Why Pornography Can’t Be Art  

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"Can pornography be art or can art be pornography? Neither."

"Finally, my view supports and is supported by basic intuitions and positions regarding co-location of objects and object/person distinctions. I do not argue for such positions (though they are quite common in the philosophy of art)"

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Why Pornography Can’t Be Art"[1] (2009) is an essay by Christy Mag Uidhir first published in Philosophy and Literature which argues that porn cannot be art and focuses on the intentionality of art and pornography.


"Claims that pornography cannot be art typically depend on controversial claims about essential value differences (moral, aesthetic) between pornography and art. In this paper, I offer a value-neutral exclusionary claim, showing pornography to be descriptively at odds with art. I then show how my view is an improvement on similar claims made by Jerrold Levinson. Finally I draw parallels between art and pornography and art and advertising as well as show that my view is consistent with our typical usage of the term “pornographic art.”.

His argument why pornography cannot be art rests on the claim that pornograhy is manner inspecific and art is manner specific.

He references Jerry Fodor to make this point:

"I take the moral to be that the intention that the reflexive condition be satisfied is primary in the case of an artwork but only secondary in the case of the ad. In so far as a thing is not primarily intended to satisfy the reflexive condition, it is not intended to be an artwork." (Fodor, p. 49)

He mentions:

For an elegant defense of the position that art is value-neutral see Stephen Davies, “Essential Distinctions for Art Theorists,” Art and Essence, ed. Stephen Davies and Ananta Sukla (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003), pp. 3–16.

In "Why Some Pornography May Be Art", Mimi Vasilaki argues against Uidhir.

"As far as manner-inspecificity is concerned, pornography seems to be analogous to comedy. The purpose of comedy is to cause laughter. Clearly comedy is manner-specific because we laugh at a thing presented in a certain way. This is because laughter has intentional content, and the same is true of sexual arousal. So even if the purpose of pornography is to sexually arouse, it may still be manner-specific."


Imagine that Andres Serrano’s artwork TriumFish (a photograph of a masturbating, half-nude woman dressed in a nun’s habit [Triumph of the Flesh" 2000 ?]) wasn’t well received by the artworld. Serrano, in desperation for money, could have sold his photo to Penthouse. While TriumFish could be used by Penthouse to sexually arouse its readership, this doesn’t make it both art and pornography anymore than throwing The Polish Rider onto the fire makes The Polish Rider both an artwork and kindling, or using The Thinker to weigh down my hot air balloon makes The Thinker both an artwork and ballast."


  • "Why Pornography Can’t Be Art" (2009, Philosophy and Literature 33(10): 193–203)

See also

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