Grotesque Paintings That Show Our Conceptions About Porn

April 9, 2017

|Alejandro López

Unlike eroticism, pornography is a modern approach to human sexuality. While the former emerges from imagination, the latter requires graphic and visual stimulus to provoke arousal. When we watch a body experiencing pleasure, we feel related to that person through an impulse of passion and desire. But how has porn changed over time? How does it determine what's attractive and desirable and what is unpleasant for a common audience?

John Currin's work is great way to begin this conversation. Since the invention of the printing press, the association of the naked body to sexuality has been essential part of the Western social construct. The importance of the artistic representation of nudity is not based solely on the esthetic view of the human body, based on canonic standards of beauty, but also on the fact that it was meant to arouse its audience from a visual level. 

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At first sight, Currin's art can be seen as a joke, a grotesque illustration that mixes classical standards of beauty with the contemporary idealization of the body. However, when we analyze them, we see the bodies featured on his canvases evoke an obvious, yet ignored narrative.

At times stylized, at others distorted, the characters that appear in Currin's paintings are the result of a reflection exposing the wide gap between pornography and eroticism. It's the same separation between high-brow culture and popular art: an abyss between what society is and what it aspires to be.

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These images depict the absurdity of those moments that appear to be filled with eroticism and sensuality. They break with old canons as well logics of normality by opposing and questioning what is considered to be beautiful. This discourse has no limits since it addresses both sacred and forbidden images, simplicity and pedantry, as well as the phony element of surprise that is so common among art galleries and exhibitions.

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These distorted bodies show the ideal world that artists and critics have blindly admired in their perpetuation of esthetic values. In that sense, the avant-garde movements from the twentieth century marked a definitive rupture. However, Currin's images appeal to something that hasn't been thoroughly explored.

John Currin's technique and abilities are not questioned. His style, resembling Renaissance elements, relates to the Parisian society of Manet's time, the classicism of Degas, and other manifestations of high culture. However, these extravagant images provide an interpretation that can be as personal as it is critical of modern society.

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Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

Alejandro López

Alejandro López

Editor de Historia y Ciencia