This article accompanies
Art, Pornography and Picasso
It’s fair to say the silly debate between Art vs Pornography is now over.
For all the millions of words defending or collapsing the difference, there is no Art, no Pornography. There is only art with sexual content or art without it. Not that art galleries and museums can be seen acknowledging this but the Web makes it a moot point.
Take for instance the erotic art of Picasso that he did between 1900 and 1903, when he was in his early Twenties. A regular in the brothels and bars of Barcelona and Paris, Picasso was in his Blue Period, hormones raging, and his paintings and drawings are full of erotic content. But these works are rarely if ever put on display. Why not? Are they Pornography and not Art?
The ironically titled self-portrait above is La Douleur (“pain”). How old is he here?
This painting was displayed finally at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns it, in 2010. When it first had surfaced in 2007 in London, presumably it was because the Europeans are more open-minded about this sort of thing. Still, the Barbican exhibition (titled Seduced: Art and Sex From Antiquity to Now) was restricted to those 18 and over. But a Met curator and Picasso scholar told the press: "It’s not a very good painting, that’s the main thing… If it didn’t have a sensational subject, nobody would look at it." Is he missing the point deliberately? What he is saying is this: it’s not great Art, therefore it is Pornography. What he really means is: It's Pornography; therefore it's not great Art."
The above sketch from the same period is known as Angel Fernández de Soto with a Woman. Picasso and de Soto were friends and shared a studio at the time (de Soto was killed in the Spanish Civil War decades later).
For Picasso, art was political and satirical. It broke down taboos. One of the biggest taboos was sex and it was guarded by fear – the fear that a sexualized image could be threatening. Rightly, he found this idea amusing.