In a society where people are encouraged to explore freedom of expression, there are artists whose work is considered obscene and deemed unsuitable to be publicly viewed or privately via the internet. Director Hilton Ariel Ruiz takes a look at these outlaw artists who blur the lines between art and pornography.
For as long as there's been people creating imagery people have asked, "Is it art?" When people started producing erotic imagery, the question then became, "Is it art or pornography?" Hilton Ariel Ruiz looks to find an answer to these questions by examining the work of five artists whose style walks the fine line between art and pornography. Even though art is considered and suppose to be subjective, "The Art of Erotica" also looks for answers regarding censorship by the government who believes the work of these artists to be obscene and deeming it 'illegal' to be shown on the internet, of all places.
Part of what "Art of Erotica" sets out to do is to take a look at art and artists - particularly how their work has made them, as Tony Knighthawk put it, "outlaw" artists because their work is considered obscene. Whenever it comes to the argument of "art or porn" it always boils down to being subjective to the audience; "Art of Erotica" takes a look at the world of a select few artists and what drives them to cover the subjects that they do. This is the majority of what "Art of Erotica" is about: it takes us behind the scenes of these artists and to get their point of view and maybe an understanding of why they create the images they create. It's extremely fascinating because I found that with the artists that were chosen, looking at their work, it could very easily be viewed as porn by standards of what we consider to be porn.. The artist who I particularly found interesting was Steven Speliotis, who is a fetishist photographer that specializes in rope bondage (made famous by the Japanese). It was interesting getting to know his reasoning and to have an understanding of what makes him tick. Giving us a brief glimpse at the world through his eyes and why what he does isn't porn but art.
Because these artists are technically considered fetish-photographers; distinguishing their work from art and porn becomes a tricky subject. The point that all of the artists make, and a concept that most rational people can comprehend, is that it depends all up the person viewing the work. Some will see it as art. Others will see it as pornographic. Even though the main subject of "Art of Erotica" is to look at a handful of certain artists. The second part of the documentary then becomes about raising questions in regards to freedom of expression that is being silenced by the government and the masses. Who are simply banning art work that in ggeneral similar to what is show in the movie, by branding it as pornographic. This is where "Art of Erotica" drops the ball a bit.
The artists talk about art work that explores eroticism, fetishism, sexuality, and such as being 'outlawed' but never does it go into how these artists were affected directly. A few mention not being able to get published or have their work shown, but there's more to it than that. Barbara Nitke is featured in here because of her work and the fact that she's suing the government over the law that states it's illegal to show obscene material on the internet. Which if that law was truly enforced there wouldn't be any porn on the internet, and we all know that's far from the case. So how has this law affected these artists? Have they had their work pulled off of the internet? Have any of them been arrested and charged with obscenity? Something that has and does happen, and was even mentioned briefly by Barbara herself. The movie constantly brings to light this type of artwork being forced into the underground but it never goes into much detail or looks for explanations or answers.
The other part where I think the documentary dropped the ball was the lack of variety in artistic medium that's explored. Certainly it can't cover everything in a single movie for an average feature length runtime, but the movie only covers fetish-photographers and a single illustrator. What about painters, sketchers, filmmakers, and live performances? There are so many other different mediums that are used to explore the same subjects that Speliotis, Gonzales, Knighthawk, Yoshimaru, and Nitke do. So why not explore them as well? Why not look to see if different styles are affected differently by being viewed as pornographic and obscene? I think that would have helped "Art of Erotica" in getting its point across and helping people to understand that there are people out there who are telling us what we can and cannot see. Even though this artwork is not harming anyone and is being made by consenting adults, yet is still being treated as something horrible.
This is far from a simple subject matter and would take several installments to cover all the ground that needs to be covered by a documentary. That's why even though I say "Art of Erotica" dropped the ball in some aspects, I don't really hold too much against it because of that very reason. It is a good documentary but it also could have been better had it added other artistic mediums besides photographers (and a single illustrator) and gone a little more in-depth. Besides that, it is an interesting movie that covers its subjects very well, especially ones that are right on that art-or-porn border. It's also a shame to see that because the subject is of a sexual nature that people want to keep it behind curtains and locked doors, supposedly in the name of safety for society.