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.


Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

Intimacy and sexual desire in couples can be heightened by this practice

Researchers discover a link between nonverbal synchronization and relationship success.

Pixabay
Sex & Relationships
  • Scientists say coordinating movements leads to increased intimacy and sexual desire in a couple.
  • The improved rapport and empathy was also observed in people who didn't know each other.
  • Non-verbal clues are very important in the development stages of a relationship.
Keep reading Show less

How 'dark horses' flip the script of success and happiness

What defines a dark horse? The all-important decision to pursue fulfillment and excellence.

Big Think Books

When we first set the Dark Horse Project in motion, fulfillment was the last thing on our minds. We were hoping to uncover specific and possibly idiosyncratic study methods, learning techniques, and rehearsal regimes that dark horses used to attain excellence. Our training made us resistant to ambiguous variables that were difficult to quantify, and personal fulfillment seemed downright foggy. But our training also taught us never to ignore the evidence, no matter how much it violated our expectations.

Keep reading Show less