Brian makes a good point about the intent of the author of a work like a photograph. A very good example of it is Jeff Koonz' art exhibit in a NYC gallery, which contained (very) explicit photographs of himself having sex with his wife Ilona "Cicciolina" Staller. These photos included close up of anal penetration, and "cum shots". Yet it was clearly art when viewed in a gallery. If it had been shown in the page of a magazine bought in a porn store, then it had been porn.
Our considerations about anything are totally crucial to how this thing affects us. This was what the dadaists were playing around with almost a century ago when they made their "ready-made" art, exhibing for example a bycicle wheel or a urinal.
As for judging the intent of an author... well, do you really need to? At least in my world, where freedom of speech and art is absolute, you don't. It may help you understand his work, but if you are not trying to decide if he needs to be in jail or something, then it is hardly essential.
Letters to Domai
Thank you for your most excellent site, and for your unswerving commitment to the beauty represented in the female form.
I very much enjoy reading your newsletters, although I find a frequent theme in others as well as yourself in attempting to define just what, exactly, the content of your site would be called. It most certainly is not pornography, but neither is it detached abstraction.
Whatever one's aesthetics, however, I do not think art can ever be detached. If it does not touch at least some of its recipients at a personal level, it has failed to be art. Certainly the art you present does that, but let's hold that thought for a minute, and stick with this -- that art is not art unless it connects and communicates with the soul of at least some of its audience at a personal level.
Your newsletter of 1 October 2004, attempting to define pornography, especially caught my attention and has prompted this response. While I agree with your reasoning, I think there is an aspect of the aesthetic debate that is important, but is perhaps being overlooked.
In determining the worth or impact of a work of art, how important is considering the intent of the creator?
I'm not at all sure I have this entire debate resolved in my own mind, yet I think the above is a key question in resolving it. People come in all sorts of mental shapes and sizes, and (as you say,) what one person considers obscene (such as bare ankles a century ago), another would consider as perfectly normal. Then again, I'm quite sure there are people who consider the most hard-core explicit imagery to be perfectly normal, when that same imagery would be rejected by the vast majority of people of nearly all cultures.
Is there no consensus, then, on the impact of and reaction to works of art in general? There seems to be some, but it also looks to me more like a few people deciding what will and will not have a valuable connection, rather than a genuine consensus. Whenever the value of a potential work of art is determined based on the reactions of recipients, it is problematic, because there are such a wide range of reactions.
Most look at Picasso, for example, and agree that there is true genius there, but some say it doesn't make sense to them, and a few find it offensive. Shall we hang drapes over his "Nude in an Armchair" because it shows breasts and nipples? A very few actually do claim to find cubist representations of the human body erotic. Or, is it possible that there is enough of a consensus that this is valuable art that it can be protected from the censors, even though some might find it either erotic or offensive? The answers to these questions are obvious, but when we have clear color photographs of real, nude females, the question becomes much more difficult, because so many more *will* find these images erotic, and the general consensus remains that erotic is bad.
In considering what would be porn, you rightly step back from determining that based on the reaction of the recipients, but then I think you fall into the opposite trap, which is to define it solely on the basis of the intent of the creator. If pornography is defined as "words or pictures produced with the sole purpose of aiding sexual stimulation," you have solved the problem of having a confusing mix of reactions to sort out, but you have the same problem from a different direction, in that there is an equally wide range of points of view from those who create art (or porn).
Just as there are some who would consider the Picasso above to be pornographic, there are others who would consider the most explicit sexual imagery to be artistic. Neither represent any more than a tiny percentage of any population, but both are there. Are the producers of hard-core magazines, then, to be the sole arbiters of whether they are producing art or pornography? How do we, external arbitrators of art vs. porn, evaluate the honesty of the creators?
It's a dilemma. On the one hand, it can be partially solved by saying, "Domai is art; Picasso is art; Hustler isn't." On the other hand, that still begs the question of how the distinction is to be defined for those who disagree with any or all of those statements. Even though there is probably a general consensus on Hustler and Picasso, there probably isn't any kind of consensus on something like Domai -- as much as I'd like to see one.
Here (finally) is my point: I think the answer to the question of defining pornography must take into account BOTH the intent of the creator AND the reaction of the audience, and that consensus must play SOME role, but NOT the dominant role, in determining each.
So, when one looks at the Picasso, there may be a few who are so fixated on female body parts that they will take that as either titillating or offensive, but most will simply see an attempt to express the female body in space in a different way, and will recognize it as a legitimate attempt at art -- whether or not they "get it" or like it. Those who would see it as pornographic, however, are (it seems to me) reaching INTO the painting with their very narrow points of view, rather than allowing the painting to be as it simply is. Whatever Picasso was intending with the painting, it is clear (to me, at least) that the painting is attempting to reach out in a way of viewing the female body that is not in and of itself sexual. What someone thinks or does after viewing said female body comes from within them, not from the painting.
When one looks at much more explicit female sexual imagery, however, in which there is a clear attempt to display the models as sexually eager, ready, and available, the only mature heterosexual males who do not respond with at least some degree of arousal are either eunuchs or dead. Most are able to control or suppress that arousal to a picture, but some find it easy to do so, whereas others find it near impossible. But only by controlling or suppressing that natural physiological response are we even capable of being touched by the work in any personal way. I know that sexuality is generally considered deeply personal, but think of it as a hunger: If a picture of food only serves to make one hungry, then the picture has failed as art -- although it might make good advertising. Similarly, if a picture of a woman only serves to make people hungry in a different way, it also has failed as art. In these cases, it is clearly the sole intent of the creator to make the viewer sexually hungry. Whatever one's soul is (and I'm not about to touch that one here,) it is certainly neither belly nor testicles.
These two examples so far fit right into what you have said, but they both are based on strong consensuses both of what the creator intends as well as what the audience perceives. When we get to looking at something like the Domai models, however, we have something a bit different, because there is much less consensus either of what the creator intends or the audience perceives.
With the Domai models, they are most certainly beautiful, and I would dare to say that any human being of either gender who does not find them beautiful (irrespective of sexual attractiveness) MUST be dead, or at the very least severely repressed. There is so much radiance, and life, and joy expressed in each model that one would have to work very hard to resist being lifted up into their world to share in the magnificence of THEIR comfort with who THEY are.
When we do that, however, we are no longer the same, for we have been taken into another world and brought home again with some of its joy. Again and again, the letters written that you post seem to express that same transformation -- that coming to the Domai site, whether from a world of porn or not, shows something that everyone knew was there, but no one could have named before they came there, and most could not name even after. Whatever it is, it isn't sexual, although these are some of the most attractive women anywhere.
The intent of the creators of the Domai pictures must remain at least partly a mystery, because every photographer, model, and even individual shot may represent a different take on what the model is giving us of herself, and what the photographer is trying to capture and communicate. Yet there is something that transcends the different shots, models, and even photographers, and that is where I believe the difference lies.
The Domai models do represent a joyful, radiant, satisfied expression of themselves in harmony with life. THAT is the purpose of the creators which reaches out to connect with the souls of the audience. That is also, I think, the principal PRIMARY reaction to the pictures.
The secondary reactions are the responsibility of the audience. Some will look at them, see the exposed body parts, and after the initial intake of breath in response to the beauty, say, "Yuck! Pornography!", but that truly is a trained reaction to what is genuinely beautiful. Others will, in a similar way, after the initial reaction to the beauty, immediately start fantasizing sexually about the models. But again, that is what is going on in THEIR heads, and they can (and probably do) do the same thing by watching women walk through a shopping mall. We should no more try to prohibit an expression of life such as Domai than we should prohibit women from walking in public.
But that, perhaps, is the final key. Women are not pornographic by nature, they are LIFE by nature, and radiance and joy. It is just as much of an affront to women to suppress their natural beauty as it is to take their natural beauty as a means to view them solely as objects of lust. BOTH stand in the way of women not only being who they are but of sharing that natural radiance with others.
Domai represents an idealization not only of the beauty of women, but of the celebration of the radiance that seems to me to be the core of feminine beauty. It is art in the highest sense, in that it reaches out and touches the soul of every person who sees it, driven not by physiological hunger, but by an appreciation of and inclusion in life itself.
If I had a wish for Domai -- other than wider acceptance -- it would be for more women who see the site to write in to express how they feel about it. My guess is that women probably resonate with the joy and beauty and radiance here even more than men do, but a lifetime of repression and fear makes it difficult for many (if not most) to appreciate that in themselves. If there are more that are learning to appreciate the wonderful gift of themselves by coming to Domai, I would love to hear about it, and I am quite sure I am not alone in that.
Keep up the wonderful work, Eolake, and thank you, especially, to all the young women, whether on your site or not, who have dared to share the gift of themselves, that the world might have more life and joy than before.
Sincerely, Brian G
I recently came across this site and was reading some of your past newsletters. I have to say, so much of what everyone has to say reminds me of my own experience with beauty last year.
I am a Political Science major and was lucky enough to be able to study abroad in Europe last year. The year was filled with incredible experiences, but one of the ones that stands out the most is of Francesca.
In an effort to try new things I took an art class where we learned how to make our own Fresco's (the paintings on plaster in many of the churchs and cathedrals across Europe). The first part of the semester we focused mostly on drawing our figure before we transfered our rough outline onto the first layer of plaster. I have never thought of myself as much of an artist, but I found that the more I worked at it, the better my sketches became. After a month or so I was really begining to feel confident in my sketches and even started drawing people I had taken pictures of.
Shortly after that I decided to take a trip on my own for 5 days through Germany. While I was staying in a youth hostel there I met Francesca, an Italian student from Rome. I was talking with her for a little while in the lobby (I'm still quite amazed at how well so many Europeans speak english) and mentioned that I really didn't have much of a plan for what to do there besides seeing the sights in my travel guide. Before I knew it, she had me traveling around with her for a few days untill she was to meet up with her friends. On one of the train rides she convinced me to take out my sketchpad and draw her! I was really nervous, but I guess she liked what I had drawn, or at least was being gracious about it. That night she asked me if I had ever drawn a nude before. I was a little taken aback because,while I am by no means opposed to nudity, its never been a subject I normally talk about.
Incredibly, she offered to pose for me that night if I wanted to give it a try. I couldn't believe it. After regaining my ability for speech, I told her I would love to, but I wasn't sure how good I would be at it as I'd never even considered drawing a nude (let alone from a live model!). That night we got a two person room at a hostel and after getting back from dinner and night out seeing the sights she modeled for me.
I'll never forget watching her slowly undress with a giant smile on her face. She knew I was nervous and she loved it. For me though, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We ended up sharing some wine that night, laughing, talking, and all the while I drew her. I can't say my drawings were the best ever, but they weren't too bad. It felt like I had just let myself go and filled myself with her beauty. She had the most wonderful breasts that I never could quite capture in my drawings, and the curves on her body still make me smile. She was so comfortable being nude in front of me, and really made me feel at ease.
I ended up keeping only one of those drawings and giving the other two to her to keep. Something to remember me by I guess. I know I will always remember her and the woderful gift she gave me those few days we traveled together. She taught me a new way of seeing the world, and a new way to appreciate beauty.