A nude done by the Italian painter Bellini, ca. 1510. As all good artists, he plays on light and shadows to create a rich atmosphere, despite, or rather to enhance the nudity, which, for its time, was quite graphic

Why do I enjoy erotic art, whether in painting or photography, so much? Why do I like writing about it? Perhaps it is merely an excuse to post some erotic photos, or, at the very least, some nude photos of beautiful women. There is something pleasurable about seeing a beautiful, artistic nude. Some may say this is due to some chemical reaction in the brain, a sweet release of dopamine stimulated by the seen image. Perhaps this is true, I cannot deny this. But if that is so, then why is it bad? Why would this considered to be degenerate by some? From a religious perspective, such images are often considered sinful, evil. I however think differently. There is more to my enjoyment and interest in erotic art than simply the prurient.

There is a difference between certain kinds of erotic art, images, photos, etc. For instance, most porn is fairly basic: a woman posing nude, usually in a very minimalist setting, such as on a bed or somewhere else, perhaps on a couch, a kitchen table, or somewhere in public. The focus in on her body, exclusively, with an almost clinical obsession over focused body parts. The sense is almost: here, here is a close up of a vagina, the labia, the actual inside of the vagina itself, the breast, the ass, or whatever body parts may be seen. To enhance this we often see women spreading their labia, giving us a deeper, more penetrating view of the sexual organs. There is no atmosphere so to speak, no surrounding mystery that might ennoble the image, or capture something of the magic of erotic attraction. We feel attracted, of course, but it is a very basic attraction. It is animal lust at its most basic level. Nothing of the woman’s soul is conveyed.

This photo also has nice play on light and shadow, similar to Bellini’s nude five hundred years ago. Notice also the use of clothing in each work to enrich the image.

With good erotic photography, I find other things are at work. I find this at work in the image above. The focus in not merely on the female form, but on the entirety of the image. She is presented in some sort of background. Usually there is a play of light and shadows, betraying the talent and sense of delicacy of the photographer. There is some mystery. We see the woman, and we may see her completely nude, but we see her as more than simply a body to be enjoyed. There is something deeper conveyed, something of the intangible and ineffable nature of sexual and erotic desires. We see her as more than simply a sum of body parts, and we feel a deeper attraction because of that. For me at least, a good erotic photograph brings this out. It may leave us with lust, it may leave us with desire, but it also leaves us with something more. We feel the beauty of sex, of eros, of love and attraction and we feel good, because these things make us feel alive. With a well done erotic painting or photo, it is as if there is a kind of spirituality conveyed in this most corporeal of mediums. The combination of those two, the body and spirit, in a good painting or photograph, is the mark that the artist has achieved something more than simply a graphic depiction. We seem to see something of the woman’s spirit, her soul, in addition to her body, in a good erotic depiction.

I do not believe in dualism when it comes to body and soul, that they are constantly at war with each other. Yes, there is often a tension between the two, but it is tension that can be resolved in different ways. I believe the two are inextricably linked, forever, and that one cannot exist without the other, at least during our earthly existence. To me, sexuality and eroticism are the perhaps the most heightened form of sexual dualism, the apex of physicality and spirituality combined. The end result if often new love, new life, and the transmission of ourselves into another generation. From a religious perspective, that is powerful stuff indeed. There is a reason why the orgasm is our most pleasurable physical experience.

I find that good erotic photography captures this, this mixture of the spiritual and the physical, this mixture of the mystery and realities of sex. And there is something beautiful in this. I feel the need to write on these things, in part, because so many people want to lump all erotic painting and photography together under one category as “porn”, and then ban it, and it is clear that there are very many gradations of erotic imagery out there, some which have more artistic merit than others. I feel it is important to point this out. As Bellini’s portrait shows, nudes go back centuries in our culture, and yet if we listened to the Michelle Bachmann types, we would believe the nude was the invention of Hugh Hefner. As any student of good art knows, this is decidedly not the case. Ignorance in these matters needs to be fought.