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I've decided I'd like to give Patreon a try. If you're not familiar with Patreon, it's a website that provides creators with the opportunity to let their fans pay them on a monthly subscription basis, in return for exclusive perks. I'm excited about this announcement, and I want you to be, too - so if you have any concerns, please let me know what they are. Rest assured that I am not going to suddenly put all my work behind a pay wall. This just means that I'll be able to produce new and better things - some of it for the benefit of those willing to support me, and the rest for the world at large. My goal is for everyone to be happy - including myself. And I want this to be a success, but that can only happen with your help. So here are some questions I'd like to ask you:

1. Would you be willing to support my artistic endeavors financially, even if just in a small way?

2. What kind of benefits or rewards would you like to receive in return for doing so? (e.g., exclusive content, behind-the-scenes looks, high resolution images, etc.)

3. If you're not willing to support me financially at this time, is there anything I could do or provide that you would consider worth paying for? (As a potentially relevant side note, Patreon permits nudity, but nothing of a pornographic nature - much like deviantART).

I don't want to start charging anyone for something they already get for free (although if you only follow me on deviantART, then you're already only seeing a fraction of my work), but after well over ten years of practice, my self-esteem isn't so low that I don't believe I have nothing to offer the world that isn't worth some kind of financial compensation (it's just a matter of finding out what that is). The benefit to me personally of being paid for work that I have heretofore done for free is that I could justify spending more time and money on the art I create. That means I could buy better equipment (hardware and software), travel to new locations, and spend more time learning new skills (such as video editing) - the result being more and better art for you to enjoy.

I don't expect I'll ever be the best photographer or model in the world (and I don't anticipate being able to make a living from my art - but even a little bit would go toward furthering my ability to commit to this work), but what I like about art is that I can provide a unique perspective that nobody else can duplicate. So if you like my approach towards art - my views on the subjects I photograph (e.g., gender expression), my willingness to shoot those subjects (e.g., nudity), and my dedication to presenting those subjects in both a sophisticated yet unflinching manner - then consider supporting me on Patreon (it's a work in progress).

And if not, please tell me how you think I could improve.
Correspondence Item by zharth

I don't know if it was some primitive AI, but whoever incorrectly flagged my photo House Corner as potentially containing "explicit content" ought to get a clue (and check out the hundreds of other images of graphic nudity I have in my gallery that are permitted on deviantART). The photo has a curiously large number of views for only being up for a week and a half (and not having been added to any groups), so I'm wondering if maybe it was linked somewhere to a potentially conservative audience.

I would love to address anybody's concerns and have an open dialogue about art and nudity and "explicit content" - shots in the dark like this one are immature and, moreover, completely ineffective when you don't understand the rules and you're up against somebody who does. There are plenty of images on deviantART for which you could make a better case (whether successful or not) for containing "explicit content" than this one. But no matter, this ineffectual warning is easily ignored (I only bring it up so I can use it as an educational opportunity).

Note to staff: your use of the term "explicit content" here is problematic, given that it is easily confused with "mature content" (surely that is not what you meant, as the deviation in question already contains a mature content filter, as it was added to the Artistic Nude category for which such a filter is mandatory and automatically added by your software), and that phrase is not actually used in the policy guide it links to which denotes the types of "pornographic" material that is not permitted on deviantART (the word "explicit" occurs only three times in that document, and twice in reference to nudity which is allowed behind a content filter). Please, clarity in this matter is very important.
Towards a better categorization of sex, gender, and sexual orientation.

As a gender non-normative individual, I am in a unique position to see the limitations of our traditional framework of viewing these categories. Specifically, I propose a three-pronged model to replace the insufficient two-pronged one - a model that recognizes the distinction between sex and gender, and one in which orientation may be categorized independent of these two. But before I explain my view further, let me answer an important question: why change something that has worked in the past?

Answer: because it no longer does. Our understanding is evolving, and our models need to evolve, too. When science discovers a new species that throws its taxonomy out of whack, it doesn't deny the existence of that species to maintain the status quo. It recognizes reality, no matter how inconvenient, and shifts to accommodate it. Alternative individuals who "break" the system may form a minority, but they are a minority that reveals a fundamental error in our conception of these subjects. For example, it was only a minor discrepancy in the calculation of Mercury's orbit that led to our adoption of Einstein's relativity over Newton's classical theory of gravity, but without it, we wouldn't have GPS (among other things).

For you see, in science, when you create a framework to explain a natural phenomenon, and that framework fails to take into account certain details, or accurately describe the phenomenon (which occurs in the normal process of discovery, when our understanding of a phenomenon is still incomplete), confusion will eventually arise, when evidence gained as our perception of a subject matures and evolves gradually reveals that the model doesn't fit reality perfectly. What is then required is a new paradigm - a new model, a new way of thinking - that more accurately reflects, to the best of our updated understanding, the complex nature of reality. To resist this natural evolution is to hold back our entire species, and the slow advance of progress.


There are different ways of viewing sex, gender, and orientation. I'm not saying mine is the correct and definitive one, I'm only suggesting that it is more logical and comprehensive than the prevailing one. In my conception, sex is biologically determined, gender manifests psychologically and through one's behavior, and orientation governs who you tend to have romantic or sexual feelings toward. These three prongs of our identity are both distinct and related, and I believe this is a superior approach to categorizing them, compared to the overly simplistic model in which a person is either male or female (conflating sex with gender), and gay (or bi) or straight (unnecessarily entangling one's orientation with their sex/gender). That the male/female dichotomy exists and is so pervasive suggests to me that it is not merely a delusion. But neither is it the end of the story. I believe there are two sexes, governed by the biological requirements of human procreation. However, if "male or female" is the plan, there sometimes occur anomalies, in which a person may exist somewhere between male and female, or possess characteristics of both sexes (i.e., the intersex condition).

How do we define gender? It seems to me that, historically, gender (when not used simply as a synonym for one's biological sex) has arisen as a description of the statistical differences between the sexes, as manifests either conceptually or behaviorally, in everything from fashion choices to careers to taste in music. These qualities, however, are largely subjective, and prone to cultural influence. So while it makes sense to start with "masculine" (male-associated) and "feminine" (female-associated) as models for two distinct genders, it should be recognized that one's gender identity and expression are not tied to one's sex (so that biological males may manifest feminine aspects and vice versa), and that the very concept of "gender" is nebulous, so that there may exist as many manifestations of gender as there are people. Gender, therefore, is little more than a subjective measure of how closely certain aspects - often taken together - of a person's identity adhere to arbitrary stereotypes associated with the two sexes. To what extent this evaluation is useful or even meaningful I leave as an open question.

(Personally, I do value the notion of a feminine gender, because of its association in my mind with things I admire. But I don't know how important the concept is beyond those subjective feelings - e.g., in a statistical context - and I don't know that it should be any more important than any other designation of my personality type, except for the fact that, as a transgender person, it reflects a personal rejection of many common social pressures. But is it more important whether I am "masculine" or "feminine" than whether I like rock or pop music, prefer cats or dogs, take baths or showers, watch action or romance movies? And if these qualities are interchangeable even across the sexes, then what point is there in signing my name to one of only two forms, neither of which anyone matches completely? I mean, it's not like if somebody checks "male", you can reliably assume that they like rock music, prefer dogs, take showers, and watch action movies. At the very least, we need to stop asking for a person's gender when what we really want to know is their sex - even the DMV is guilty of this, the last time I filled out my driver's license renewal form).


This leaves us with sexual orientation. Heretofore, orientation has been myopically directed by the procreative standard - that males must mate with females in order to produce offspring. This heterosexual coupling is viewed as the norm, and only recently has the logical alternative - homosexuality - been recognized in society on a wide scale. But I believe we live in a post-procreative society, in which sexual or romantic couplings no longer ought to be primarily defined by their procreative viability. Considering the availability of adoption, as well as the advent of reproductive science, and taking into account the fact that not all couples mate with the rearing of offspring as their goal, it no longer makes sense to define people's feelings of attraction based on this outdated standard. More important than this sexual categorization of coupling is the collection of qualities that a person actually desires. Considering whether one is attracted, generally, to a particular sex, or the manifestation of a particular gender, is still both meaningful and practical. But the terms "gay" and "straight" both say more than they need to - not just what you're attracted to, but how that relates to what you are - and not enough - consider that if someone just says they're gay, or that they're straight, you still don't know their sex or their gender.

Moreover, these terms are inadequate at describing a population which has recognized the difference between sex and gender, and the existence of individuals for whom these two qualities do not match. How do you define a transgender person's sexual orientation? Does it depend on their biological sex or their gender identity? (Here's where sensitivity may stand in the way of clarity, and engender resentment among some, when we start defining PiV intercourse under certain conditions as "gay", and call wrapping two sausages up in a pancake "straight"). Does it change if they undergo treatment? If a person is uncertain about their gender, or their sex is under construction, wouldn't it just be simpler to say what they're attracted to? The vocabulary is open to discussion, but I feel that single-pointed terms like "male-attracted" and "female-attracted" are infinitely superior to dual-pointed terms like "gay" and "straight". "Bisexual" may be salvageable (as long as we're clear on whether the "sex" part actually refers to sex, or gender), and more encompassing terms like "pansexual" are pretty resilient - because in the process of opening up one's orientation to more targets, it relies less on the relationship between those targets and the sex or gender identity of the person using it.

I just think we should be cognizant of the words we're using, and the meanings they convey, and strive to communicate clearly and accurately. It is my opinion that a lot (not all, certainly, but a lot) of unneccessary antipathy towards alternative populations is the result of potentially avoidable confusion arising from failed communication.
6 Steps to a Nuder You!
(an instructional guide for aspiring nudists)

Bed Sheets by zharth

Step 1: Sleep naked. It's comfy, it's private, and most people spend about a third of their lifetime in bed. (If you're sharing a room, you can always slip off your shorts after you climb under the covers - this is what I did in college when I had a roommate). Advanced: Waking up naked is a great way to start the day. If you have enough privacy in your home, try not to get dressed until after you've had your breakfast.

Drying Outtake by zharth

Step 2: Delay getting dressed after a shower or bath. Bathing is one of the few activities that even textiles do naked. And it doesn't make sense to get dressed while your skin is still damp. Use this as an excuse to stay naked longer. At the very least, you can wrap a towel around your body, or wear a loose-fitting robe.

Computer Set by zharth

Step 3: Designate any private, personal space you have to be clothing optional. If you live alone, there's nothing stopping you from roaming the house or apartment nude (you can close the blinds for privacy, or just take your chances). If not, then you may still be able to hang out in your bedroom without wearing clothes. Unless you're sharing a room, other people should at the very least respect this request, even if they demand you cover up when in the presence of others.

Conversations With A Nudist (Part 1) by zharth

Step 4: Propose a clothing optional household. If you do not live alone, then once you are more comfortable being naked on your own, you should consider discussing this with your other housemates (if it hasn't already come up). You might also want to consider talking to your friends about nudism. They don't have to join you in taking off their clothes, you're just asking them if they would mind you being nude in front of them. They might say no, but it's worth asking, because they might also say yes. Maybe they've secretly been wanting to give it a try themselves. Or, maybe after seeing how much you enjoy it, and that it's not a big deal, they'll start to join in, too. If not, then at least it won't be a shock if they ever accidentally walk in on you naked, and you can stop feeling like you're holding onto a shameful secret.

Running Through The Sprinkler by zharth

Step 5: Take your nudity outdoors. Depending on where you live, this might be difficult to achieve. If you have a yard that's private, then choose a good time (like when your housemates are not home, if they're not on board with your nudism), and go outside and soak up some sun. Try doing some yard work, or toss a ball around, or play with the garden hose. If your yard is not private enough to avoid being seen by neighbors, try slipping out under the cover of night, just to feel the open air on your skin. This would be a good time to broach the subject of nudism with your neighbors - to see if they would mind you going nude on your own property. But use discretion - based on who you live next to, and what your relationship with them is, it might be better just to keep this to yourself. As a last resort, you can try hiking nude in a forest, or going skinny dipping in a river or lake. Just be careful about encountering other people - the farther from civilization you get, the better your chances will be - and stay safe!

Backyard Club by zharth

Step 6: Visit a nude beach, camp, or resort. If you can't go naked in your home, and don't have a private yard, this might be your only recourse to nude recreation. And if you do, this will still be your introduction to a whole lifestyle where you'll likely make new friends who share your interest in casual nudity. Search the web for nudist-friendly locations in your area, then plan a trip. Even if you're a single male, there are options out there for you. Different destinations will have different amenities, activities, a different atmosphere, and may attract different crowds. Do some research, and talk to other nudists online. But most importantly, work up your courage to take the plunge. I guarantee you won't regret it.

If you've made it this far, then congratulations, you are a nudist! Welcome to the club. :-)
I'm not usually a very confrontational person. When staff makes a decision, I might disagree with it, and it might fuel my growing discontent, but generally I accept that they made it, and that that's not going to change. But this time, something compelled me to file a challenge. Now, it's easy to be angry in this situation and want to lash out at the person you think made a mistake (especially if you think it wasn't a mistake), but let me tell you, it pays to be polite, and give your opponent the benefit of the doubt - especially the one who unilaterally holds the power to right any supposed wrongs.

So, I merely explained that the deviation that was deleted for containing an erection did not, in fact, contain an erection - just a flaccid penis that happened to be pointing skyward. I didn't dispute staff's interpretation of it as an erection, just the basic facts of the case. I wasn't even expecting a reversal of the deletion, I just wanted to verify that it was staff's policy to interpret flaccid penises in a skyward orientation as erections (even if they were not, in point of fact), so that I could avoid posting any more of them in the future, and mention that it might be helpful to include a note about this in their Help Center guide on prohibited content (see the section on "erections").

To my astonishment, I woke up this morning to find that the deletion had been reversed, and my deviation had been reinstated!

Deletion Reversal by zharth

Hooray for good news amidst a sea of bad! Perhaps I should have been more proactive in disputing some of my other alleged policy violations, although it's probably water under the bridge by now. Besides, some of these are grey areas (I think it's healthy for artists to push the boundaries), and I don't want to undermine staff's authority to interpret what they come across, lest they change their mind and label me an instigator - no doubt, justice can be snatched away as quickly as this injustice was amended. But, for the meantime, this is a victory for reason and for perverts everywhere. Commence posting your skyward-oriented penises!

(Just make sure they're flaccid).
Warning to all prospective users of this site: deviantART censors flaccid penises.*

Just days after I heard a rumor about Tumblr nuking its adult content (confirmed: Tumblr will no longer permit nudity as of Dec 17, 2018), I wake up to my deviantART dashboard and find that an image of mine that had been under review a year ago has been removed by staff. If you were following me back then, you might remember the discussion we had. If deviantART thinks I would have forgotten just because it's been a year, they are mistaken. To review, this was a nude image that unequivocally contained a flaccid, not erect penis. But because of the way my body was moving when the image was captured, said flaccid penis happened to be pointing in an upward direction (not even in the same way an erection would stick out). For a year, I thought that reason and common sense had prevailed. Today I find out that's no longer true.

I wish I could show you the picture in question - that's one of the most insidious parts of this whole process. How are we supposed to learn if we can't even see what constitutes a policy violation? (Not technically, but in the sense that anything staff mistakenly removes constitutes unwanted content). Not even the poster gets to see which image he uploaded erroneously, so that he can amend his behaviors in the future. For an artist as prolific as I am - uploading hundreds of images - am I supposed to remember every image by name (even when I upload multiple images from a shoot under the same name)? It just happens that this image was one that had been spotlighted before, so I knew exactly which image to check (to see if it was still there or not) when I was notified of staff's deletion.

Want to hear a real life example of the chilling effect? You know, that thing authoritarians always tell you is just a paranoid delusion? I've been in the habit of being more and more careful about what images I upload to this site, as a result of pressure on borderline, grey area images, so as to avoid violating the rules. (Self-censorship is a bitch - it happens when authorities pressure you to the point that you'll start whipping yourself in anticipation - it means they've broken you). If you visualize it, it's like a lasso tightening down, reducing the range of free expression available on this platform.

Sure, there are other platforms (like Tumblr - oh wait, they're tightening down, too, like everywhere else), including ones specifically designed for adult content (but do we really want to live in a segregated community, where not just porn, but artistic nudity, and harmless softcore eroticism is all swept under the rug of society?). But we're all becoming more careful, more wary, less likely to express ourselves in ways that are healthy - like positive attitudes towards the human body and sexual pleasure. Society is placing bumpers down, creating "safe" spaces (which is code for "our ideology dominates all others"), babyproofing the public commons, when it's my belief that in a free society, what one encounters in the public square ought to be challenging, not comforting.

Is it good that we're becoming an ultra sensitive culture? That in international, worldwide, global communities, the most sensitive culture gets to dictate the freedoms of the rest? I honestly don't know what's stopping us from instituting hijab rule out of deference to our Muslim community members, except that we simply haven't gotten that far yet. Maybe what irritates me even more as a sex-positive activist than putting hypersensitivity on a pedestal is the fact that so many people think nudity and sexuality are offensive subjects. I'd sooner ban profanity, violence, hate speech, religious indoctrination, drugs, etc. before I'd even consider anybody (including children) seeing an unclothed human body to be harmful in any way. In what debased society is it more appropriate to depict the inflicting of pain upon others than the sharing of pleasure?

Tell me what I can do to fight back. I want to join the resistance. I've spent years contributing to the amount of nude and erotic content in the world, available online. I still think that's probably the best course of action - uploading "smut" faster than they can take it down. But sometimes it doesn't feel like enough. I can keep fighting back within the system, to protect my own standing in that system, but as the system continues to choke down, I feel less and less like a rebel and more and more like just another victim of the system. I don't want to wait until we get to such a point that all art is outlawed and we're taking pills to suppress our passions for the sake of "a better, more positive world" (in Tumblr's words). What can I do to help steer the world onto a different track, or am I just pissing in the wind of so-called "progress"?

*Update: The deletion in question has been reversed. Read more about it here.
25 reasons to embrace a clothes-free lifestyle.

Why Nudism? by zharth

I'm excited to announce the release of my first book designed for (more or less) general audiences. Over the past year, I've shot a series of self-portraits illustrating the various reasons a person might practice nudism. It's an informational and artistic showcase of both my photography and writing. Support me as an artist by picking up your copy today! (Also available as an ebook).

Why Nudism? by zharth

Not convinced yet? Read more about it here.
So I hear there's been a rash of deletions of erotic images here on deviantART lately (it's too bad there's no equivalent to the Adult Flickr Members group here on dA, to keep track of everything going on), and I've finally been hit. My initial reaction was righteous indignation, of course, but I'm going to approach this rationally instead of emotionally. I don't know what the cause of this "sting" is - most people suspect new staff members or an army of TOS violation reporters (who have no doubt taken a tip from Communist Russia - keep an eye on your neighbors!) - but the most plausible explanation I've heard is utilization of a new image recognition program (the future is here!). This is actually more terrifying than the other possibilities, because now our freedom of expression is subject to the whims of an unmerciful, inhuman program. Now this is just a rumor (I wish I could find the comment I read that suggested this - these kinds of things disappear surprisingly well on deviantART), but the most salient detail of all these deletions is just how arbitrary and inconsistent they are. A human being (whether staff or upset user) could easily find worse images to single out.

Anyway, I should consider myself fortunate that out of hundreds of nude and erotic images I've posted to this site, only three (so far, at least) were flagged for deletion (and not necessarily the worst, crudest, or most suggestive ones). You win some and you lose some. But it's worth considering which images stuck out, in comparison to all the ones that have not tripped any wires. (Especially if this is an AI we're dealing with, so we can reverse engineer its algorithm, learn what its triggers are, and begin to predict what will set it off). There's just one problem with that. Although the notifications I got in my inbox for the deletions name (and shame) the allegedly policy-violating images, the links to them are broken because they've already been deleted! How am I supposed to learn what a policy violation looks like if I can't see which of my images violated the policy?

Policyviolation by zharth

Luckily, I keep meticulous records, and I've been able to - with fairly good confidence - track down the three images that have been deleted, by cross-referencing the posting dates with my original files. All three images were reportedly removed for the inclusion of "a penis which is considered to be 'erect'", despite the fact that I have deliberately filtered all images with erections out of the pool from which I choose to upload deviations to this site. So it would appear that this is another case of the age old question, how erect is erect? (And the answer would seem to be: not very).

Which begs the question, how erect am I in these three pictures? I will concede that we're wading into murky waters here, but allow me to make my case. By my own definition, I would not describe any of these pictures as including an erection, although there may be some partial engorgement involved (as happens naturally for a male, especially in the course of a nude photo shoot). Still, there is no rigidity, and the penis (where it hangs freely) curves towards the floor. I would argue that the defining quality of an erection is the way it sticks out, and stands at attention. To judge an erection based sheerly on length or girth is to discriminate against the well-endowed. To whatever extent it may be considered that erections pose a viewing "hazard" (to minors or prudes or whatever), it should be the erectness of the penis and not its size that is considered. Or are we saying that big penises are more sexual than small ones? That to be well-endowed in a nudist or artistic environment should be considered a sex act?

My position - however logical I think it is - would be easy enough to refute. You could write me off as a pervert (I plead guilty) trying to circumvent the rules (to that I'd have to mount a defense). But listen. The penis is a highly mutable organ. It fluctuates constantly, adjusting to environmental stimuli - such as heat and pressure. It has functions beyond the sexual. Sometimes it's larger and sometimes it's smaller - the same way the scrotum rises and falls and undulates, or the way that nipples harden. It's largest when it's erect, but not all growth indicates sexual stimulation. Sometimes my penis shrivels up like a frightened turtle. Other times it sticks its head out proudly, like a rocket on a launchpad. Most of the times it's somewhere in between.

I suppose I'm at a disadvantage because I've taken lots of pictures of erections, and know what they look like.* An erection is not ambiguous, by its very nature. A penis that hangs down, curving towards the floor, not protruding exceptionally far from the body, cannot be described as an "erection". I think it's only fair that anyone (man or machine) whose duty it is to censor erections should be mandated to view images of actual erections, regularly. So they know what they're looking for. Because when erections are banned (as they have been on this site for as long as I've been a member), and nobody sees any erections any more, then people will look at the penises they can see, and start to judge those that are slightly longer or thicker or more protruding than the rest as erections. And after those penises are banned, what happens next? Only men with pencil dicks will be allowed to pose for art? This is the very definition of a slippery slope.

We put so much effort into controlling the exchange of information, propping up in our minds this illusion of the harm that an exposure to human sexuality allegedly causes (when the reverse is probably true - making sex a taboo rots the brain). To what ultimate end? The sanitization of people's minds? (Not that that even works - we're still quite filthy, in spite of any attempts to prevent this). But, it's probably useless to try to rationalize what, I suspect, will ultimately turn out to be a completely arbitrary and inconsistent application of the rules of this site, in the never-ending war of the forces of hatred and darkness against anything that could perceivably give someone else joy of an erotic nature (oh, the horror!). As long as I can keep posting some images of my naked body that will surely get audiences hot and bothered, then my goal is fulfilled. And if, in the future, posting rules become so tight as to be stifling, or if deviantART correctly identifies me as a "deviant artist" - and therefore unfit for this website - then I assure you there will always be other ways to access my work.

*Perhaps the strongest argument in my defense is a piece of evidence that, as I have lamented before, is inadmissible in court - an actual picture of an erection for comparison. I put together a personalized response to deviantART on this matter. I can't show you here for obvious reasons, but if you navigate to my erotic photography blog, Truth & Beauty, look for an image at the top of the sidebar on the right.
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.


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.