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You can't be a photographer of nudes without encountering the debate between what constitutes fine art, and what constitutes pornography. In fact, many artists who are not photographers of nudes encounter this debate, too (much to their chagrin, I am sure). But something has always bothered me about the terms of this discussion. Most people try to put art and porn at opposite ends of a spectrum, but I think they're conflating two separate axes, which is cause for much confusion and misunderstanding. We shouldn't be looking at it as a spectrum on a single axis, but rather as a two-dimensional field defined by two axes. What these two axes are will become apparent when we examine what we really mean by these two terms, "art" and "pornography".

A False Dichotomy by zharth

Arguably, art is the more nebulous of the two. What defines art? Personal interpretations vary, but I think that, generally speaking, a good way to "judge" a piece of art that is not overly subjective, is to examine its technical aspects. Art is a craft. It involves knowledge, and skill (whether learned or inherited). In terms of photography, there are rules of composition. Tools to master. Experience to earn. An artistic photograph stands out because it is beautiful, striking, and/or uncommonly good.

Now what do we mean when we say "pornography"? At its core, the word 'pornography' refers to materials of a sexual nature. Depictions of human sexuality may be artistic or not. Fine art may depict sexual themes or not. But while fine art has traditionally been reserved to high society, pornography has been relegated to the common masses. Because it is popular. And if art is not your goal, it is very easy to produce.

As a result, correlation has been misconstrued as causation. Because most fine art does not depict sexuality, and most pornography is not artistic, they have been typecast this way, and placed at opposite ends of a spectrum: thus, art cannot depict sex, and depictions of sex cannot be artistic. But any artist of erotic themes knows this is a devious lie.

There are actually two axes at work here, and not just one - between art and porn. One of these axes is artistic quality, and the other is sexual explicitness. You can have artistic works that are sexually explicit, just as you can have "garbage" that is not sexual in nature.


It seems to me that whether a critic is campaigning against the artistic value of the work, or its sexually explicit nature, these two axes often become conflated, making it hard to construct a defense. When the critic really despises the audacity of the artist to depict sexual themes, he falls back on the criticism that it is pornography, and thus not art. But the question of whether or not it is art is immaterial. Really, his complaint is nothing to do with art, and everything to do with porn.

This lends an air of legitimacy to the criticism of erotic works that other types of works are not exposed to. You can complain about the un-artistic quality of somebody's non-sexually explicit work, but there is no real fear of it being censored because it is not "artistic enough". There is, however, just such a threat - no matter how artistic the work in question is - if it's accused of being "too sexy".


As an artist, I think we should concern ourselves more with the artistic quality of the work (not necessarily censoring unskilled works, but encouraging the artists to strive to improve their craft), and not the nature of the themes displayed, even if they are sexual. And if we still have to censor sexually explicit art (probably for legal reasons), I'd like people to stop conflating sexual explicitness with a lack of artistic quality, marginalizing a whole subgenre (and its purveyors) of artistic, erotic works.

If you see something sexually explicit (or implicit) that offends you, don't complain that it's "not art". That should not be a foregone conclusion; and anyway, whether it's art or not should be a non sequitur on a site like this (and if we're on a site where it matters whether it's art or not, then you should complain about nonsexual works that are insufficiently artistic in equal measure). And if what you're truly concerned about is the quality of the art (e.g., you don't mind skilled erotic art, but are offended by the proverbial "dick pic"), then the word "pornography" should not even enter your vocabulary.


What I often see is that "artistic nudes" that are nonsexual in nature are considered art, but if there is, say, an erection involved, it suddenly "becomes" pornography. Not because it's any less skilled a work than the other nudes, but because it contains material of a sexual nature. And at the same time you have more prudish artists railing against the nonsexual artistic nudes because they consider them to be pornographic! And all of this gets jumbled together into a cacophony of complaints about porn infiltrating an art site (even though it's a site that explicitly refrains from judging works on their artistic merit, while also explicitly restricting works of a pornographic nature).

Is it too much for me to ask for us all to get on board with some common language? We don't all have to agree about what is good or bad, nor what should be accepted on this site or not. "Art" and "porn" are both nebulous concepts, and the lines that we draw are necessarily going to be subjective. But can we say what we mean and mean what we say, and closely examine our own reasons for being uncomfortable with something we see, and strive to exhibit maturity in the face of diverse viewpoints, as is necessary if we are to behave like adults in what is ostensibly a free society? Or are my standards for Homo sapiens simply too high?

So, in conclusion, "art" and "porn" are not really opposite ends of a spectrum; they lie on a field separated by two independent axes: artistic quality, and sexual explicitness. Let me leave you with a visual demonstration:

The Orthogonality of Art and Porn by zharth
I came across this survey on deviantART, and I thought it would be fun to answer some questions.

1. How did you join deviantART?

I don't even remember. As usual, I joined a while before I became active. I was using flickr for a long time, but they kept making sitewide design changes until it was unusable to me (took forever to load endless pages of images). So I migrated over to deviantART, and made it my new "home". I'd avoided it previously because it has stricter rules for posting erotic works than flickr (which has - or at least had, when I used it - a three tier filtering system), but these days I consider it practice for creating works that can reach a wider audience (i.e., people who don't like porn).

2. What does your username have to do with you?

It's a name I made up for a character in a story I wrote in Junior High School many years ago, and it has just kind of stuck as my online alias. I have a whole back story for the character and everything, but all I'll say is that zharth's "soul signature" (a concept I borrowed from Realms of the Haunting) is between. Also, since most people pronounce it wrong: the 'zh' is like the 's' in "pleasure", and the 'th' is like the 'th' in "these". It does not rhyme with Darth, or Garth. I won't strangle you if you get it wrong, but you will earn brownie points if you get it right. ;-)

3. What is your current avatar of?

An artwork that was commissioned by a very special friend of mine and drawn by an artist on this very site (see link).

4. How many Watchers do you have, and how many do you watch?

As of this moment, I have 415 Watchers, and I watch 16 Deviants (four of which are actually groups). Obviously, there's a discrepancy there. I use this site mainly to advertise my work, and not follow other artists. I have well over 1,000 deviations posted, but barely over 200 favorites. Also, I like to find good art by browsing through other people's favorites, rather than other artists' galleries. So for me to follow someone, they have to have a lot of art that is consistently good and to my tastes. (And I have to have come across them, too!).

5. Do you have more than one account?

Nope. Can't think of any reason I would need to.

6. Name three of your favorite artists on deviantART.

I don't really do the 'social media' thing here, sorry. As I said, I use this site mostly to share my photography, and not to follow other artists, so I'd be hard-pressed to pick three I'm familiar enough with to warrant naming.

7. What deviant(s) do you admire because of their personality?

Obviously, I like my biggest followers, because they appreciate what I do and give me confidence and motivation to keep on doing it. The one deviant I feel justified in mentioning here has unfortunately disabled her account, so I'll just leave it at that. :-(

8. How many deviants do you actually know in real life? Post their avatars.

None. Is this common?

9. Do you comment, Favorite, or both?

I leave comments when a piece of art strikes me in such a way that I have something substantial and original to say. I also fave art without leaving comments and have no qualms about doing so because sometimes you're speechless and there just isn't anything to say but, "omg, wow, I like this" and that's pretty much what the favorite button is for, isn't it? I don't like to waste words just for the sake of speaking up - that's a deeply ingrained part of my personality. If you want to fave my works without leaving a comment, go ahead. I consider it a compliment, not a slight. But if you want to leave a comment, be my guest. Even vapid or sexually explicit ones (within the rules of the site). I don't share my art because I want it to be ignored. =p

10. What do you typically post on deviantART?

I've posted a little bit of poetry and some short sayings that I felt like sharing, but mostly, my gallery consists of nude self-portraits. That's my bread-and-butter as a photographer, and I very much enjoy sharing those images with an audience that enthusiastically appreciates them. I've also gotten into making stamps, which has turned out to be a lot of fun.

11. Do you participate in clubs or contests here on deviantART?

Not really. I never got into the whole 'groups' scene, which I felt was more intuitive and user-friendly on flickr. I'm not really very social on this site, except with the users who follow my work. I used to post on the forums until one too many mean-spirited trolls pushed me away. Now I avoid that place like the plague.

12. What is your most popular deviation -- as in most viewed or most favorited?

I think most viewed, most favorited, and most commented are all interesting in different ways - which deviation is seen the most vs. which is liked the most vs. which sparks the most discussion (or at least vocal admiration). I used to love keeping track of my top lists on flickr.

Here, my most viewed deviation (with well over 4,000 views) is Female to Male Transformation, probably because I submitted it to a contest (which I don't usually do). The contest was for girls to post before and after transformation pics dressing/making themselves up like boys. Even though I'm going in the opposite direction (boy to girl), a friend on the site recommended I enter, so I did! I didn't win, but it was still a lot of fun.

Female to Male Transformation by zharth

My most favorited deviation (with 56 favorites) is Oral Fixation, a highly suggestive (and mature content-rated) clone shot. What can I say? People are perverts. But there's nothing wrong with that. You can't help liking what you like. And the more daring you go, the more attention you're bound to receive. That's human nature; I'm not going to fight it. I used to post on flickr, which permits sexually explicit images, and I still post images daily on my blog without a filter. So I'm used to it. And I'm dedicated to holding erotic works up to the level of fine art, and similarly proving that just because something is art, that doesn't mean it's bad if it also turns you on.

Sex-positive by zharth

As for my deviation with the most comments (at 41 comments, including my replies), it's actually one of the stamps I've produced for this site - Sex-positive. It's not my best stamp by my own admission, but it seems to have stirred up some heated discussion. Which is not surprising. I'm sex-positive, but we're currently living in a very sex-negative culture. The fact that our culture seems to be obsessed with sex doesn't disprove that. We are obsessed, but our attitudes toward sex are unhealthy. You can't create a sterilized culture because we're sexual organisms and that just isn't going to work. But there are good ways of approaching sex and bad. Sex-positivity isn't sexual anarchy, where anything and everything goes. It's having a healthy, positive attitude towards sexuality, not one that's infused with guilt and shame. And that's something a lot of people could use a lesson on.

13. What's your favorite submission in your Gallery?

Wow, that's a hard one. I have thousands of images posted on this site, selected from a portfolio much larger than that. I can certainly pick out favorites, but then we're talking about a book filled with at least tens of images, and you want me to narrow it down to one? I'll give it a try.

14. What are things you wish you could draw better?

I know a lot of people use this site for their drawing, and I use it for my photography, so I think I should answer the question "what are things I wish I could photograph better?" Because as far as drawing goes, the answer would be everything. I wish I could draw. It would be so easy to create images and scenes from my imagination that I can't produce with photography (either due to limitations of convenience, or reality). Okay, maybe not easy, but possible. The one thing I wish I could photograph better is other people. I don't doubt that I have the technical skill (at the very least, to make portraits on the level of my self-portraits), but I'm not a people person, and so the hurdle of actually directing another human being is a huge one for me. And then you gotta factor in the difficulty of finding people of a similar mind, who would want to pose for the sorts of photographs I like to take...

15. Do you have a Premium Membership?

Nope. I'm a poor, starving artist. People don't pay me to create the images I create. And even if they would, I'm a terrible entrepreneur. I'm an artist. I don't want to run a business - that's for people with business degrees. I just want to create art. So unless it starts paying off (in a literal way), it makes zero sense for me to pay somebody else for the privilege of displaying my works, when I can do the same thing for free.

16. How many hours a day do you spend on deviantART?

Usually less than one (except for today). I enjoy making it part of my morning routine - checking my notes, browsing the favorites of people who have recently favorited one of my images, and then posting a new image before getting off and letting the notes on it rack up for a day before I return to handle them (it's much healthier than nervously refreshing the page every five minutes to see who faved/commented). But I have other things to do, and when I'm on a 'break' between bouts of posting images daily, I rarely even visit the site at all.

17. Are you a fast, slow, or medium typer?

Fast. I type a lot - being a writer - and frequently amaze my significant other with how my fingers zoom over the keys. I don't think I'm anything amazing, I just have a lot of practice. But I guess it doesn't come that easily to everyone. (I'm spending a lot of time on this survey not because it takes me a long time to type, but because I have a habit of carefully selecting my words - to quote a fictional character from a Russian PC game: "My tongue is my enemy. A well-thought game comes before.").

18. What is the most annoying thing people ask you?

Here on this site? I dunno. I don't get a lot of annoying questions, excepting the occasional abusive comment (e.g., "what kind of a freak are you?", or "you call this art?") - but more on that in the next question. As an erotic model, I do sometimes get "propositions" from people via private notes. It doesn't actually offend me, it's just kind of annoying because I don't like to turn people down, but that's really not something I'm interested in. My photography is not an appetizer for something else, it is the main course.

19. What is the most annoying/offending comment you've ever received?

Lucky for me, most people on this site have been really friendly and supportive (excepting on the forum, which is a completely different story). I know I create images that some people are not going to like, but thankfully they mostly seem to avoid me. Every once in a while I'll get some crossfire, though. Like the anonymous person who reported one of my deviations for containing an "erection" just because my flaccid penis was pointing upward (mid-twirl). The deviation is still there, mind you, so we know who won that confrontation. =p

Other than that, I can think of two comments that really offended me. One was from somebody who seemed dubious that a nude portrait could count as "photography" (pretty sure she meant "art", but still...). The reason it offended me, though, was because she insisted on insulting my androgynous appearance, specifically calling out the size of my penis (judging it only on its flaccid state). Real mature.

The other was from an asshole masquerading as a professional who criticized a behind-the-scenes shot for being "cheap ass porn", presumably insinuating his annoyance at other shots I'd added to the Artistic Nude category, for not sufficiently meeting his arbitrary standards of "professionalism" (conspicuously lacking in his demeanor). Thankfully, this user's account appears to have been deleted.

Oh, there was one other comment I got that was so offensive, I actually filed an abuse report (which I very rarely feel the need to do). It's since been removed (I suspect the user had posted similar comments elsewhere). I don't remember the exact phrasing, but I think he used bigoted language and said something along the lines of "go kill yourself", prompting me to wonder why it is that the people who are most likely to leave humanity better off by killing themselves are always the ones going around telling other people to kill themselves, and not vice versa?

Luckily, these experiences are the exception, and not the norm.

20. What (or who) inspires you?

My imagination? Is that cliché? I'm inspired by seeing my image in the mirror. I'm also inspired by art I browse online. I like to try to imitate female nudes that I see and like. Also females I see in person, but that extends to my whole lifestyle as a transgender person, which is one of the things I document in my photography. I'm also inspired by culture and politics, in the realm of the subjects that my art confronts - I like to use my photography to express my feelings and unconventional beliefs on gender, nudity, and sexuality. Speaking out makes me feel less isolated and alone, when I'm bombarded by messages from our culture that I don't agree with - like that public nudity should remain a crime, men and women should not experiment with their gender, and people should feel shame and guilt about their sexual desires and behaviors. Even though there are a lot of people out there that feel that way, I still (so far) have the freedom to express myself as I am (for the most part), so I'm going to take advantage of it!

21. Do you use guidelines when you draw?

Seems like a question specific to the craft of drawing. I don't know what the question means by "guidelines", and I'm not sure how that would translate to photography...unless they're talking about, like, tutorials? As a photographer, I'm pretty much exclusively self-taught. For better or worse.

22. Do you associate people on deviantART with their icons? Link us to some examples!

I guess I haven't thought about it much. I doubt that if you had an icon of an alpaca (sory, dA, llamas are so last decade =p), I would think of you as an alpaca. But I guess yeah, that's bound to happen to some extent.

23. Have you ever suggested a Daily Deviation?

Nope. I mean, I kinda like the concept, but ultimately it's just a popularity contest, and I've never been part of the in crowd. I don't even vote, because I don't feel like my interests are going to be represented by any kind of a majority. If I think about it too much, I'm bound to feel envious, so I just ignore it, and I'm much happier as a result.

24. Many people have considered leaving deviantART. Have you? Why?

People say this everywhere, on any site you can think of, and for any number of reasons. I wasn't aware it was also a thing here, but it doesn't surprise me. I'm not about the drama. I left flickr because I didn't like their site change. I didn't whine about it. I didn't threaten to leave. I just left.

Come to think of it, I did boycott deviantART once, after suffering some abuse in the forums (which, after filing an abuse report, the mods/admins ignored). Eventually, though, I came to the realization that deviantART does more good for me, than my boycotting harms it. So I swallowed my pride and returned. I won't touch the forums with a ten-foot pole anymore, though.

Addendum

To end this on a bit of a more positive note, I've thumbed through my gallery and picked out an image I'm going to call my "favorite". I could probably pick at least a hundred different images, but I picked this one because it has meaning to me that is distinctly related to this website. When I migrated to deviantART from flickr, my mental process while shooting photography changed. Before, I could shoot just about anything and expect to be able to share it. But because deviantART prohibits what they describe as "pornographic" material, I started thinking in the back of my mind about what sort of images I'd be able to share, and what sort I wouldn't. So I started getting into the habit of shooting "tamer" versions of shots that naturally included erections (even when doing so ruins the theme of the shot - self-censorship is a bitch), just so I could share them here. This is one of the earliest shots I remember shooting, having deviantART specifically in mind. It also touches on all three of the major themes in my photography - nudity and gender nonconformity, with a "little" hint of eroticism. -_^
So, it occurred to me (and I don't know why I never thought about this before), but deviantART would probably be a good place to share some of my poetry. I don't claim to be anything other than a total amateur, but word-crafting is a bit of a hobby of mine (albeit on more of a technical than an artistic level), and the poetry I've written was inspired by some pretty strong emotions. Some of it I really like.

I don't write poetry anymore - I generally stick to prose - so this was very much the expression of an anguished soul during a particular period of my life. Namely, my angsty teenage years (and early twenties), when I was embroiled in the at-the-time seemingly endless depths of unrequited love (and ensuing heartbreak). I've since recovered.

My general opinion towards poetry is that it very easily can trend toward the pretentious. Which is why I want to quash any assumptions about my aspirations. Very few people have the talent to write poems that the world can enjoy. I don't claim to be one of them. But, as the expression of one's personality and inner feelings, it can be a creative outlet, and a unique way to get to know another on a level beyond the superficial.

Whether you like it or leave it, either is fine with me. But I'm excited to share.
So today I noticed an unfamiliar "Correspondence Item" in my Notifications Feed, when I went to check on my most recent faves and comments (etc.). This is the area of the feed where I occasionally receive requests to add a picture to a group. But this time, there was a notice asking me if my latest deviation contains Explicit content, with links to the site's policies on such matters (which I am intimately familiar with - I even wrote a journal about them), and a pretty strong insinuation that I might want to "edit" my deviation (although if there's a problem with the image, I don't know how editing it, as opposed to simply deleting it, would help).

Warning-censored by zharth

In my several years of posting nude photography to this website, this is the first time this has ever occurred (I suppose I should be proud of that?). I'm a little bit miffed, though, because I am meticulous about following the rules (I probably understand them better than some of the staff). But I suppose what I should really be surprised about is that this is the first time it's happened. Certainly, I've uploaded some images over the years that, while I don't think they break any rules, are possibly suggestive enough to warrant suspicion. And, honestly, I didn't anticipate any problem about this particular image in question.

So I don't know if somebody has reported this image (a possibility, since I posted it under Spontaneous Portraits instead of Artistic Nudes, and I can imagine that gallery's regular audience has a lot less experience with nude art - but I did place it under a Mature Content filter, as usual), or if staff earmarked it for closer inspection during a routine check. I don't think there's any real problem, because there's nothing in the image that violates DeviantART's policy - although, in the end, that may be up to subjective interpretation. Clearly, there's no sexual activity depicted, so I imagine the question comes down to whether or not my penis is erect.

Now, being the model in the image, I remember taking it, and my penis was definitely not erect.* Anybody who understands the male genitalia will know that it is a constantly fluctuating organ. Knowing what constitutes "an erection" and what doesn't isn't always clear cut, as there is a series of transitional stages, and not a single, hard line, between one extreme and the other. My surprise, however, is that this image was singled out, and not many others (which have apparently passed without incident) that are far more suggestive (at the risk of drawing enemy fire upon myself, I don't understand why the physiology of erections should be taboo, while it's perfectly "decent" to imply to potentially suggestive audiences that putting your tongue on somebody's genitals is great fun! - and totally not sexual in any way). I don't think my penis even looks erect in this image (trust me, you'd know ;-p - although this is a casualty of restricting images of erections: nobody knows what they look like!). The only reason it's pointing "up" is because I was spinning it around in circles using my hips. Is it because I referenced a stunt ("helicoptering") that is often associated with strippers and erections? I assure you it can also be done with a flaccid penis. (Go ahead, give it a try some time).

Nor do I see how this activity could constitute "manual" stimulation (which requires the use of hands), that would cause it to fall afoul of the restriction on images of "masturbation". The purpose of this activity was not sexual in nature. It was done merely for laughs. And because, hell, anyone who is equipped with a penis and testicles has surely spent a lot of time fooling around with it - and not just in a sexual manner, either. There are scores of images on this site that are perilously close to crossing a line (and some that do), involving hands on penises but not necessarily in an overtly sexual way. I'm confident in my decision to post this latest deviation to my gallery. But since these things often come down to interpretation, the question I am posing to you is this: do you think there is any explicit content in this image?

I appreciate your feedback. I don't think anything bad is going to happen. But if I do disappear all of a sudden, or if the image in question vanishes, you'll know why.

*Here is an unedited outtake from the same shoot, to demonstrate the flaccidity of my penis. Yes, it's pointing straight up. But if I were erect, my penis would be touching my belly button. I'd show you a picture (there are plenty out there on the internet), but I'm not allowed. Funny how the piece of evidence that would prove my innocence is disallowed in court.
I've written before about the trouble with categorizing erotic (not pornographic) works on this site, but today I want to bring your attention to the dilemma of the non-nude artistic nude. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but bear with me. By "non-nude" I do not actually mean "not, in fact, nude"; I am referring, rather, to this site's policy on tagging nudity as mature content. It is entirely possible for works involving implied or suggestive - but not explicit - nudity to fall within the bounds of art that does not require a mature content tag on this site. The problem, however, is that when you try to submit an image to the "Artistic Nude" category, a mandatory and irrevocable tag is applied.

This is fairly intuitive, right? Artistic nude images are bound to contain nudity, and the site is doing its userbase a favor (I presume) by adding the mature content tag (in this pretty straightforward instance) in case you forget. Although, you could argue that this encourages users to be less vigilant about their own tag usage, so that when somebody goes and adds an image (that happens to be nude) to the Body Art category, they might forget to add the tag themselves, because they are not in the habit of doing so, and anyway, doesn't deviantART handle that itself? (The answer to that question is: not usually). From a more cynical perspective, you could view this automatic tagging as a fail-safe against the sort of unscrupulous users who would post indecent images without much thought to who might see them, and are (presumably) most likely to post them in the Artistic Nude category - or Fetish Portraits, which is the only other category I know of that automatically applies a mature content filter (albeit also for nudity, rather than sexual themes - which doesn't seem like it would be 100% accurate, either).

So, in essence, the entire Artistic Nude category has been placed behind a mature content filter. Is this not reasonable? Could there conceivably be anyone who would want to browse Artistic Nudes with the filter still in place? (I would argue yes). Shouldn't we tag even the borderline cases - suggestive and implied nudity - just to be safe? This is certainly the position some would take, while others would disagree - I am among those who would disagree, citing concerns about the chilling effect that an overly restrictive approach has on people's speech (including art). But what really matters is the fact that deviantART is also among those who disagree. Their rules explicitly state "not all nudity requires a tag". If they do not really mean this, then they need to change the rule. If they don't change the rule, then users are justified in posting images that imply or suggest nudity (without being explicit), without using a tag. Which is really not unreasonable - this is the standard that mainstream magazines, and "wholesome" websites like Facebook, use. They just can't post these images in the Artistic Nude category...

Which brings me to my dilemma - if the image in question is very clearly an Artistic Nude, and does not quite fit into any other category, what does one do? Part of being an artist and sharing one's work is finding an audience. If I want people interested in Artistic Nudes to see my work, then I'm not going to want to post it under any other category (especially when that category most accurately describes the image in question). I could bite the bullet and add the mature content tag - but there's a very real disadvantage to doing that. It cuts my potential audience down significantly (which could be viewed as a form of discrimination against nude art). Now, if the image in question deserved the tag, then I would be justified in adding it, because that would actually help it reach the right audience (people who want to see mature content), while avoiding those who would be reasonably offended by it. But this isn't actually mature content. I've got a PG-13 film here, and you're asking me to shoot myself in the foot by rating it R!
Before I came to deviantART, I would have guessed that the art world consisted of a community of sensitive and kind-hearted creatives. But if anything, deviantART has taught me that it's a toxic environment filled with mean-spirited trolls. Obviously, most of you are wonderful and supportive human beings, but it only takes a few bad apples to spoil a party.

I don't expect everyone to like or appreciate the images I create. I understand that it's an acquired taste. But is it too much to ask to expect people to have the common decency not to tell me an image I've produced is "shit" (not even as constructive criticism, which I welcome, but just to be cruel) because they don't like it?

Furthermore, not every image I produce is motivated purely by artistic value. There are more reasons that art is worth producing than technical proficiency - social value, political value, documentary value, and sometimes just for fun, because what's wrong with that? That having been said, I am very serious about producing quality art, and I don't appreciate being lumped in with unskilled amateurs (if you can't distinguish my work from the dregs the internet has to offer, that only demonstrates your ignorance and lack of distinction, which is something I would expect a visual artist to pride himself on) just because I believe in the value of showing humanity and fallibility through my art - i.e., I don't expect every image I produce to be a masterpiece, because I think it helps to ground me, and to inspire other artists to show the process, and that I am just as human as anyone else. To help people see that rather than a snobbish community of haves and have-nots, filled with untouchable geniuses who effortlessly produce flawless masterpieces (an illusion, I assure you), you too can become a better artist tomorrow than you are today, if you work at it.

I think this all amounts to a virtuous and kind-hearted approach. Perhaps you disagree. But I will never tell you that anything you've produced is "shit" in a mean-spirited way, even if I don't like it, or because it doesn't reflect the fantasy world in my head that I want to live in. What does that even accomplish? Because I have the maturity to look the other way, and let everyone live their own lives (so long as they're not trying to force me to live mine like theirs). I don't own "art". And neither does anyone else. So if you want to be a part of this world, I welcome you with open arms.

And you know, maybe I'm not the greatest artist in the world. But it's a meaningful and fulfilling activity for me. Should I refrain from engaging in it because I'm not "good enough" by some arbitrary standard? Should art be restricted to the upper classes that can afford expensive equipment (because "true" artists know that talent is inconsequential next to owning the latest camera model)? We all have to start somewhere. I want to get better. But telling me my work is shit isn't going to make that happen. We all have assholes. It doesn't mean we have to be assholes.

And if you don't like who I am or what I stand for, that's too bad. Because I'm not going to change. So you just better get used to it. Or continue suffering. It's your choice.
Today is the Vernal Equinox. Spring brings new life, and with it, new perspectives.

Previously, my experience of this website had been significantly spoiled by the rampant immaturity and callous disrespect displayed on the forums (which I advise you to avoid like the plague). But, over time, I've come to a conclusion. I miss sharing my art with the world (and though I do keep a blog, I don't get the feedback and sense of community that comes with a photo/art sharing site such as this one). Plus, I've discovered that there are much less productive ways to spend my time on the internet than managing my sizable (and ever-growing!) body of work.

Also, it must be true (however loath I am to admit it) that I suffer more without deviantART than deviantART suffers without me. Boycotts are too much like voting, and voting is incapable of wresting power from the majority. A better approach would be to work from the inside. After all, the best way to deal with people who don't appreciate erotic art is to produce more of it, and spread it everywhere you can.

Art is hard - not just because it takes skill, but because it requires sensitivity, and sensitive individuals are affected more strongly by criticism, which is a natural part of the life cycle of a piece of art (and the lifestyle of an artist). I want people to like me, it's true - but I want them to like who I am, I don't want to become whatever it is they like. And I won't be silenced just because some people don't like what I have to say.
I should know better by now. I mean, I do. The internet is rife with abuse and trolls. But I crave social interaction, and it's not something I get very much of in my everyday life, since I don't feel comfortable interacting with people face to face in most situations (it's hard to meet people I can really connect with). I hate to be ageist (it's really an attitude thing, not an age thing, but...), the deviantART forums are filled with immaturity. I try to have a constructive discussion, and they all gang up on me for having an unpopular opinion, and then proceed to trade insults and pat each other on their backs for it.

Why all this antagonism? I don't hate anyone in the world. I disagree with a lot of them, but I genuinely want everyone to get along. Why don't these people understand that there's a reason I am the way I am, and I think the things I think. There's a whole lifetime of experiences informing my perspective. But they don't respect that. They just want to make themselves feel better by cutting somebody else down. And then they have the nerve to criticize me because the type of art I like is a very niche subject. Like I'm not a good artist because 95% of the population just isn't in to the art I create? Or they expect every piece I produce to be a masterpiece?

My art is not based on single images. It's an entire body of work. Some of these single images are sublime - if you're going to judge by single images, you should at least judge by the best ones. But there's a lot more that goes in to my art than just the pursuit of the "perfect" image. My art is a social platform. It's about desire and acceptance. It's about truth and honesty. It's about combating social attitudes towards nudity and eroticism. It's about encouraging other people to be more comfortable with their own bodies, and learn to accept the sexual desires they have, even if they're not the ones the rest of society expects you to have.

Most people would probably think I'm just a "smut peddler". I think that's an unfair assessment, but I'm willing to take on that label. Because the work that I do helps people to accept themselves, and find joy in a life that might be very stressful for them. Yeah, I produce porn. But it's not *just* porn. I get a lot of messages from people telling me that my work has helped them on a journey of self-discovery, and that it makes them feel better about who they are (or just feel better in general). What could be greater than that? It sure beats going on some internet forum and spending your days verbally harassing complete strangers just to make yourself feel better.

And yet, a million appraisals isn't enough armor to reduce the sting of a single criticism. I am a highly sensitive person. It's a weakness, and a strength. But mostly it just feels like weakness. I try very hard not to let it color my perception of the world - for somebody so sensitive, I am a staunch defender of free speech, and am very suspicious about the true cost of creating "safe spaces" in society. But is it so bad if I wish people could just be civil to each other, and respect each other even when they disagree? I really want everybody to just get along. And even if it's insignificant (although I fail to see how cruelty being a natural element of humanity is an insignificant revelation), every single little time that one person is mean to another person without warrant, it feels like a dagger to my heart.

If I were a saint (and I'm definitely not saying that I am, but if I were), and some lowly creature that no one would disagree is morally compromised - a cold-blooded murderer, say - criticized me without warrant whatsoever, it would be enough to make me doubt the good nature of my soul. So, yeah, it's a weakness. But it also means I know what it feels like to suffer. Not because I have the worst life - most people would say I'm pretty "charmed". But because my psychology loves emotional exaggeration. That's why it's so important to me for people to be kind. And why we should promote and share happiness with one another.

I argue with people a lot (on the internet - in person I'm agreeable to a fault), but that's because I need the intellectual stimulation, and I think that there's a lot wrong with the way things are, and it bothers me that most people are willing to just let things be, instead of working towards a better future (why should things stay the way they are, just because that's the way they are, when there is so much pain in the world?). But that's the thing. I want to make things better. Not just for the people who have it fine the way things are right now. But the people who are struggling. The isolated and disadvantaged minorities.

And even when I disagree with people, I don't bear them ill will. I genuinely want to believe that we can still be friends. To sit around a fire and debate how to make the world a better place, because we both have faith in humanity and the future, in spite of how badly things look right now. And so it hurts me when people become petty, and disregard the issue in order to sling insults, because "winning" is more important than doing the right thing. It feels like betrayal. But that's the way humanity is. There's no way for me to avoid it. And it makes me sad. Because I want us all to be on the same side!
Speaking as a photographer, I often have a hard time knowing how to categorize my photos that approach the subject of sexual desire. And if I am not alone, then this may be a significant contributing factor to the "problem" of "porn" (but not really porn) showing up all over deviantART, including places where people do not expect, and do not want, to see it.

The default category, for me, is Artistic Nude Photography, and this works a lot of the time. Most of my work consists of nudes, and not all of them are overtly intended to be erotic. However, there is an underlying assumption that the phrase "artistic nude" presupposes an exclusion from works of a deliberately erotic nature. Such works may not be entirely unwelcome in that category, but one imagines that there would be a better category out there.

Is that what the Fetish Portraits category is for? That would seem to be the case, going by the description, except that the phrase "fetish photography" has an intended meaning in the industry that is more akin to the "alternative lifestyles" part of the description than just your basic erotic photography. Fetish photography is bondage and stockings, spanking and handcuffs, bare feet and used panties. In short, it encompasses a realm beyond normal human sexual desire.

Furthermore, the Artistic Nude category is useless to me when the photo in question does not even include nudity. What else is there? Pin-ups, and Glamour Portraits. Don't get me started on those. What is a pin-up, except a recreation of a particular style and era of glamour photography? And what is glamour photography, but a polished, coy, almost PG-rated blend of boudoir and fashion photography? Glamour, too, is an industry - a term with a particular connotation - and one that I don't generally identify my work with.

I suppose that, at the end of the day, the creation of a category for "Erotic Portraits" would just be too much like an invitation for people to post actual porn that is against the site's rules. Not that that necessarily stops people from doing that already, if the relentless complaints in comments and the forums are to be believed (in truth, most of those people are in need of a critical reading of the site's rules on porn). But I know how to keep my expectations realistic. In the meantime, I'll just have to do my imperfect best at parsing the frequently ambiguous descriptions for the intended uses of the various categories.
There are no awards given out for skilled erotic artists - artists who critically explore the mechanism of desire, and apply a technically proficient, aesthetic approach to expressions of human sexuality. The establishment draws a line between "art" and "porn", and though the public may quibble over where that line is to be drawn, it is most assuredly there, somewhere. But they will either laud you as an artist, provided you toe the party line, or, if you dare to challenge the establishment's view on sexuality, then they will condemn you as a pornographer, and do what they can to minimalize your visibility, and marginalize your work.

Shunned by the art community, your only recourse is the seedy underbelly of the villified and stigmatized porn world. But few pornographers care anything for art, or subtlety, or sensitivity, or substance. They are object-oriented, goal-driven, and myopically single-minded. My desire - my passion - is to apply a critical and artistic sensibility to erotic works, while not losing sight of the fun that is at the center of their purpose. I want to raise them to the level of an art form, and I have the vain desire for them to be treated as such. My goal is nothing less than a paradigm shift, yet I recognize that in my search for recognition I am destined to spend many years being ignored.
Nudity is such a love it or hate it kind of thing. The people that love it really love it, and the people that hate it really hate it. I could get naked in one context and have people shouting at me to put my clothes back on, and in another context, they're screaming at me to take them off. I guess there are people who have a nonchalant approach to nudity - casual nudists and nudist-friendly textiles - but the lovers and the haters (especially the haters) are so vocal that rarely is the middle-ground view tolerated. It's either strict puritanism or total perversion, with a distinct barrier (call it either "NSFW" or "18+") between the two.

You can't be nude in public. You can't even be nude at home sometimes, depending on the position of your windows, and your yard, and who you have over. You hardly seem able to be nude in locker rooms anymore. And it's not even so much a matter of personal decorum, because there are actually laws that can be twisted to prosecute a person for not sufficiently covering the sight of their naked body from others. Despite the fact (proven by experience among nudists) that a total taboo on nudity is not healthy, and contributes to poor body image (especially when the only bodies you do see are the cream of the crop - and even then, they're heavily airbrushed).

I don't think a society of total nudity is necessarily the best possible reality, I just wish people would be more reasonable about it, and not get so in a huff about the sight of a naked body that people have to fear very serious consequences for slipping just a little in the wrong context and demonstrating to the world that they do possess a naked, human body underneath their clothes. I mean, like, horror of horrors, right?
The dominant paradigm of sexual activity is that it serves a social function - to bring people together. Therefore, sex acts that are viewed as being "asocial" (which I do not consider to be the same thing as outright antisocial, such as rape) are labeled perverse, and viewed in a negative light. Among these are included such popular pastimes as solo masturbation and private porn use. But, I would argue, these activities are not only a healthy part of normal sexuality, but are also invaluable resources for those who struggle with social interaction, and that stigmatizing such acts only further marginalizes those minorities who are unable to seek out sex in its accepted form - that is, the form of reciprocal affection.

The modern conceptualization of "consent" being the defining property of "good", ethical sex reinforces the social paradigm of sexuality. This is a defensible perspective, but it is not purely "sex-positive", it is simply PC. Of course, consent is important. But if you're visualizing sex solely as a collaborative act, in which the only important determination of value is a legalized definition of consent, then you're brushing over a large segment of human sexuality (not least of which includes the sex engaged in by persons not legally permitted to consent).

A sex-positive framework places at its head the importance of the effect that a sexual act has on the persons who are affected by it. This does not mean that consent is invalidated as long as people get off (for indeed, that could very well be the description of an instance of rape, which is about the most sex-negative act I could think of). Sex-positivity does not encompass an "if it feels good, do it" moral compass. Rather, its morality could better be described by a variation of the Wiccan Rede - if it harms none, do what feels good.

The emphasis, here, is not on whether the paperwork on consent has been properly filled out (and god forbid somebody without the legal privilege of consent should have a positive sexual experience), but whether or not people are acquiring sexual pleasure and satisfaction in healthy, ethical ways. Not because unethical sex violates consent, but because unethical sex harms people. If it does not harm anyone, then can it really be unethical? All sorts of asocial sex acts - particularly those involving fantasy - may violate an excessively strict definition of consent ("did you ask that girl if she wanted to enter your sexual fantasy? Because if not, that's rape").

But thinking that way is really not in line with the sex-positive perspective that sexual thoughts and feelings are a positive aspect of human life. And reinforcing people's shame and paranoia surrounding what sexual thoughts other people my be having, and the radical feminist notion that if somebody gets turned on by looking at you, they are sexually assaulting you, is pretty much textbook sex-negativity. Sex-positivity is not naive. It does not embrace the perspective that all sex is always great and positive. But if your baseline concern is one of anxiety surrounding the effects that human sexuality has on the population (rather than the positive potential for sexual pleasure and satisfaction to improve people's lives), then chances are, you're not really sex-positive.
This journal is as much for me to round up a bunch of helpful links to deviantART's FAQ that I find myself frequently consulting, as it is a chance for me to make some comments about deviantART's rules, and point out some things that some of you may not have realized. Maybe you'll get as much use out of it as I intend to.

Helpful links for nude and erotic photographers on deviantART:

> What is Mature Content?

Notes: "Mature Content" on deviantART refers to artwork involving nudity, sexual themes, violence/gore, strong language, and ideologically sensitive subjects.

There are two levels of Mature Content - Moderate and Strict. Moderate places the artwork behind a warning (which anyone can click through), and Strict ensures that anyone under the age of 18 will not be able to see the artwork. But since the only speech minors are not legally permitted to view (i.e., pornography) is not allowed on the site, usage of the "Strict" tag is purely optional.

"The strict filter is completely voluntary" - CEA Team

> Is my deviation Mature Content?

Notes: This link may help you to determine whether or not your artwork needs to be tagged as Mature Content. In the case of nudity, it must be explicit (and not merely implied). Also, the "Strong Language" tag is entirely optional, since strong language is not regulated elsewhere on the site.

For a more nuanced exploration of the gray areas involved in tagging nudity (e.g., sheer clothing, provocative undergarments, fictional characters), read this journal from the CEA Team.

> You prohibit the submission of 'pornographic imagery'; what do you consider this to be?

Notes: This link should be very helpful to erotic artists in finding the line between permitted erotic content and prohibited pornographic content. Much of it is straightforward - no intercourse, masturbation, etc. - but things like erections and sex toys (even when not in use) are also restricted.

Here's my own checklist for determining whether an image is too sexy for deviantART, based on my personal interpretation of the rules:

Firstly, is the model under 18?
Is there fondling or masturbation of the genitals?
Is there any contact between oral, genital and anal regions?
Is there any penetration at all of the vagina, penis, or anus?
Are there any sexual bodily fluids?
Are there any erect penises?
Is the vagina or anus being spread manually or by artificial means?
Are there any sex toys?

If you can answer no to each and every one of those items, then the image ought to be permissible on deviantART (though likely, in the case of explicit nudity and sexually provocative poses, needing a Mature Content tag).

In shortened form, as long as 1) genital/anal regions are left alone (i.e., not touched, fondled, penetrated, or spread), 2) penises are not erect, and 3) there are no sexual fluids or sex toys in view, then you're good to go. Explicit nude [adult] models in sexually provocative poses are A-ok, but require a Mature Content tag.

> Model release forms? Do I need it? What is it?

Notes: Model release forms are NOT required for submitting artwork (I guess this would apply mainly to photography) to deviantART, however, deviantART may demand proof of model release at any time, and failure to provide it can result in the deletion of the image in question. This will most likely occur in cases where complaints are made (concerning permission for publication), nudity is involved, or prints are being sold.

Also,

> Are there restrictions on photographs of teenagers or children?

Notes: This probably goes without saying, but there are all sorts of extra restrictions on images of minors. Although deviantART's FAQ is incorrect in stating that minors may not legally be depicted nude (which SCOTUS would disagree with), the fact remains that such images are not permitted on deviantART, along with a whole score of other stuff designed to protect (and fetishize) the conceptual purity of childhood.
Sex is a dessert tray. Dessert is not a fundamental requirement for survival. Each one of us could live without dessert. Indeed, some are of the opinion that declining dessert is the healthier alternative. Nonetheless, indulging in dessert is a pleasure, and - when not done to excess - can be a very satisfying part of one's life.

There are many different desserts to choose from, and we all have different tastes. One person might prefer cheesecake, while another drools at the smell of chocolate. You might think that carrot cake is rather unappealing, but there is nothing wrong with it, nor with those who like it. The dessert you choose has no real bearing on the quality of your character.

Some people like to stick to their favorites, while others are willing to taste something new just to see if they'll like it. Barring any severe food allergies, a person is fully capable of eating any one of those desserts on the tray. But this does not negate the power of preference. If you find the Key lime pie to be altogether more satisfying, then you needn't feel as though you have something to prove by ordering the Tiramisu instead.
Here's a common complaint I hear against nudism: "But if I see naked boobies all the time, it'll lose its excitement - I never want to reach a point where seeing naked boobies doesn't excite me!"

Response: I find it incredibly ironic (and not a little bit hypocritical) that the type of person who's constantly staring at women's chests and hoping for a nip slip would use this argument, seeing as I doubt it even factors into this person's logic when they are watching porn on the internet for hours at a time.

But while there is some legitimacy in the concept of "normalization" - that we tend to get used to things we are constantly exposed to - a human being need not fear "wearing out" their sexual appetite. Exposure to erotic triggers will, at best, tire you out temporarily; but, like hunger, there will always be more desire in store just around the corner.

I am a person who appreciates the naked human form - especially the female form. I have dedicated myself to art so that I may surround myself daily with depictions of that form. Through my appreciation of art, I see countless images of naked females almost every day. Do I ever get tired of seeing a beautiful naked woman?

The answer to that question is a resounding NO! Exposure hasn't diminished my appreciation for the human form - it has only refined it. It may be true that I don't get giddy at the mere sight of an exposed breast as if I were an adolescent boy. But in no way does that diminish my appreciation for a beautiful breast when I see it. In fact, I value that experience so much, I want the whole world to go naked so that I may indulge in it more often!

Frankly, I think we need more maturity when it comes to sex and the sight of the naked human body. Tittering at the sight of a naked breast is a phase that adult men need to grow out of. Seriously. It is at least partially responsible for the sort of ridiculousness that occurs in this country (the United States) when the nudity taboo is even barely broken - such as during the "nipplegate" fiasco. This fetishization and objectification of the human female breast also contributes to women's body image issues, sexual inequality in the form of resistance to topfreedom movements, and an unhealthy stigma attached to breastfeeding.

There's nothing wrong with a man finding a woman's breast - or any other part of her body - sexually appealing. But there is a mature and an immature way of handling it. And exposure is the best way to get past that awkward adolescent phase that our culture seems to be willfully stuck in. So, no, I don't think that coddling your unhealthy fascination with parts of people's bodies is a legitimate argument against the mainstreamification of nudism. But nice try.
1. She can't be tamed.

2. No matter what anyone says, she won't stop doing her thang.

3. She's a sex positive role model for young women, who are all too frequently the target of sexual sabotage by zealous moralists.

I went to a Miley Cyrus concert last night, and it was a transcendent experience. I can see why the moral conservatives despise her, but I've got only two letters for them: one of them's F, and the other one's U. ;-p

Keep struttin' your stuff, Miley.
The dA rules, as I understand them - regarding the line between mature content and restricted pornography (read this if you haven't a hundred times already) - prohibit images depicting the male genitalia in its erect state. I understand why this is, and I'm not here to argue with it (although I'm not going to say that I agree with it). But as a photographer concerned with producing erotic art featuring a male subject - art that is not unwelcome on deviantART, provided that it does not cross the line into "pornography" as defined in the dA FAQs - I have created a lot of images displaying the male genitalia in every state from completely flaccid to achingly erect.

As most men - and more than a few women - are aware, the difference between the two is not akin to a binary switch (either off or on), but is rather a continuous transition from one end of the tumescence spectrum to the other. And as many are also aware, different individual specimens exhibit wildly varying behavior, some growing in size (with respect to length and/or girth) considerably more or less than others. Taking into account gravity's hand in the placement of one's member in various positions from standing, to lying on one's front or back, to standing on one's head, it may not always be easy to determine the progress of one's erection in a single image.

I'm willing to grant dA the benefit of the doubt on that matter; after all, they need to be able to enforce their own rules. What I am curious about, however, is how staff members draw the line; particularly in terms of - not just asking "is it erect or not" - but asking "how erect is it", and more importantly, "how erect does it have to be to constitute an erection and thus violate the rules?" In other words, "how erect is erect?"

Naturally, the obvious conclusion would be to play it safe. If it looks to be even a little bit erect, that's probably enough to classify it as restricted material. I'm not really looking to "push the boundaries", although that is an important aspect of the art I create (the bottom line is that it doesn't serve me to break the rules and get kicked off of websites, when I could instead stick around and gather fans). It just bugs me that I have all these great, artistic images (I would like to think) that I can't post, not just because they depict erections and are thus "pornographic", but some of them are not all that different, anatomically speaking, than the images I can and do post. And they're much more tasteful, besides, than some of the trashy smut that does turn up on this website and is NOT against the rules. But that's a different argument.

On a related note, why do they even bother allowing exceptions for "medical or educational purposes"? DeviantART is not a medical website, nor is it an educational website. The only motivation I could see for someone posting a "medical" or "educational" image of an erection would be to exploit the loophole in the rule prohibiting erections. And anyway, how are artistic (or even non-artistic) images of erections NOT medical or educational, given that having the experience of seeing the diversity of erections men have, and the various ways they're put to use, is an educational experience, and could very well contribute to the public's collective medical knowledge? I don't get it. But I guess that's because it's contradictory, and I'm a man of logic.
How does one define "art", and how does one define "porn"?

Some people may make certain exceptions, but it is generally agreed that the subject of art can be more or less anything. While it can be difficult to pin down what, exactly, makes a piece of art a piece of art, one way of approaching it is viewing it as a technical skill. Good painters are very good at using their skills to paint beautiful (or otherwise impressive) pictures. Similarly, good sculptors are very good at using their skills to create beautiful (or impressive) sculptures.

In photography, pretty much anyone can pick up a camera and take a picture, but we generally consider photographic artists to be those who can use their skills to create beautiful photographs, by understanding how their camera works, and paying careful attention to the lighting, composition, and arrangement of elements in a photograph. Thus we can distinguish between an amateur "snapshot" and a carefully composed piece of photographic "art".

Of course, the distinction between snapshot and art is a fluid one, and some may argue that snapshots can also be art, by other definitions of art. And, an artist in training may inevitably capture a lot of snapshots with the intention of producing art. DeviantART is a social-sharing community, and does not place any restrictions on the quality of art uploaded by its users to its website. So although you may have lofty aspirations as to the nature of deviantART as an "art" site - while it is dedicated to art, there is no guarantee made whatsoever about the quality of the art you will encounter on this site, and furthermore there are no restrictions placed on any sort of art that does not meet a minimum standard of quality, as far as "art" is concerned.

It happens, however, that one of the most common exceptions made by pretentious moralists as to certain subjects that, by their standard, cannot be considered from an artistic perspective, is human sexuality. Some will begrudgingly allow for the long and exalted history of artistic nudes, but even then, daring artists are treading on thin ice. The fact remains, however, that aside from a certain moralist objection (which has no place in the determination of what constitutes art), it is entirely possible to present human sexuality in an artistic context, using the same careful approach in terms of lighting, composition, and et cetera, that another artist would use to create a beautiful landscape, or an arresting portrait.

Nevertheless, the term "porn" is often bandied about in these cases, and, unfortunately, it has a very nebulous definition that complicates the issue. The word itself, used among polite company, does not simply presuppose media of certain content (namely, human sexuality), but media of a certain vulgar, base quality. So that, regardless of the truth of the matter, images that depict human sexuality are often treated as trash, and not commonly considered alongside "art", which by the same pretentious mindset is considered as something esteemed and precious, to which the human desire to "fuck" could never hope to aspire.

To use a metaphor, it is like the difference between opera and pop music. Opera has a higher class reputation than pop music, and some would argue that opera is art, while pop music could never hope to be. Whether or not this is true (and it may simply be a case of confusing "fine art" with art in general), the fact remains that one could write an opera about sex, just as one could write a pop song about the same issue. And while it may be true that songs about sex are more frequently of the poppy, less "artistic" variety, that in no way limits the possibility of somebody creating a very tasteful, artistic, and high class opera centered on the theme of sex.

Imagine that scenario, if you would. There are many who would consider such a vulgar opera as base as any of the pop songs written on a similar subject. To these people, it is not the quality of the art that they are concerned with, but what message the art is trying to convey, and any message so pruriently concerned with such lustful matters can't possibly be exalted to the level of "high art". These people are deluded and hypocritical, and pretentious to an unforgivable degree.

However, the problem remains of how to differentiate low-quality porn from the more artistic variety of erotica. And we come back to the same problem of subjectivity that we had in determining the line between "snapshot" photography and real art. That line is fluid, as it ever was, and depends on subjective judgment. And so, as it is the case with art in general, the website deviantART, as many others, leaves it out of their hands to determine the difference between vulgar porn and erotic art. Like every other subject, deviantART does not discriminate against low quality erotic images and does not have a bar of quality that must be met for them to be accepted on the site.

Now, I'd love to see people stop quibbling over whether a "pornographic" image (often very loosely defined) can be considered "art", but I'm afraid that's a debate that will never meet its end. Yet, the fact remains that the question of "art or not?" is entirely irrelevant on this site. The important question is not whether porn can be art (it can), but whether a given image really is porn or not. And, as you may or may not be amazed to learn, deviantART actually has pretty clear rules about what constitutes "porn" in the context of images they don't allow on this site. You may or may not agree with the details of those rules (I have some quarrels with them myself), and where they choose to draw certain lines, but the fact is, the lines are relatively clear (to the extent that they can be).

Defined by deviantART's rules, porn is, simply, art that depicts certain acts of human sexuality in an explicit manner. It makes no difference whether the art in question has been created with technical finesse and adherence to the principles of good composition, or if it was shot haphazardly by a pervert with a webcam. The only thing that matters, as far as what images are allowed to appear on deviantART and what are not, is whether the image explicitly depicts sexual activity, as defined in the website's rules.

So, a picture that the United States government might describe as a "lascivious exhibition" of somebody's genitals, and that any reasonable person would consider a vulgar and tasteless display of someone's nether regions, would be perfectly accepted on deviantART (provided those genitals are not being manipulated in any way that could be described as "sexual"). Meanwhile, another artist could upload a very tasteful and artistic depiction of a woman being caressed by a man in a visibly aroused state, and find his work categorized as restricted material. This is not about art, and not about taste, it is simply and bluntly about sex.

But not simply the suggestion of sex. Sexiness is okay. The erotic is permitted. The subject of sex is not taboo, only the blatant depiction of it is. Not people's bodies alone, no - nudity is permitted behind a mature content filter. Just a specific manipulation of those bodies that involves sexual arousal and contact. The primary concern for me, personally, is that one is allowed to view the male genitalia, but not see it in a state of arousal. We are allowed to observe that a man has genitalia, but not see what it looks like in its "agitated" state. Which, frankly, I take as discrimination against men, for a man can become aroused without sexual contact, and this is clearly visible, and uniquely difficult to mask, in a way that it is not for a woman, which makes the task of photographing a male model in an erotic shoot (which is a subject not, remember, disallowed by deviantART) particularly more challenging than using a female model in the same way.

But this is just another form of quibbling. The standing fact is that deviantART has stricter restrictions against images depicting sexual activity than it does against images of a suitably deficient artistic quality. And, furthermore, the website makes a very reasonable distinction between nudity and sexual activity. So, it simply does not make sense to argue about what is or is not art, and whether, as a result, it deserves (or "ought") to show up on deviantART. It's incredible how many times I've seen someone view an image of a person's nude body and mistake that for a sex act.

It matters not a whit whether you think that nudity is vulgar, or whether a certain image gets you hot and bothered. DeviantART allows nudity and disallows porn. If you don't like it, you can take it up with the site. But be sure and understand the distinction between nudity and porn. DeviantART already restricts porn, so if it's the nudity you don't like to see, complain about the nudity, not the "porn". And if it's the vulgar, inartistic shots of people's genitals that makes you angry, think on this. There are two ways to eliminate it. Either you can lobby for the site to get rid of all nudity (which is a valid stance, if not one that I agree with), or you can opt for a filter on the quality of art that is submitted.

But let me warn you, that last option is unreasonable and unrealistic. Enforcing it would be next to impossible, involving subjective judgments of the art that is submitted, leading to no end of conflict and arguments over what sort of art will and will not be allowed, without any clear guide to consult beforehand, other than: "a gatekeeper will evaluate your art as it is submitted, and decide if he thinks it's good enough for the website or not". (And you can bet this website doesn't have the hours or manpower to enforce that rule). But, last of all, the enactment of such a rule means that you, too, would be subject to it, and all of your art would have to be evaluated for quality before it is allowed to be featured on this site.

Personally, I wouldn't be entirely against such a system - except for the fact that it would be impossible to enforce on this scale. I'm willing to submit my work to an evaluation of its quality - the quality of the material on this site would benefit vastly as a result. But for the fact that that judgment is subjective, and any two people may not agree on what is "good". But then it'd be like we were back in school, submitting our assignments to be graded by an authoritarian overlord. And this is the internet. This is deviantART, for goodness' sake. It's not a sophisticated art gallery. It's a community for deviant artists and artists-in-training, a haven for outcasts and nonconformists and people who like to stretch the boundaries and take risks and ruffle feathers - like all the great artists do - and who might be looking for a community that's willing to accept them in all their eccentricities.

Or, I could be mistaken in that regard.
A lot of people talk trash about self-portraiture. They say that it's vain, egotistical, narcissistic. But as a self-portrait artist, I think it's more self-reflection than self-absorption. If portrait photography is a record of a relationship between two people, then self-portraiture reveals depths about the photographer him/herself. And I think that's interesting.

I'll be honest, though. The primary reason I take self-portraits is because I'm a social recluse. Although, ironically, if I were more outgoing, my photography might be far less intriguing - as I'd largely be taking pictures of things you've seen before. What I like to capture most in art is beauty, and my personal idea of beauty is, essentially, naked women.

Yawn, right? Well, I'm not going to say that naked women are boring - no matter how many of them I've seen, they still continue to fascinate me. But I've really had to stretch my creativity and imagination, trying to create "female nudes" when all I've got to work with is a male body. I'd like to think the result is something fairly unique.

But perhaps more importantly, putting myself into the position of "female model" has given me an opportunity to explore my own feminine side. And I've discovered that femininity fits me strangely well. I don't know if I would call myself transgender, as I've felt more like I WANT to be a girl, and not that I AM one, but a close (and very supportive) friend assures me that my femininity comes so naturally, that I've begun to believe that it was meant to be.

All of which is to say, that I have continued documenting myself via self-portraiture, as I continue to explore nudism, exhibitionism, and feminization, all the while improving my craft and becoming a more experienced and more accomplished photographer (AND model!). And at the same time, I have continued to use my photography as a sounding board from which to explore all the topics relevant to nudity and sexuality and art, that come up naturally during the course of my life and my creative endeavors.

It's been a wild ride, and I believe that the best is still yet to come!

(This semi-biography is continued from my last journal entry, Introduction)

So there I was, fresh out of college, re-examining my life, and I came across those webcam shots I had taken of myself as a teenager. And I thought to myself, some of them are pretty good. It's a waste to just keep these to myself. I bet there are people out there who would really enjoy seeing them. (This was also the kernel of thought that developed into my philosophy that beautiful people have a duty to share their beauty with the world).

I had joined a photo-sharing website, and decided to use it to exhibit some of my photography. I interfaced with the online community, and soon came upon a popular thing known as the 365 Project. The idea behind it is that you push yourself to improve as a photographer by committing to taking and sharing one photograph a day for a whole year. One variation on the project is that all of the shots have to be self-portraits.

Well, I thought that it would be novel to try and take 365 nude self-portraits, and the idea was too exciting for me to pass up. I was, incidentally, beginning to explore nudism at the time, and the project also gave me room to explore my sexuality (thanks to the lax rules on the photo-sharing site I was using). My project - the Daily Nudes Project - was received favorably, and it gave me a chance to not only improve my photography, but to learn a lot about myself as well. Most importantly, it transformed my interest in nude and erotic portraiture into a full-blown passion.

Unfortunately, I was not able to complete the project, due to losing my camera on a camping trip in the desert (a.k.a. Burning Man!) mid-year. However, that loss ultimately prompted me to upgrade from point-and-shoot to dSLR technology. In other words, I bought a serious camera, and for the first time I began to feel like a real photographer.

Stay tuned for my next update, where I'll fill you in on what I've accomplished with my dSLR!