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Erotic art covers any artistic work that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of love-making. It includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, music and writing.


Defining erotic art is difficult since perceptions of both what is erotic and what is art fluctuate. A sculpture of a phallus in some African cultures may be considered a traditional symbol of potency though not overtly erotic.

In addition, a distinction is often made between erotic art and pornography (which also depicts scenes of love-making and is intended to evoke erotic arousal, but is not usually considered art). The distinction may lie in intent and message; erotic art intended as pieces of art, encapturing formal elements of art, and drawing on other historical artworks. Pornography may also use these tools, but is primarily intended to arouse one sexually. Nevertheless, these elements of distinction are highly subjective.

For instance, Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, in attempting to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, famously wrote, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . ."


Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings, but many cultures have created erotic art. The ancient Greeks painted sexual scenes on their ceramics, many of them famous for being some of the earliest depictions of same-sex relations and pederasty, and there are numerous sexually explicit paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeiimarker. The Moche of Perumarker in South America are another ancient people that sculpted explicit scenes of sex into their pottery. There is an entire gallery devoted to pre-Columbian erotic ceramics (Moche culture) in Limamarker at the Larco Museummarker.
Additionally, there has been a long tradition of erotic painting among the Eastern cultures. In Japanmarker, for example, shunga appeared in the 13th century and continued to grow in popularity until the late 19th century when photography was invented. Similarly, the erotic art of Chinamarker reached its popular peak during the latter part of the Ming Dynastymarker. In Indiamarker, the famous Kama Sutra is an ancient sex manual that is still popularly read throughout the world.

In Europe, starting with the Renaissance, there was a tradition of producing erotica for the amusement of the aristocracy. In the early 16th century, the text I Modi was an woodcut album created by the designer Giulio Romano, the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi and the poet Pietro Aretino. In 1601 Caravaggio painted the "Amor Vincit Omnia," for the collection of the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani. The tradition is continued by other, more modern painters, such as Fragonard, Courbet, Millet, Balthus, Picasso, Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, who served time in jail and had several works destroyed by the authorities for offending turn-of-the-century Austrian mores with his depiction of nude young girls.

At the 20th Century, photography became the most interesting media for erotic art. Publishers like Taschen did a democratic display of erotic arts and erotic photography.


Today, erotic artists thrive, although, in some circles, much of the genre is still not as accepted as the more standard genres of art such as portraiture and landscape. During the last few centuries, society has broadened its view of what can be considered as art and several new styles developed during the 1800s such as Impressionism and Realism. This has given today's artists a broader, almost infinite, spectrum with which to work.

Legal standards

Whether or not an instance of erotic art is obscene depends on the standards of the community in which it is displayed.

In the United Statesmarker, the 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker in Miller v. California established a three-tiered test to determine what was obscene - and thus not protected, versus what was merely erotic and thus protected by the First Amendment.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

As this is still, almost by necessity, much more vague than other judicial tests within U.S. jurisprudence, it has not reduced the conflicts that often result, especially from the ambiguities concerning what the "contemporary community standards" are. Similar difficulties in distinguishing between erotica and obscenity have been found in almost every legal system in the world.


File:Shuvalov Painter erotic scene Antikensammlung Berlin F2414.jpg|Oinochoe by the Shuvalov Paintermarker, c. 430-420 BCFile:Venus dormida.jpg|Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, 1501.File:RokebyVenus.jpg|Diego Velázquez, Rokeby Venus, c. 1647–51.File:Goya Maja naga2.jpg|Francisco Goya, La maja desnuda, c. 1799-1800.Image:Katsushika Hokusai - Fukujuso.jpg|Hokusai, The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô), 1815.Image:Dream of the fishermans wife hokusai.jpg|Hokusai, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, c. 1820.Image:Gustave Courbet, Femme nue couchée, 1862.jpg|Gustave Courbet, Femme nue couchée, 1862.Image:Courbet Sleep.jpg|Gustave Courbet, Le Sommeil (Sleep), 1866.Image:Origin-of-the-World.jpg|Gustave Courbet, L'Origine du monde, 1866.Image:Egon_Schiele_085.jpg|Egon Schiele, untitled nude, 1914.Image:Demuth,_Charles_(1883-1935)_-_1930_ca._-_Four_male_figures_-_Acquarello_-_Col._-_da_Internet.jpg‎|Charles Demuth, Four male figures, c. 1930.File:Édouard-Henri Avril (13).jpg|Erotic art by Édouard-Henri Avril.File:Édouard-Henri Avril (14).jpg|Erotic art by Édouard-Henri Avril.File:Édouard-Henri Avril (15).jpg|Erotic art by Édouard-Henri Avril.File:Édouard-Henri Avril (17).jpg|Erotic art by Édouard-Henri Avril.File:Édouard-Henri Avril (18).jpg|Erotic art by Édouard-Henri Avril.

See also


  • See also Judith Silver of, "Movie Day at the Supreme Court or 'I Know It When I See It': A History of the Definition of Obscenity," on[45330]

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