesthetic values.

The art critic Clement Greenberg made a similar criticism of modern art, saying that a "relaxation of standards" has led many to accept cheap thrills as a substitute for profound artistic value:
It's not just tastelessness. It's when instead of aesthetic pleasure you settle for kicks.
To me, the vast majority of explicit illustration today settles for kicks without aesthetic pleasure. This is not an indictment of explicit art, only bad explicit art. Compare the impoverished images above with the splendid historical sampling below. Some of the greatest artists in history, from Rembrandt to Hokusai to Picasso, have imbued explicit subjects with profound aesthetic sensitivity:

I think profound art-- no matter how sexually explicit-- enhances us.

As the old saying goes, morality-- like art-- simply consists of drawing the line somewhere. Here is where I draw that line:

Art offers a wonderful spice cabinet for people whose relationships have enough nutritional content to withstand the seasoning. But for children who have never had such relationships, images can delude them in ways that hamper their ability to have real relationships going forward. Arsenic taken in small doses is a wonderful stimulant, but change the proportions and it has the opposite effect.

To try to censor or abolish such pictures is silly. Rather than demonizing pornography, it makes more sense to ridicule it, along with the arrested emotional development of its purveyors. The best boundary line I know between pornography and literature comes from the sage Lee Siegel:
Disclosing the drama of personality succumbing to desire-- that's been the challenge to modern writers free to describe sex on the page....Erotic writings preserve the inner lives-- the individuality of men and women; pornography obliterates them....There is, in fact, nothing secret about pornography. It is the public caricature of a private act.
This distinction should be conveyed to young people to help fortify them and to put the images that surround them in perspective. But to fear such pictures is to legitimize them, and to enhance their appeal. We are far more likely to reach a sensible result by channeling human desires than by denying them.


Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I would like to thank you for this blog. As a 20 year old kid I haven't seen much art yet but I've spend my whole day reading all your articles with so much joy and wonder. When I look at the art world, I find it so overwhelming and don't know where to start. But a blog like this one guides me through these artworks and makes me understand and contextualize them.

Fantastic work.

Thomas (from Belgium, my excuse for the lousy English)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

As an artist, I appreciate your intelligent art discussions, such a refreshing perspective of one of the most important- yet unappreciated- movements in our lifetimes~


I wish I'd been warned before opening your blog because my choice to view pornographic comic strips had been taken away. Click on the link and VOILA!!! an eyeful.

Undoubtedly, there is a difference between a figure drawing and the comic strips shown here. It was a cheap shot to gain notoriety because I think you were intentionally offending on purpose.

David Apatoff said...

First anonymous, Thanks very much! I am delighted to have you here and I hope you will comment in the future.

Third anonymous, I have added the opening warning that you suggested. Thank you for the helpful idea. Having said that, I deliberately chose examples that were comparatively tame to avoid offending people, rather than to "intentionally offend" as you suggest. These "offensive" images (and far worse) are from Heavy Metal and similar magazines and are very easy for your children to access in magazine shops or through the mail or internet with no advance warning such as the one I have now posted.

FanBabe said...

Hi David,

As a female fan, reader, and industry professional in the world of comics, I have seen and found some art to be extremely distasteful to my own personal tastes. I don't have a problem with women, beautiful women, or women with huge unnatural sized breasts, and I love the Vargas pinup style. What is somewhat disturbing is the trend of artists who produce art based on movie stars and pop stars, but make them naked and use their likenesses without obvious permission. Many of these artists are Latino based and work out of another country which makes me wonder if that is why they haven't gotten sued by a celebrity. I really wonder what Gillian Anderson thinks of the pinup of her as her X-files character with a dripping wet pistol near her exposed vagina. I mean the face is still Gillian's, the person, not the character. Which is the part that is offensive. I'm sure the "art book"'s artist didn't write in to all the celebrities he featured in his book to make money off the sight of these stars touching themselves, or tied up in bondage before compiling the art and selling the books. Also, there aren't any men in the books. Talk about a double standard. Also, if the women were the artist's own creation and he used his imagination, I wouldn't find it so, insolent. The art itself is done very realistic and not poorly, but that fact that he is banking off celebrities without permission is offensive. Plus I know plenty of artists who are really phenomenal, but don't get their books out as much because they aren't using a recognizable character. There's so much out there, I feel it's a damn shame when people keep making money off art by taking shortcuts, like using a celebrity's likeness.

I appreciate you using your blog to explore how females are portrayed in the world of art. There is a very fine line that exists and while I am tolerant to an extent, I feel that shortcuts and using someone's likeness without permission, especially when it puts women in compromising positions and sexual themes, offensive. Everyone's line is drawn at a different place.

Stewart Kenneth Moore (Booda) said...

It would be better to host an innocuous detail with a content warning and link to the full image. An illustration based blog is likely to attract a wide range of age groups. Especially if, as there is here, a focus on the history of comic-book art.

Interesting blog, keep it up.

Stewart Kenneth Moore (Booda) said...

Fanbabe - I am reminded of the 'Tijuana Bibles' of the early to mid-20th century...famed for presenting film stars of the era en flagrante.

David Apatoff said...

Booda, you raise a good point, and if I am ever foolish enough to tackle the subject of art and censorship again, I will attempt to make more judicious use of links. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the images I post on this blog are not from websites where they can be linked. They are usually scanned from the originals or from old books and magazines.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I found your site a few days ago (I believe via blogger's updated feed?) and I really like the content. Previously I've had no interest in comics and the like, but you provide a great presentation of it and I've already learned more about it than I ever did before. You've made it interesting.

That said, I wanted to weigh in on the whole sex comics that you have in this post. I don't think you should be required to post a link to the pictures as booda suggests, isn't that a form of censorship in itself? I think, as you said, that the art pieces you have shown are not something that anyone on the internet wouldnt' be able to find on their own. Why object to them being shown on this page? If you don't like it, just don't read that post. The reader has a choice after they see the first image of whether or not to continue. The images really aren't of anything intensely/grossly sexual. I think its silly that the very topic you were posting about gets ignored because you posted some suggestive/naughty pictures.

Thats all just my babbling on, my opinion and I don't mean any offense to anyone. I just don't think you should change how you post, if someone doesn't like it they don't have to view/read it.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m afraid I have this feeling that this last post sullies in some subtle way your wonderful blog.

I think it is one thing to show slapdash or poor illustration because one somehow feels an honest heart beating beneath the work, an honest effort. But the moment you broadcast even the mildest pornography, even for the purposes of critique, well... That is to say that... at the risk of sounding absurdly tautological... if you broadcast pornography, you are a broadcaster of pornography.

Even though I know, and you know, and anybody who sees your products or who has ever read this blog before knows, that you are the farthest thing from that.

I guess this goes to the fact that, for sheer psychic forcefulness, textual explication doesn’t hold a candle to actual demonstration. One can drone on for days about the nature of salacious material in the most erudite fashion imaginable. But the moment the porn peeks out it’s dirty head…. Well, I guess I’ll stop that metaphor right there.

It’s like the end of the film version of Kiss Me Deadly… The mysterious lead box is carted around for the entire duration of the film, debated, coveted, wrangled over, explicated, considered in all its aspects…. And it’s all just talk.

Up until the box is opened! And then everything gets contaminated! :)

All to say, I can’t wait until the next topic so I can return to loving this blog!! :)

The only further insight I can offer on the matter is that there is a battle between aesthetics and erotica in the later pictures of your last post in which aesthetics wins. That is to say, one’s first impression is of design, not sexual activity. This is a pleasing balance but it is also a superficial one. The aesthetics are more or less unrelated to the activity portrayed. This is a form of “hiding”. A sleight of hand (seemingly or possibly) designed to distract you from the pocketing of the proverbial coin.

Because of this disconnect between the forceful aesthetics and the somewhat obliquely addressed subjects of these illustrations, it may very well be that the core idea behind these examples of “fine erotica” is “the secrecy of sex.”


David Apatoff said...

Kevin, I have valued your comments in the past and I value this one too.

I did have second thoughts about posting some of these images, but for me it came down to a matter of tough mindedness.

If we are going to say that "no form of artistic censorship is ever acceptable" (which is apparently a pretty popular opinion around here) then we should at least on occasion understand and be honest about the trade offs we are making. The First Amendment is not just a pleasant abstraction, there's real pain associated with our choice.

I wanted to test here what I think is a fairly innovative approach: if we can no longer use the law or morality to restrain the adverse effects of such work, are we left adrift with no standards whatsoever, or can we turn to the language of aesthetics? Can the values of art be used to express disapproval and minimize the potential harm from the pictures I showed? And if we use such an approach, will it enable us to distinguish between "good" explicit art, which should be left alone, and "bad" explicit art, which should be stigmatized and pitied?

I'm sure a better writer could have handled this subject by speaking in euphemisms, but quite frankly I didn't know how to do so without losing the intellectual integrity of the point. And that's what dominated.

Kim Herbst said...

David, you have a wonderfully intelligent blog here! As an illustrator, I understand where you're coming from with this delicate discussion. I do believe that no art should be censored in any shape or form but then it becomes very complicated. You reminded me of this discussion by posting a few Japanese prints, that Japan is rampant with pornography as an art in many forms. I was told this is possibly because they do not have a main religion which says sex is wrong as the United States does. If censorship occurs, as you have done at the top of your post, it is usually reserved for those that desire to have it; those sorts of censorships are kindly done out of respect for those individuals.

Anonymous said...

I’m pretty sure I can come up with some ideas for “artworks”, the censoring of which would be quite acceptable to every participant in this blog. (I’ll spare everybody that bit of creativity, though.) These “works” may possibly get referred to the 9th amendment, the one that free-speech absolutists tend to forget about; “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” (I’m no lawyer, though, so this may not mean what it seems to mean to me.)
I, for one, am not an absolutist on the matter of the first amendment. The ACLU’s recent effort to protect the publication of pedophilic how-to-poach-children pamphlets is just one example of their itinerary at which I more than bristle. (to put it mildly)
On “what recourse do we have” in the face of the onslaught, I think the answer is, “you keep doing what you’re doing promoting the kind of art you love and respect, and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. And let’s not be afraid to, in effect, evangelize for what we think is good and right and beautiful. Without apology.

It also helps to have an intellectual foundation for one’s arguments. And to have good answers to the slippery rationales proffered by charlatans and slush peddlers and their defenders in academia and the media.


Anonymous said...

This discussions seems to have been reduced to strictly a focus on the first 3 images and not the last 6. Not only twice the number of images, but also countlessly more powerful in terms of aesthetics and beauty. It's our focus and conversation that gives the first half their strength. I think it's worth really look at what we've empowered:

1. a crudely drafted woman undressing with only a top revealed while rambling some empty headed submission.
2. an image with -no- actual "private" parts revealed, but implied penetration, sadism, and rape ... all -only- implied ... due to being -censored-.
3. a girl fondling herself while engaged in voyeurism. Again, only top revealed.

1. and 3. are quickly topped conceptually by the asian prints ... hell, we have lesbianism while masturbating in the second to the last image ... we'd have a moment to be shocked if the aesthetic power didn't move us before we even cared what they were doing ... talk about beautiful design trumping base concept! In contrast, the top images are vulgar and base -not- due to content, but lack of it.

So, if 1 and 3 aren't the real culprits for this reaction, it must be 2, yes? The one that show's -nothing- but reveals everything in us ... the rape, beating, violence that takes place inside us when we view it ... exposing, not flesh so much as what we bring to the table ... and why censorship consistently fails for similar reasons. I'm not saying I'm not above similar reaction to this image, quite the opposite, I do, but its worth asking why when it reveals little to nothing, objectively speaking.

As a kid I remember specifically looking up original European sources to these "Heavy Metal" strips to see the straight up material I really wanted to see. I wanted to see it -all-, but instead found a narrow field of vision. Not because it didn't give me what I wanted ... all the censoring word balloons in American editions were gone for the most part, as I had hoped ... but because it was -all- there I no longer had an opportunity to bring my interpretation to the table. I was now limited in greater ways when faced with the uncut image. I was no longer asked to invest in the image ... Sadly, there was no true sexual imagination taking place at all ... it was clinical in its descriptions and base in its design.

The sexually deviant component to art exists best in the shadows. A space we fill with our own demons. Same reason a well intentioned blinding hand of a parent during a film's racy parts increases the eroticism ... the child's eyes may be covered ... only dialing up a child's perceptions, negative associations, and ultimately creating a kernel of fascination with the restricted material where their was once none.

In the end, the original sources to "heavy metal" material were disappointing for delivering only what it promised ... no more and no less .. that unspeakable bit with the text strategically placed over it is where my mind filled in an erotic unimaginable deed previously. Within this vacuum we are revealed ... and without censorship the real power is disarmed. You remove the teeth from pornography by allowing it to be ... and paradoxically, give it strength in its restriction.

I applaud David for facing this issue head on in a direct and honest matter. He could've wrapped this post in a hazy dance of polite opinion, but instead he provided concrete examples (all softer in objective representation than the "fine arts" examples) and wasn't condescending to his audience.

You have my thanks, David.


Christopher Sullivan said...

I respect your observations about asceticism, morality and art. They are refreshing and educational. Keep up the good work !


Hi David,
I am glad I came here. I am an interior designer now trying my hand at some serious illustration. This blog is a great read from that point of view.
I have book marked it. Will keep coming back for mo' :)


Anonymous said...

Hi David

Funny how much of a response is raised when there's pornography on the cards. I have to say I agree with most points you raise, but while we chastise artists for creating their smutty drawings, let's not forget that it's a parents responsibility to monitor the child. The internet is a wonderful tool for the enquiring mind, but it's important to a remember that a substantial portion of it's real-estate it's devoted to pornography, rendered or photographed. If a parent is going to allow a child unrestricted access to the internet, it's tantamount to letting them run around an unmoderated gulag.

Care needs to be taken in ensuring that the access is monitored or restricted. I believe the best idea is to simply have the access point in a public area and not in a private bedroom or study as most "net nanny" programs are easily overcome.

Let's also not forget that some of the blame lies with society in general. Their is a constant increase in the objectifying of sexuality in the media because, let's face it, that's what we want. Maybe not on an individual level, but if people weren't buying it, nobody would be selling it.

But let's not forget that artists, specifically those publishing work online, need to find some digital equivalent of a top-shelf. I do my fair-share of overly eroticised illustration, but when I post it to my blog I filter it through my Flikr account. This gives me the ability to rate the level of explicitness before I post it to a blog. If it contains content of a mature nature, the viewer will be unable to view it until their maturity has been verified by the flckr system.

very fancy :)

thanks for the blog, keep up the fantastic work.


Anonymous said...

What religion is against sex? Kind of reduces the number of future followers eh? I think all of them say sex in a certain context.

Why the emphasis on smut? Nobody on the left (most artists) will object to even the most disgusting smut. Try violating the political correctness on race, sexual orientation, or religion. Then watch the "everything goes" camp call out for censorship.

Lena said...

Great blog! I'm not too fond of art censorship with adults, but I'm having a hard time as a middle school art teacher who can't show books with ANY nudity! It's quite disheartening.
Your observation of line and detail are great.

Tabulerasa said...

It's no longer possible to limit a child's exposure to pornography. The Internet allows unlimited access to the heights and depths of human thought, and, I suppose, art.
Ridicule probably won't help as we are dealing with very visceral ideas, and 'in your face' 'mouse stopping' tactics.
I believe that aesthetic views of sexuality need to be actively promoted, as a kind of cultural value, if we are not to end up as a world of boorish hippocrites, spouting censorship by day and practicing s and m by night.

Unknown said...

Don't even know how I stumbled onto this blog, but I've got it bookmarked now. Great stuff, thanks for putting it out there... and thanks for putting yourself out there with this latest topic. You've got guts, that's for sure, to tackle something like this. My hat is off to you.

We can go in an infinite number of directions here. There is so much, so many layers, to this whole issue of art and censorship. All of the ways we've tried to wrangle this sort of thing within the art world, going as far back through history as you can go, have led to consequences of frustration, oppression, and unfulfillment. The whole freedom of expression thing. The whole governmentally-enforced censorship thing. The whole "what about my individual rights" thing.

Values cannot be legislated. Period. Not through religion, nor governing institution, nor laws of morality, nor cultural dictates, can one hope to control the barometer of the collected tolerances of each unique human being within any given culture. And yet, that same collective is what feeds our tolerances. This can't be denied.

Anatomy in Ancient Egyptian art wasn't produced in the stylized way because it was "primitive", it's because that's what the cultural standard was... enforced, at that. It's the same kinda thing that makes us wear the clothes we wear today. It's the same kinda thing that we see in the oriental illustrations you have here.

We can try and utilize a set of standards within the art realm, critiquing "good art" versus "bad art", "ridiculing" instead of "abolishing", in the hopes that those within this realm could self-police through the quality of aesthetics, but we've tried that before time and time again, and at its peak it was called the Renaissance, which exploded out of northern Italy with all its laws of aesthetics. I assure you, in every era, in every culture, there's a De La Croix looking to go against the grain, yet still produce beautifully aesthetic art. Unfortunately it sometimes takes us a few hundred years to recognize these folks, long after they're gone.

You have two sets of examples here, the first being "bad", the second being "good". I know, I'm going into fundamentals, here. No matter how great the second set of examples are, aesthetically speaking, a kid will still be hit with the same response as the first set of examples. A child doesn't care about aesthetics... seeing sex is seeing sex. So regardless if it's Picasso or Luis Royo, a child exposed to the depiction of sex is just that.

How do we control that? Or is that even the right question? Using aesthetics is flawed, I think, because it begs for a set of metrics that will inevitably be countered by free-thinking individuals looking to go against the establishment.

My challenge is that this is not an aesthetic issue, but it is, in fact, a moral issue. I think we all agree that exposing children to depictions of sex damages, nullifies, dilutes, however you want to put it, the deeply euphoric and poetic experiences awaiting them in their futures. Aeshtetics has nothing to do with it.

It cannot be denied that there is something built into each one of us, even in a tiny amount, to do or see or experience that which is considered culturally taboo. It requires stepping back and seeing the entire world and its history in order to grasp this. Aesthetics play such a small part in this. And the problem with today is we live in a world where there really isn't any real self-governing set of rules. Today, anything goes. Art is art. You create it, you think of it, you copyright it, write up a manifesto that sits next to it, and it's "art". Everyone into the pool. And now with the digital revolution, it's even worse.

However, one thing hasn't changed: sex sells. It's always been true, taboo or accepted. Sex has always been the ratings grabber. So how do you keep kids from being exposed to it, or how do you hand-hold them through this stuff, in this society where you don't even have to leave your home in order to get deluged by multimedia over-stimulation?

Blah, I don't have any answers, except to just say that it's some fascinating stuff to talk about. I've not dabbled much in the erotica field, personally, as an artist, although my favorite subject is the figure. For me, erotica is a whole other set of muscles than figurative work, in the academic sense. I'm not opposed to it, I find some of it beautiful. Maybe one day I'll give it a shot. Has to be with a certain level of taste, though... which I've seen to be something driven by a primordial homonculous of culture, media, religion, family, childhood, unique experiences... it's a unique thing for each of us. It's a huge dart board that we artists try to hit the center of from about oh, a hundred miles away.

Sorry for the long post, fingers got away from me.


VV said...

Thank you for tackling a touchy subject with grace and thoughtfulness.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, anonymous, Christopher and Suniti. I look forward to your participation.

Andrew, if you succeed in finding a digital top shelf that chidren can't access, let me know and we'll get a patent. You are certainly right, people do get all bent out of shape about sex and pornography as a topic. It is a complex topic and I think we need to be intellectually fearless in our approach if we are going to make any progress at all.

David Apatoff said...

Brian, good point! Thanks so much Lena, Tabulerasa and velverb.

Andrew, thank you for a thoughtful and interesting take on things. I agree with much of what you said. But reconsider your point that this is a moral problem, not an aesthetic one. Moral and aesthetic problems share a common vocabulary of subjective value judgments, and the terms that we apply to successful artwork (balance, harmony, sensitivity, etc.) are the very same terms that we use to structure our moral lives. I suspect there is more overlap between the two than you may think. Finally, I agree that kids look at even "good" art to see the body parts, but it doesn't bother me as much if they are learning through beautiful poetry and art. Try reading Lady Chatterly's Lover looking only for the good parts. A lot of valuable things stick with you against your will.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,
A thought-provoking post and I agree that censorship is never the answer.
You are now on my blogroll.
Keep up the good work!
vox arctus

Unknown said...

I think a nude study of obesity would be very interesting. It would be a break from the status quo and would perhaps help us to re-think how we view our own bodies and other's as well, whether we are over weight, under weight or "model perfect" (whatever that means).
The percentage of people we see in art who are over weight does not even come close to matching how many people are out there who truly ARE over weight. It could generate some public discussion, I think.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous, just as an aside: There is quite enough information left, after the censorious word balloons are placed over the naughty bits in Serpieri's work, for us to know within a pretty narrow margin of error, what is being covered. We are not the co-author of the work by "filling in the blanks".

Just as you are not the co-author of the incomplete phrase, "I fed my (blank) his tender vittles and then he twitched his whiskers and went off to his litter box," when you figure out the missing word is "cat".

Lizard Princess, see the work of Jenny Saville.

Sarah said...

Recently I was hired to paint erotic images of women ( with big boobs, of-course). It brought up in me mixed feelings. They were tastefullly done, but I am still adding to the saturated market of nude women. The way women are sexualized, all over the place, is sad and misleading. How is this harming men and women and their feelings toward each other?

I agree with much of what you wrote and learned something too. Women have so much to offer and deserve more respect.

a girl said...

As with so many things in life, parents should be parents. We Americans as a whole rely too much on our government and our media to tell us what is right and what is wrong. As a species we have been passing morals and standards though generations forever. I might suggest that we know what is best for our childern and should teach them accordingly.

My parents exposed me to art at an early age and I was never embarassed by it and grew up appreciating it sensibly. However, I took a haitus from the art world while raising my children and I can see that was a mistake. At age 12, my son still giggles when he sees a nude or says, "that's gross" when he sees a passionate work. I have consciously working with both of my kids so that they might have a better understanding of art.

As for your first illustrations, I am in complete agreement with you. Thanks for the honesty. It is refreshing.

Le-1502 said...

it's amazing,i love illustration~

even my skill so lousy!

Anonymous said...

Kevin, in a way you're making my point. I just took it an extra few steps in regard to the viewer being a non-passive participant in completing an image.

To use your example: Let's say I think "cat" (for this example I'll remove other animals someone of another region may think ... in this case I'll share your same cultural and localized understandings enough to think it immediately).

Ok, what sort of cat do I picture? What color, markings, size and shape? Breed? One of those freaky hairless types? Or one of those exotic breeds that are descended from African big cats? Maybe, it's a stray and you're giving him the first real meal he's had in years ... maybe this is almost a tearful reunion between beast and man after the cat has been missing for countless days ... or maybe you've laced it with poison and he dies in the litter box following this sentence. What story do we want to invest in this sentence?

You are correct that we fill in an obvious part of the blank that may lack co-authorship ... "cat eats food and relieves itself" ... or "a man and woman engaged in a sexual act" ... but just a set up to the interpretation that follows. We are all individuals that will fill in a blank to lesser and greater degrees, and the direction we tilt it is our role in the conceptual process.

Let's say the average person looking at Serpieri's image that David posted thinks he's manipulating her with just fingers ... ok ... but let's say someone else is imagining a fist ... ok, the image is now much worse and I begin to cringe ... and then someone else with a good eye sees the lashes on her back, doesn't notice the device anywhere else in the image and suddenly registers the horror that maybe this image is far far worse than previously imagined ... 3 images in one ... and many more to be discovered if we care to waste our lives staring at the thing.

This thinking can become infinitely worse or more innocent (he could just be tickling her with a feather, too) based on the non-passive partnership a viewer shares with the image. Serpieri's image describes an obviously sexual act involving a man and woman (or, in your example, a cat, food, and litter box), but the range for interpretation is always as great and differing as we are.


Kate O. said...

I'm sorry but I just have to go against the grain here a bit. I don't find the first 3 pieces all that offensive and don't discount them as art, while I rather dislike the later ones posted. I don't think that means that I'm developmentally stinted or emotionally incapable.

I think that like or dislike of art is often generational. What one generation appreciates, another may find impossible to like.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, thank you for the reply. Although I was already clear on your implications. My point was that you didn't need to see what was under the balloon for the piece to be recognized as pornography. Pornography is a kind of story. And story forms can be recognized by various clues and cues without resort to specifics.


David Apatoff said...

Dear Kate O.-- please tell me more. I did not expect the first three pictures to make people recoil; I picked soft images that I thought would nevertheless get my point across. But I'm not sure what you mean when you say "I don't discount them as art." I think they are generally poorly drawn by hack artists, with no sense of design or sensitivity of line or color. But that doesn't mean they are ejected from the category of "Art."

Since you seem untroubled by the subject matter, I am really baffled that you prefer the first set to the second set of pictures. That is the point I would like to hear more about. If you tell me that you don't like Picasso I can understand that; he is an acquired taste. The woodcuts of Hokusai or Eisen are a little harder to understand. But let's hear your opinion.

Anonymous said...

You have just reinvented the same old solution the leftist intelligentsia always does = persecute those who get out of lockstep, not conforming to your specifications. This is how you want to keep artists in line - by the tyranny of the majority = artists ganging up and ridiculing those who are politically incorrect. Ah, what freedom of speech you allow. And you seem oblivious to what might be wrong with that.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, thanks at least for calling me part of the "intelligentsia."

It seems to me that you're asking an awful lot. I've already said that this art shouldn't be illegal and that I don't consider it immoral. That gives you more latitude than most artists in history. Now you say you also don't want to be criticized for producing art that I consider cheap and shallow. Any artist who can't withstand artistic criticism should probably find a new line of work.

Anonymous said...

Your examples are very tame. You should perhaps post one or two really ugly sadistic drawings. I like porn and porn comics (up to Alan Davis or Druuma or Ferocious), but some of the ugly sadistic stuff very easy available does really give me the creeps. There is some stuff I find disgusting, that brings me to confront my own ugly desires, but there is a lot of plain sick stuff. Or this just middle-age hypocrisy?

Kate O. said...

I am not an artist, just someone that enjoys temporary/contemporary art for the most part more than modern in general. I like modern dance, installations, painters, etc. I like that contemporary art feels alive and is made by artists we can support today. For me art is more about intellectual stimulation than technical display. All that really boils down to is aesthetics. And that may explain most of why I like the first prints more.

Additionally, in the Japanese prints I don't particularly like the enlarged genitalia (the last print). They seem somewhat monstrous. The toes look like fingers and the fingers like like small dancers. And in the original prints I think I simply prefer the content that is focused more on the female. But again I think this just boils down to aesthetics and personal taste.

Unknown said...


It's a moral issue, instead of an aesthetic one, because aesthetics are built upon moral dictates, which are built upon cultural dictates... which change depending on where you go, in place and time. Your balance, harmony, and laws of composition change whether you're here in America, or somewhere in the Far East. Lady Chatterly's manifestos only apply to select parts of the western world, not everywhere... and only in a particular period of time.

So to try and use aesthetics in order to allow children to see depictions of "beautiful sex" versus "poorly executed sex" (which I still contest doesn't matter anyway because a kid's still seeing sex, regardless) requires a set of standards to be created that every artist should follow, lest he/she be "ridiculed" by the art world.

Again, this was the Rennasaince, along with many other eras in art, which tried to define what is good art and bad art. Let's try to create a set of aesthetic rules in order to control the moral output of art. Whether you like it or not, it's an institution, and you will always have those going against that insitution who are still creating beautiful art.

If your ideas on aesthetics worked, then we would never have had a William Blake, an Edgar Allan Poe, the Doors or the Beatles, a Van Gogh or a Delacroix, or a Walt Whitman. Countless other examples are those who went against the de facto rules set up by the art world according to their media and their time. So many were saying "That's just wrong!"... kinda like you are suggesting with your first three examples.

Delacroix is a perfect example of this, a guy who just crawled right up Ingre's butt.

How about Duchamp? How many people called him a "hack" for putting a urinal in a room and called it "art". You called the first three examples in your blog as products of "hack artists", yet who's standards are you using?

You also claim not to care if children are seeing sex through beautiful art, as long as it's not poor art... then I have to ask you, what exactly is your entire point, then? Is it a problem of children seeing sex, or is it a problem of rampant ill-executed illustrative art, according to the American illustration standards set up by those before us in the Golden Age (Wyeth, Pyle, Gibson, Rockwell, Parrish, Homer, etc), and upheld by the Society of Illustrators? And how are the two even related?

The issue of children being allowed to see depictions of sex is a moral issue, and an individual one, no matter how you slice it. You can't control this, not with government, not with religion, and not with aesthetics. As I said in my original comment, values cannot be legislated. Doesn't matter what kind of institution you put in place.

However, hack art is hack art, if you have a set of standards to measure art by. The only thing that really effectively manages this is the culture and the time period you're in. Without the support of the current collective society viewing your art and making discretionary decisions about it, as well as those in power buying and supporting it, you have nothing to use as a metric for separating good art from bad art.


annamade said...

Thank you for such an intelligent post on the subject! As a portrait artist, I have struggled with the subject of exactly how much and what I am willing to portray. Pornographic comic strips however, are certainly not anything I ever wish to attempt, I am certainly sure of that!

David Apatoff said...

Jason, you make a number of broad assertions that I would not feel comfortable making. Is art really based on moral dictates which are in turn based on cultural dictates? I can see a rough organic relationship between three areas involving subjective values and taste, but I don't see the strict hierarchy that you see.

You say that aesthetic principles change depending on where and when you live. I understand there is local flavor to artistic styles, but the variety of art on this blog from Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States, spread over 30,000 years, causes me to disagree with you on the big point. I don't know about you. but I think the erotic Japanese woodblock prinys by Hokusai and Eisen are absolutely exquisite.

Most importantly, I don't think that artistic standards (that is, a willingness to say that inferior, insensitive art is inferior and insensitive) would squelch Walt Whitman, William Blake or any of the other individuals you mention (most of whom I admire very much). If we can establish that their art is neither illegal nor immoral, then aesthetic evaluation strikes me as the most benign way to pass judgment on art. And we cannot be afraid to pass judgment on art.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Kate O, for the elaboration. I enjoy both the intellectual stimulation and the visual appearance of art. I fault the first set of images for their lack of intellectual stimulation as well as their lack of execution. But I guess that's the "taste" point you were making.

Annamade, thanks for checking in and thanks for your comment. I enjoyed your blogs.


nowadays,we dont see romanticism anymore.Its the raunchiness which is in vogue.
Every one of my friends got introduced to sexuality through porn.Sad but true that most of adolescents are discovering sexuality like this.

D.R. Cootey said...

David, I want to commend you for the way you handled anonymous three. It was very considerate of you to accommodate those who either don't want to see pornography or appreciate a warning. I've been to blogs where the authors feel that people should deal with truth (as they see it) in its most unvarnished state and refuse to place simple warnings for imagery or language that might cause offense in others. They all share one thing in common: contempt for the opinions and feelings of others. I'm impressed you did not act the same way.

The Splintered Mind - Overcoming Neurological Disabilities With Lots Of Humor And Attitude

SmellsLikeCrayons said...

1. Found blog through google
2. Didn't have time to read all the comments.

I think there's also a secondary line in pornography that glorifies rape. I can make a whole argument on that, but it's not my main point.

I did a project on censorship in my Art History class. Since everyone tended to be so militantly anti-censorship (as we artists usually are), I tried to find examples the would make them personally feel uncomfortable or threatened. One I came up with was a guerilla performance art piece dealing with the pervasiveness of date-rape and aquaintence-rape, especially on college campuses.
So I took a list of every male in the class, arbitrarily removed 1/2 the names, and posted the list under the heading "Potential Rapists" Ideally, a final product would also include photos by the names.
Personally, I think such a piece would be extreme and its point often missed, but it is completely within the realm of possibility. It does not fall under categories of slander or libel, under the argument that everyone is a "potential" rapist, especially in the view of someone they've just met.
Would the artists in my class censor this demonstration if they could? Would most people- particularly males on the list?

It's just such a slippery slope, logically and legally.
I don't have an answer, but at least I offered my class a view they probably hadn't considered.

Since I came across this blog by random, I probably won't be back to check for comments. If you want to respond, just email me.

Cat said...

your blog is very interesting but I have some problem with this post. You compare two series of images saying the second is far more interesting (it's your choice, I won't argue with that). The problem for me is that you choose to compare comics and illustrations. For me, there is no comparison possible: for comics you got quickly drawn images forming a narration (no word about it here) and on the other one, well done (for me) illustrations but only illustrations (a single image as an complete art). So I was not convinced by your demonstration. I think you could find some ugly sexual illustration from the XIX or XVIII century and very nice erotic comics from today.
(sorry for my bad english: I'm french).

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, camille mm. I appreciate your comment (and believe me, my French is worse than your English). I don't believe that illustration is necessarily better than comics, or that previous generations necessarily handled this subject more tastefully than our generation. You are right, I could have found some horrible examples of old erotic art, or some good examples of modern erotic art. By the way, I enjoyed some of the examples on your own web site very much.

Cat said...

Thank you for enjoying some of my work :-) It's not art but some drawings to try something else and have some fun.