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Erotic art covers any artistic work that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of love-making. It includes drawings, engravings, films, music, paintings, photographs, sculptures and writing.
Defining erotic art is difficult since perceptions of both what is erotic and what is art fluctuate. A sculpture of a phallus in some African cultures may be considered a traditional symbol of potency though not overtly erotic.
In addition, a distinction is often made between erotic art and pornography (which also depicts scenes of love-making and is intended to evoke erotic arousal, but is not usually considered fine art). The distinction may lie in intent and message; erotic art would be items intended as pieces of art, encapturing formal elements of art, and drawing on other historical artworks. Pornography may also use these tools, but is primarily intended to arouse one sexually. Nevertheless, these elements of distinction are highly subjective.
For instance, Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United States, in attempting to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, famously wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced ... [b]ut I know it when I see it ..."
Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings, but many cultures have created erotic art. A vast number of artifacts have been discovered from ancient Mesopotamia depicting explicit heterosexual sex. Glyptic art from the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period frequently shows scenes of frontal sex in the missionary position. In Mesopotamian votive plagues from the early second millennium BC, the man is usually shown entering the woman from behind while she bends over, drinking beer through a straw. Middle Assyrian lead votive figurines often represent the man standing and penetrating the woman as she rests on top of an altar. Scholars have traditionally interpreted all these depictions as scenes of ritual sex, but they are more likely to be associated with the cult of Inanna, the goddess of sex and prostitution. Many sexually explicit images were found in the temple of Inanna at Assur, which also contained models of male and female sexual organs, including stone phalli, which may have been worn around the neck as an amulet or used to decorate cult statues, and clay models of the female vulva.
Depictions of sexual intercourse were not part of the general repertory of ancient Egyptian formal art, but rudimentary sketches of heterosexual intercourse have been found on pottery fragments and in graffiti. The Turin Erotic Papyrus (Papyrus 55001) is a 8.5 feet (2.6 m) by 10 inches (25 cm) Egyptian papyrus scroll discovered at Deir el-Medina, the last two-thirds of which consist of a series of twelve vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions. The men in the illustrations are "scruffy, balding, short, and paunchy" with exaggeratedly large genitalia and do not conform to Egyptian standards of physical attractiveness, but the women are nubile and they are shown with objects from traditional erotic iconography, such as convolvulus leaves and, in some scenes, they are even holding items traditionally associated with Hathor, the goddess of love, such as lotus flowers, monkeys, and sistra. The scroll was probably painted in the Ramesside period (1292-1075 BC) and its high artistic quality indicates that was produced for a wealthy audience. No other similar scrolls have yet been discovered.
The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty, and there are numerous sexually explicit paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii. The Moche of Peru in South America are another ancient people that sculpted explicit scenes of sex into their pottery. There is an entire gallery devoted to pre-Columbian erotic ceramics (Moche culture) in Lima at the Larco Museum.
Additionally, there has been a long tradition of erotic painting in Eastern cultures. In Japan, for example, shunga appeared in the 13th century and continued to grow in popularity until the late 19th century when photography was invented. Similarly, the erotic art of China reached its popular peak during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty. In India, the famous Kama Sutra is an ancient sex manual that is still popularly read throughout the world.
In Europe, starting with the Renaissance, there was a tradition of producing erotica for the amusement of the aristocracy. In the early 16th century, the text I Modi was a woodcut album created by the designer Giulio Romano, the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and the poet Pietro Aretino. In 1601 Caravaggio painted the "Amor Vincit Omnia," for the collection of the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani.
An erotic cabinet, ordered by Catherine the Great, seems to have been adjacent to her suite of rooms in the Gatchina Palace. The furniture was highly eccentric with tables that had large penises for legs. Penises and vaginas were carved out on the furniture. The walls were covered in erotic art. There are photographs of this room and a Russian eye-witness has described the interior but the Russian authorities have always been very secretive about this peculiar Czarist heritage. The rooms and the furniture were seen in 1941 by two Wehrmacht-officers but they seem to have vanished since then. A documentary by Peter Woditsch suggests that the cabinet was in the Peterhof Palace and not in Gatchina.
The tradition was continued by other, more modern painters, such as Fragonard, Courbet, Millet, Balthus, Picasso, Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Egon Schiele. Schiele served time in jail and had several works destroyed by the authorities for offending turn-of-the-century Austrian mores and the 21 century worldwide mores by his depictions of nude young girls, that is child pornography.
Today, erotic artists thrive, although in some circles, much of the genre is still not as well accepted as the more standard genres of art such as portraiture and landscape. During the last few centuries, society has broadened its view of what can be considered as art and several new styles developed during the 19th century such as Impressionism and Realism. This has given today's artists a broad variety of genres from which to choose, including; fantasy, pinup, horror, fetish, comics, anime, hentai, and many other niche genres all with erotic elements.
Classic "war-era" pin-ups like the works of Alberto Vargas, Gil Elvgren and Baron Von Lind, are still as popular as their contemporaries: Bunny Yeager, Greg Hildebrandt, Olivia De Berardinis, Hajime Sorayama, Alain Aslan, and others.
The acceptance and popularity of erotic art has pushed the genre into mainstream pop-culture and has created many famous icons. Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, Chris Achilleos, and Clyde Caldwell are among the artists whose work has been widely distributed. The Guild of Erotic Artists were formed in 2002 to bring together a body of like minded individuals whose sole purpose was to express themselves and promote the sensual art of erotica for the modern age.
In 2015, Dr. Laura Henkel of Sin City Gallery/12 Inches of Sin in Las Vegas collaborated with former MoMA curator and art historian Rosa JH Berland to create the Modern Provocateur Manifesto. Modern Provocateur is an expansive contemporaneous term that describes artwork that depicts or is about human sexuality. The art thematics may include polemical intent, e.g. challenging political or socially inscribed roles. As part of the contemporary art movement, these artists engage their public often in very challenging ways. At times, artwork features transgressive content and form including the depiction of what has been long regarded as private in unexpected formats. This work however moves far beyond pornography or erotica, as it is critically engaged in not only the expression of sexuality but also the idea of reception. In terms of visual representation it can be either explicit and include images, symbolic motifs or it can be the evocation of human sexuality in allegorical, metaphoric or symbolic terms. The category encompasses all mediums, from classical studio works such as sketches and painting to film, multimedia, sculpture, photography, digital and performance based work. The terminology takes into account not only social change, e.g. more societal openness about female sexual expression, the increasing acceptance of bisexuality, homosexuality and transgender people within culture, this genre also addresses formal concerns such as the pervasiveness of sexualized or erotic imagery in the digital world, commercial or otherwise, as well as post-war artistic practice that involved the use of the body as the canvas or primary expressive mode. The complexity of this type of visual art is in part because when it does cause scandal, protest, outrage or shock, the criticism is often myopic, and does not always take into account the entire narrative or concept behind the work or the maker or the construction of socially acceptable parameters. As well, particularly in western culture, a less than holistic attitude towards the expression of sexuality exists. Modern Provocateur celebrates the beauty of the anima and animus within each of us, and permits both the artist and the viewer to express and explore without shame or apology.
Sin City Gallery and 12 Inches of Sin in Las Vegas, Nevada exhibitions focus on art expressive of a diverse view of sexuality pushes boundaries and challenge ideas about high and low art. Exhibitions point to the way in which nudity and sexuality is often considered a trope in contemporary art, i.e. Chapman Brothers, Jeff Koons, Vanessa Beecroft, and Marina Abramović.
Whether or not an instance of erotic art is obscene depends on the standards of the community in which it is displayed.
In the United States, the 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. California established a three-tiered test to determine what was obscene—and thus not protected, versus what was merely erotic and thus protected by the First Amendment.
Delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote,
The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
As this is still, almost by necessity, much more vague than other judicial tests within U.S. jurisprudence, it has not reduced the conflicts that often result, especially from the ambiguities concerning what the "contemporary community standards" are. Similar difficulties in distinguishing between erotica and obscenity have been found in every legal system in the world.
Oinochoe by the Shuvalov Painter, c. 430-420 BC
Erotic art by Peter Fendi
Hokusai, The Adonis Plant (Fukujusō), 1815.
Hokusai, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, c. 1820.
Egon Schiele, untitled nude, 1914.
Erotic art by Peter Johann Nepomuk Geiger
Sheela na Gig at Kilpeck, England.
Jupiter et Junon by Agostino Carracci (1557 - 1602).
- Blue Movie by Andy Warhol
- Erotic comics
- Erotic fantasy art
- Erotic fetish art
- Erotic photography
- Erotic pinup art
- Golden Age of Porn
- History of erotic depictions
- I Modi
- Lesbianism in erotica
- Nudity in art
- Pregnancy in art
- Sex in advertising
- Sex in film
- Sexual arousal
- Khajuraho Group of Monuments
- Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964).
- Black, Jeremy; Green, Anthony (1992). Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. The British Museum Press. pp. 150–152. ISBN 0-7141-1705-6.
- Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea (1998). Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Daily Life. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood. p. 137. ISBN 978-0313294976.
- Schmidt, Robert A.; Voss, Barbara L. (2000). Archaeologies of Sexuality. Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Psychology Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-415-22366-9.
- Robins, Gay (1993). Women in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 0-674-95469-6.
- O'Connor, David (September–October 2001). "Eros in Egypt". Archaeology Odyssey.
- Chambers, M., Leslie, J. & Butts, S. (2005) Pornography: the Secret History of Civilization [DVD], Koch Vision.
- "Shunga". Japanese art net and architecture users system. 2001. Retrieved 2006-08-23.
- Bertholet, L. C. P. (1997) "Dreams of Spring: Erotic Art in China," in: Bertholet Collection, Pepin Press (October, 1997) ISBN 90-5496-039-6.
- Daniélou, A., trans. (1993) The Complete Kama Sutra: the first unabridged modern translation, Inner Traditions. ISBN 0-89281-525-6
- Igorʹ Semenovich Kon and James Riordan, Sex and Russian Society page 18.
- Peter Dekkers (6 December 2003). "Het Geheim van Catherina de Grote" [The Secret of Catherine the Great]. Trouw (in Dutch).
- Woditsch, Peter. "The Secret of Catherine the Great". De Productie. Retrieved 8 July 2014. Includes trailer of the documentary by Peter Woditsch.
- For an overview, see Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen: Erotic Art. Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York 1993, ISBN 0-88184-970-7
- "Erotic Art". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 20 August 2014.
- Robert Scholes. "Paradoxy of Modernism" (PDF).[dead link]
- Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 24 (1973).