It is not an idle discussion. Everyday we receive submissions, some of which in the art nude genre, and the question continues to be asked.
Ron ultimately believes that whether something is art or porn is all to do with the viewer. Neither author nor gallerist has much control over what viewers think (or the "messages" they perceive). He prefers to stick with the three criteria of technique, craftsmanship and aesthetic impact - not necessarily in that order, he says, to evaluate a photograph. Maybe. But a gallerist can do much to give the work a context and that context can have an impact on how the artwork is perceived by the viewers.
I am familiar with theories of meaning as being contextually and subjectively assigned. I would like to agree with Ron but his glossing of aesthetics does not help me. What is that aesthetic impact? Does it involve the intellectual and the emotional?
Can we really disregard any intentionality in the work of art? After all much conservation work is founded on the idea of recovering an artistic intention. If I were to restore Da Vinci's Mona Lisa I could not add beard and moustache à la Duchamp, who in doing that created a completely different art work (and he did not do it on Da Vinci's original Mona Lisa)
In photography people often talk, after Barthes, of the interplay of punctum and studium. Recognising the studium is an encounter with the photographer's intentions, the punctum is an unexpected discovery in our encounter with the studium.
Says Kathrina Mitcheson in her paper on intentionality and realism in photography "The photographer can intentionally allow the accidental, leaving room for the audience to encounter a punctum, and the control manifested in the photographer's work can serve to heighten the experience of the penetration of the studium by the punctum when it occurs".
So denying the existence of an intention or regarding it as totally secondary does not sound too convincing.
This brings me to my favourite question. Does artistic value have anything to do with ethics? Oscar Wilde famously said " there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all". Much as I admire Oscar Wilde's wit I do not necessarily agree with him (in fact having read Orwell's essay on Kipling in which he discusses both Kipling and Wilde, the latter in less than flattering terms, my admiration for Wilde has been recontextualised).
One can dissociate an aesthetic value from an ethical one. Philosopher Jeffrey Dean makes the point that works of art have multiple dimensions of value. "A work of art" he says "that is aesthetically excellent, historically significant, and morally profound is a better work of art, overall, than one which is only some or none of these things ...one often finds that disputants are talking past each other: one is touting the excellence of a work while the other is decrying is triviality, but it will often turn out that the former, say, is focused on the work’s historical significance and moral fortitude, while the latter is considering only a specific set of aesthetic values relevant to the genre"
Food for thought.
Happy 2011 everyone
Clothes designer & Wardrobe stylist: JDYS (José David Plaza) Makeup: Verónica Bernal Hair: Xavi Paya Post-production: Jorge Fernández