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Do we really know pornography when we see it? Pornography is condemned for being "too close" whilst erotica is defended as "leaving room for the imagination." And the art of the nude is treated as something much more special, located even further away from the potential of arousal. Art/Porn argues that these distinctions are based on an age-old antithesis between sight and touch, an antithesis created and maintained for centuries by art criticism. Art has always elicited a struggle between the senses, between something to be viewed and something to be touched, between visual and visceral pleasure. Images compel the senses in ways that are both taboo and intrinsic to art. Contemporary responses to images of the nude embody this longstanding tension. Our fears about the materiality of art when in close proximity to our own bodies exist alongside a regulation of sensory response which dates back to Antiquity. Art/Porn reveals how - from fondling statues in Antiquity to point-and-click Internet pornography - the worlds of art and pornography are much closer than we think.
Kelly Dennis is Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.