Saturday, April 27, 2013


In the early 20th century Austria, the twilight years of the Habsburg Monarchy, an artistic genius was hounded by morality police and chased down like a child molester for his unapologetic creative excesses. The charge was, “seducing a young girl below the age of consent”. The officers who stormed his studio found and seized more than a hundred of his “objectionable” drawings that they thought was “pornographic”.  Even though the accused was freed of the charges of seducing the minor, he was found “guilty” of ‘exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children’ and the disgruntled judge who presided over his trial burned one of his “degenerate” drawings keeping up the spirits of the tragedy.

Even a century later, the art of the expressionist painter Egon Schiele horrifies and scandalizes many and some still insist it’s pornography. It cannot be denied that his powerful body of work he created in his brief decade-long career (he died at the age of 28), most of which were his characteristic evocative nudes of young women (and some way younger), could be disturbing to some, given the twisted, intertwining emaciated figures with sharp bones about to burst out of their skins assuming the color of corpse. But drawing parallels with a trade that is not remotely intended at exciting ones artistic sensibilities is cruel. Here, I couldn’t disagree more with Stewart Home (author of 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess) who thinks, “Art is sanctioned pornography”. I cannot see Schiele’s works, unsurpassed in the intensity of style, as something you wack-off to.

The fad of legally attacking works of art in the name of morality has not died down even in the present day. The works of Jan Saudek, one of the most celebrated (also the most controversial) Czech art photographer, known for his hand tinted photographs of surreal, dreamy world has been subjected to numerous attempts at censorship and one of his photographs was removed from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the eve of its opening claiming to have had depicted child prostitution.

That his works could very often be powerful, often shocking nudes of morbidly obese octogenarian broads is besides the point. He creates those fantastic settings, where even decay and deformities have a story of beauty and elegance to tell against dramatically painted walls that are in states of heightened putrefaction.

Some may often find his works disgusting and painful. But the level of surreal intrigue his magic realistic images create in each viewer can’t be denied. All this, lost in the battle between the rights and wrongs of morality.

No doubt, most of his photographs like Schiele’s paintings have strong sexual overtones or at the least a kind of erotic quality that sure does wake ones hypothalamus during a superficial viewing. But again, isn’t it bloody crude to call it pornography in the third damn millennium? We all have sure viewed porn at one point or the other and we know where that stuff's headed. And that it doesn’t have squat to do with art even though some like Gloria Leonard, former porn actress would love to think that “the difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting”. I mean, no offense to her past line of work, but for the love of god! Save it for the afterlife sweetheart. She sure has a swell sense of wit.

If author Clive Barker feels that, "one man's pornography is another man's theology", I'd beg to differ again. One man's pornography could be nothing but another man's pornography. There's no argument. But here, it's Art and the so-called "obscene" art that falls in the disputed land.


Those who see Shiele and Saudek as obscene or pornographic could only be doing it as a part of a defense mechanism that psychoanalytic theory fondly calls reaction formation (since pornography is looked down upon as socially unacceptable by even die-hard addicts) and the general attitude is like what comedian Tony Hancock said, "It's red hot, mate. I hate to think of this sort of book getting in the wrong hands. As soon as I've finished this, I shall recommend they ban it." Well that's besides the point, but when art is tucked away in the name of it's alleged resemblance to this area providing celibate carnal gratification, one needs to think of its purpose.

So let’s settle on the fact that, in the age old tussle between art and what is deemed as obscene, vulgar, provocative or offensive, I strongly believe the mischievous human hypocrisy has a big contribution. Or perhaps we should stop thinking with our dicks. But, well who is to say? Five pairs of eyes, five hundred different viewpoints! Like how much baffling it was to look at Fiona Banner’s 2002 Turner Prize entry “Arsewoman in Wonderland” and decide. (Look it up and decide for yourself)


  1. I absolutely love the paintings/ photographs.. having said that though, I cannot but feel a little uncomfortable seeing the awkward and oh so naked (mostly frontal) art work and in all honesty I DO NOT think that in either of these pics/paintings a mere cladding of the "Privates"-if I may say so, would take away much from them. In-fact it might allow the slightly sensitive to experience and maybe even appreciate the artwork. I also wonder if on most occasions, this kind of an exhibition of ones art is nothing but a desperate cry for attention. And even if we were to consider it to be OK to have ones art work to be devoid of any modesty what-so-ever, I think one needs to be responsible enough to take precautions as to the extent that people can have access to this kind of exhibitionism, especially for kids and the "faint-hearted".

  2. I agree with Yasha..most of the paintings / pictures can do without 'bare-it-all' concept. A little bit of care to stay within societal bounds is necessary at times. Almost all the artists - big or small, famous or not, indulge in veering towards the controversial theme at some point in their lives, just to generate public interest. After all every artist thrives on attention.
    Although some of the works are fine the way they are. We like them for their aesthetic or artistic values - the colors, proportions, relationship of subjects, lighting, backdrop and the overall concept / thought. And yes, if they are altered in any way to suit the popular sensibilities, they would lose their charm. The little bit of titillation and drama is the key ingredient to set them apart from the other works. This stunning element is probably what attracted me and many others who felt the thrill of witnessing the taboo!!
    Then again, we are part of a very myopic society, which sees art very objectively, sometimes missing the whole point of it! In a Utopian society we may learn to appreciate art in its subjective form, above the obscenity and perversity. I would love to display such artwork or frame one of the pictures from this collection above but then I would have to socially detach myself...It is not a matter of my choice or liking, which I would like to enjoy in the confines of my personal living space but society makes judges such a display on moral grounds and claims that'their sensibilities are hurt'. Boycotting yourself socially with no care for the public opinion might sound tempting but it is a big price to pay!!
    We will have to go a long way before we have the strength to withstand this moral policing.

  3. I agree with the others that this kind of art is not for all and should be restricted at its door step.
    Having said that I don't see why not. Art is not a visual object that needs to please only the sense of sight. It is much more complex and in-depth. The limit of its influence on an observer, has to be set only by its creator and to the extent of imagination and acceptability of the observer. A good art (nude or not) has to appeal to every possible senses (or by extreme purpose a select one) of and on a viewer, in a way that he/she starts to conceive himself/herself as part of it rather that an object in front of it. Color, Proportion, scale, size etc etc is school stuff. Any form of art (from nature to painting to building) has these given. Only with the presence of these (or in some cases absence) will it qualify to be art. But what an exceptional piece of work does is to make you feel its presence and your absence. So in the case of your writing, using nudity or pornography for the same in no way objectionable. and if your extent of acceptance is to stop at that point, its best to step back and let its presence be felt by the lesser or greater person.
    a wonderful picture perfect painting is also created by the guy in Chennai railway station or in Delhi hutt, what it lacks is the power to influence. without which it is just a art forgotten the minute we look away.
    Pornography or nudity is not the only means in which this is represented. There have been a lots of more ideas that have tried to achieve it, but as humans we relate the closest to what we have seen in existence. when removing the censorship aspect from our mind I would say a lot of abstract artist or experimental artist have tried to do the same, But influencing only a hand full.
    and having said the above and the fact that i had not heard of the painting "Arsewoman in Wonderland", I did some web search. Did not find the full art but read the smaller glimpse from images. and then found this article. Jithesh read it, may be u will get a different perspective.

  4. i might agree that there are social protocols to address when you live in a society, but these protocols change with our levels of acceptance and especially for an artist and a connoisseur of art where one looks at art more as art than any representation of sorts or semiotically. I think kant said to strip ourselves of all levels of rationale and look at art as it is in existence. And as much as art maybe subjective it cannot come from an authority. thus limiting art to constraints of some societal dogmas!
    i think such form of appreciating beauty which on some level creates a fear to openly accept its power and effect on us is what they call sublime in art language and many artists who practice such forms of art that use nudity or as termed as obscene are only creating what they call the sublime. I dont think it is drama or leered in lieu of publicity. it is yet again a subjective choice of the desire in creating sublime beauty.
    and if one appreciates it ...i dont think societal pressure should restraint one to openly enjoy it. this is exactly what modern art is conceived to fight....the immaturity propagated in art since antiquity.


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