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Resource: Fine Art or Just Offensive? Where is the line?

Fine Art or Just Offensive? Where is the line?

On 13th December 2017, this graphic and the URL to this resource was blocked by Facebook on the groups that it ‘promotes porn or sells sexual services’. An appeal was subsequently submitted.

Is there a distinct line between what is generally considered to be sexually explicit Fine Art and what is considered to be offensive?  What is acceptable and what crosses the line?

This article deals with the issue of changing attitudes and attempts to provide a general guide to uploading artists when considering if their artwork is acceptable to sell on the ArtMarketDirect.com platform as well as give information to those who might be offended by an image on the platform.

If you see an image on ArtMarketDirect.com which you find offensive

If anything displayed on our site causes you offense, please email us the URL of the offending upload and we will conduct an investigation.  In all cased we will apply the reasoning outlined below.

Email: admin@artmarketdirect.com

Everything is Art, right?  Wrong.

For some artists or viewers of artwork, ‘anything’ is art.  For others, any amount of genitalia, sexuality or sensuality means it’s porn and therefore the Devil’s work.  As with most opposing opinions, the truth lies in the grey area somewhere in the middle.

Changing opinions

Attitudes to the human form, sex and sexuality change and evolve.  Examples of this kind of art are found in different places around the world at different times in history with overt portrayals of sex and sexuality including:

 

Pan and The She-Goat, statue from Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum discovered in 1752.  The erotic statue caused the British Museum to install a “parental guidance” warning in their exhibition, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” when it displayed Pan having intercourse with a she-goat in 2013. The work, probably made between A.D. 1-20, was one of many sexually-themed pieces from the time, and was most probably seen as comical and amusing by its Roman contemporaries where images of sex and extreme violence were ubiquitous whereas today it would be considered vile or lewd.  What was once commonplace is now potentially very offensive. CREDIT: TELEGRAGH.CO.UK

 

Japanese Shunga:  The earliest surviving examples come from the period 1600 to 1650. The high quality materials used in their creation indicate the artists were commissioned and patronised by the very richest in society. It was during this period, with the growth of cities, especially Edo, that the Samurai government presided over the growth of a so-called ‘floating world’ of pleasure-seeking, brothels and the immensely popular kabuki theatre. From around 1650 cheaper woodblock-printed shunga were produced in large quantities for townspeople, showing more ordinary folk in a wide variety of sexual activity, alongside the continuation of high quality painted items for aristocrats.  What was once commonplace is now potentially very offensive. CREDIT: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/292241463297491722/

 

 

All of these examples help to demonstrate a broad spectrum of dynamically shifting sensibilities.  How some depictions which were common in the past now are lewd or vile whilst at the same time what was generally offensive in the past is now, as in the case of the artwork by Gustav Vigeland, even considered by many to be irrelevant to the question posed.

Human Forms which are Art, not Porn

Obviously, there are many fine artists to be found continuing the long tradition of depicting the human form in ways which are clearly not pornographic whilst still being able to offend whilst all are absolutely considered fine art.

 

Intentionally Provocative

Other works of art can be intentionally provocative, including works by:

  • Sue Webber & Tim Noble
  • Jamie McCartney
  • Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Betty Tomkins
  • David Baily
  • Felix d’Eon

Some of the artworks by the artists listed above at their moment of creation and exhibition were headline grabbers and they pushed ‘what is acceptable’ beyond the old frontier sometimes by being explicit or humorous.   Some were banned or refused publication or sale through mainstream outlets.   Many of their works would be allowed to be uploaded to ArtMarketDirect.com without issue.  It may well be that in some cases a debate would occur first, but ultimately the non-porno representation of genitalia as art would win the debate.  Only in a few cases can we see a potential issue of offense being caused to the point of a product being removed.

The Facebook effect

Facebook with its thousands of niche art groups and overarching ‘community guidelines’ has created a new ubiquitous level of consensus achieved acceptability which in many artists opinions prohibits pieces of art as unnecessarily ‘offensive’.   Obviously, the algorithms used by Facebook must err on the side of caution in a world where exploitation, abuse, and online bullying can all have terrible impacts on their victims all by the use of flesh-toned images.

The second phenomenon of human behavior in the West, which might be linked at least in part to the Facebook measure of acceptable, is emerging.  A new level of ‘virtue signaling’ has arisen where people almost compete to be offended or outraged by all manner of things which in the past they might never have known about or never been exposed to or if they had (certainly during the post-WWII libertarian decades of ’50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s) they most probably would have considered it simply risque or funny.  This new zeitgeist of the puritanical display en-masse in public life works by virtue of condemnation.  A person can publicly condemn something which in all likelihood has nothing to do with them.  By being outraged by something they have labeled as bad, they have signaled to their peers and the world that they are, by definition, ‘good’.

This has resulted for example in Facebook blocking nude paintings created hundreds of years ago which at the time of their creation were neither offensive or pornographic; merely the epitome of high art and culture because someone on the internet was offended at the sight of an old painting.  This, of course, is a nonsense.

Other examples of Facebook art censoring include:

 

After having a photo of the famous Gustave Courbet L’Origine du monde* (“The Origin of the World”) painting created in 1866 removed, an art teacher in France sued Facebook for censorship. The social-media giant also reportedly suspended the user for violating its terms of use.

 

The reason for discussing the ‘Facebook effect’ is purposefully to highlight the importance of the human eye when reviewing whether or not a piece should be censored.

Our red lines of Offence

At ArtMarketDirect.com we want to be open-minded but that liberalism needs to recognize that we are not a site for over 18’s only and the primary purpose of the site is as a commercial operation which needs to appeal to the masses; not offend them.  That does not mean artistic merit of provocative subject matter or composition will ever be blocked in an effort of censoring our content.  What it does mean is ‘be mindful’ when you upload your work.

Rather than provide a long list of anatomical details which are acceptable, we consider four questions to help us define what is not welcome in an upload to ArtMarketDirect.com:

A) Is there ‘Penetration’?

Genitalia can be shown but not in any way which focusses on penetrative sex or sex acts in any shape or form.  This is where we believe the offense line is crossed.

B) Is ‘Gratification’ the purpose?

Where the subject or composition of a piece is to create sexual gratification to the viewer.  This is where we believe the offense line is crossed.

C) Is there ‘Stimulation’ depicted?

Buttocks, Anus’, Vaginas, Penis’ (erect or not) or nipples (erect or not) are not by, of, for, or in themselves intrinsically offensive or porn per se.  However, the context of an image needs to be considered.  If the body part is portrayed as being sexually stimulated or involved in sexual stimulation, then the image would be considered as unacceptable to upload.  This is where we believe the offence line is crossed.

D) How graphic is it?

If for example A & C above were confirmed but the portrayal is symbolic, or metaphorical or simply beautiful without being vile, there is room for an artist to make a case for artistic merit.

We have no algorithm

In all cases a human judgement will prevail and when after all is said and done, the decision taken by management of our site will be final.

There are subjective guidelines which we hope artists will consider when uploading their work.  It does allow for interpretation – but common sense must prevail.

Actions we take

If we are notified of offence to a collector who considers a piece of artwork meets our guidelines for what we consider to be offensive (and therefore unwelcome), we will:

  1. Investigate the claim by looking at the product in question
  2. If it is porn, we will un-publish the listing immediately.
  3. After we have unpublished the work we will notify the artist that the work has been unpublished and for what reason.
  4. Where an artist repeatedly uploads works which need to be unpublished; on the third occasion the account will be suspended and the artist will be barred from uploading for three months.
  5. If during any rolling year of having been barred an artist again uploads porn, then their account will be closed and they will be banned from the site permanently.

In all cases, we are open to discussing the issue with the uploading artist to try and resolve any miscommunication or misunderstanding.  If a case for publication can be made to us we will discuss it at ArtMarketDirect.com Basecamp and if we can be convinced by the artist of the artworks artistic merit, then a new frontier of what is acceptable may be reached.  In all cases, our corporate responsibility will take precedence over ‘making a point’.  But we do want a debate with our uploading artists.  We like that a lot.

What if the artwork does show something which would be considered unacceptable?

If you have artwork which you suspect is unacceptable but generally is fine?  In the same way as many artists promote ‘questionable’ work on Facebook which otherwise breaks the community guidelines, you can upload an ‘obscured’ or edited version of the image to your gallery and in the description ask potential collectors:

  1. to get in touch with you direct in order that you might provide them with a low-res version of the unedited image by email.
  2. view the unedited version on your own website and provide the URL in the product description.
*This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.
COPYRIGHT:  Permission to use images utilised in this article have been given by copyright owners in all cases where attribution and contact details of the copyright owner was availible.  In some cases, therefore permission has not been given nor credit listed despite all reasonable efforts to do the right thing.  If you own the copyright of:  Pan and the she goat / Japanese Shunga / Blue Fat Man – please email us your contact details and URL for credit/link.  If you are the copyright owner and would like any image removed, email us and it will be removed immediately.

End.

 

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