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An exhilarating new exhibition at the British Museum features over works of Japanese erotic art. But is it art, or pornography? Alastair Sooke investigates.
In our society that is flooded with sexual imagery, it is a peculiar thing that we still feel slightly uncomfortable when we encounter erotically charged artworks or art that deals with the subject of sexuality. More importantly, beauty cults, fashion industry, and commercial photography have been exploiting human sexuality for years, making us feel insecure and vulnerable when it comes to our own bodies and sexual behavior. Brooklyn-based photographers Constance and Eric have decided to break the negative aura that surrounds sexuality in our commercialized world and they found an interesting and quite innovative way of doing so — by photographing ordinary couples in the most intimate of acts.
Hanging on a wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a painting of a pubescent girl. Her knees are splayed open and her red skirt is flipped up to reveal a pair of white underwear. She modeled for a total of 11 Balthus paintings between andstarting when she was 11 years old.
Erotic art covers any artistic work that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of sexual activity. It is a type of erotica and includes drawings, engravings, films, paintings, photographs, and sculptures, and writing. The definition of erotic art is somewhat subjective, and dependent on context since perceptions of both what is erotic and what is art vary.
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Since the beginning of civilization, humans have incorporated sexuality into erotic art, worship, and daily life. There have been cultures and times were explicit references to sexuality were more accepted by societal norms, and times when there have not. However, the repressive view of sexuality espoused by the Church in the Middle Ages, and then the repressed sexuality of the Victorian era have left many in the Western world believing that few if any in the past were willing and able to accept and even revel in their sexuality.