Illustration by Blain Heffner

One of the stickiest problems in fighting pornography is the question of art. Simply put, for millennia artists have creatively used naked people to make statements on the human condition. Before Kim Kardashian took selfies in the shower, there was the Venus of Willendorf. Deep Throat has nothing on the murals of Pompeii. Finally, what is Perseus with the Head of Medusa, but a proto-snuff flick starring a buff, naked dude?

Adam Bateman, executive director of CUAC gallery in Salt Lake City, says discussions about pornography and the use of nudity in art can be charged. He should know. CUAC recently settled a First Amendment lawsuit with its former landlord Ephraim City after some of its exhibits included nudity. Generally, Bateman says, pornography “commodifies nudity and sex.” Artists, he says, don’t exploit sexual images simply for money, but to explore aspects of aesthetics and culture. “A contemporary artist might use nudity to explore the culture and implications of pornography, much like a sociologist.”

When encountering nudity in galleries, Bateman hopes viewers “take time to try to understand it in the context of art, before jumping to a conclusion [that it’s pornography].”

The Brigham Young University Museum of Art, which has one of the best contemporary art programs in the state, had an infamous clash over art nudes in 1999 when the university refused to uncrate four traveling Rodin sculptures, including The Kiss and Monument to Balzac, which BYU’s President Merrill J. Bateman said, “depicted a nude male in the act of self-gratification.’’

The issue remains a minefield at BYUMOA where officials declined to be interviewed or even respond to the written questions they requested concerning art and pornography.

Jann Haworth, internationally known artist and creative director at The Leonardo museum, says the Internet has only made what was ‘once secret and under brown covers’ readily available. Besides, she says, attempts to protect humans from erotic images and so-called porn are probably futile.

“As a hat can be mistaken for a wife, according to Oliver Sacks, defining what isn’t porn might be a place to start,” Haworth says. “Freud found mischief everywhere. We’d need to ban lipstick in its present form, bollards, orchids—actually all flowers. What would be safe? It’s hopeless. We are naked apes with brains that no external force can edit.”

Back>>>Read our feature story Our Addiction to Porn.

Back>>>Read other stories in our May/June 2014 issue.