The One Divide Between Porn and Art that Can Never Be Overcome

Can pornography be art? No, argues Alva Noë, because porn is an instrument with a certain function in mind (sexual arousal) and works of art are not instruments.

Alva Noë: Pornography is an instrument with a certain function in mind. People use pornography to get sexual pleasure. Frankly it’s for masturbating to. That’s what it’s for. On my theory, works of art are not instruments. They don’t have functions. They’re not tools. Works of art subvert functions. They disrupt functions. They interrupt functions. And they do that because the disruption, interruption can be revelatory. Because think about a simple tool like a doorknob. We use doorknobs effortlessly. There’s the door. Turn it; walk right through. We don’t stop and think about it. If we do have to stop and think about it, there’s probably some problem with the doorknob’s design. But think how much is presupposed by a doorknob. That we have a hand like the kind of hands that we have. That our bodies are the right size that we are. That we live in buildings. That we get from one room to another. So much is presupposed by the institution of the doorknob.

So what would a strange doorknob be? It would be a doorknob that somehow didn’t work or was in the wrong place. And that therefore called all of the stuff just hidden in the background into the foreground and that’s the kind of thing I mean by saying a strange tool reveals us to ourselves. So in one sense I think there could be pornographic art. There could be art that worked with sex and that worked with explicit sex and that worked with the ingredients of fantasy and the erotic and all the other things that go into pornography — violence, degradation, all the different things that go into pornography. My only stipulation is that it wouldn’t be good for masturbating because it wouldn’t be giving you what you want because art is in the business of questioning what your wants presuppose. Pornography never defies expectations. If it does, it doesn’t perform its function. Just as a doorknob that you need to stop and wonder how to use wouldn’t be a very good doorknob. But art happens precisely when expectations are defied. Art happens precisely when that which we’re taking for granted is forced on — we’re forced to reflect on what we’ve been taking for granted. And that’s why I don’t think there can be pornographic art.

Can pornography be art? No, argues Alva Noë, because porn is an instrument with a certain function in mind (sexual arousal) and works of art are not instruments. They are not tools. They have no function. Instead, they subvert functions. They disrupt them.

Pornography never defies expectations. If it does, it doesn’t perform its function. That's why, according to Noë, it can't be classified as art.

Philosopher Alva Noë's latest book is titled Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature.


How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

Credit: Maxime Aubert
Surprising Science
  • Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
  • The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
  • The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Keep reading Show less

What can Avicenna teach us about the mind-body problem?

The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.

Photo by Andrew Spencer on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
Philosophers of the Islamic world enjoyed thought experiments.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

The incredible physics behind quantum computing

Can computers do calculations in multiple universes? Scientists are working on it. Step into the world of quantum computing.

Videos
  • While today's computers—referred to as classical computers—continue to become more and more powerful, there is a ceiling to their advancement due to the physical limits of the materials used to make them. Quantum computing allows physicists and researchers to exponentially increase computation power, harnessing potential parallel realities to do so.
  • Quantum computer chips are astoundingly small, about the size of a fingernail. Scientists have to not only build the computer itself but also the ultra-protected environment in which they operate. Total isolation is required to eliminate vibrations and other external influences on synchronized atoms; if the atoms become 'decoherent' the quantum computer cannot function.
  • "You need to create a very quiet, clean, cold environment for these chips to work in," says quantum computing expert Vern Brownell. The coldest temperature possible in physics is -273.15 degrees C. The rooms required for quantum computing are -273.14 degrees C, which is 150 times colder than outer space. It is complex and mind-boggling work, but the potential for computation that harnesses the power of parallel universes is worth the chase.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast