While I resist drawing lines between pornography and art, if forced to offer a distinction I might say that pornography, like propaganda, wants us to feel a single thing. Art is made of contraries, of ambivalence and ambiguity; it never wants us to feel a single thing. If I want the reader to be aroused by a particular scene, I also want them to be troubled by that arousal, to question or investigate it, to be moved by a more complicated pleasure.
(Garth Greenwell, “‘I wanted something 100% pornographic and 100% art’: the joy of writing about sex,” theguardian.com, 5-8-20)
Greenwell tickles me with gesturing at where porn and propaganda converge. Eschew not only obfuscation but also simplisticism. I like to echo him that porn and prop are univalent, and then to wonder why art, besides contrariety and ambiguity, isn’t made also of multivalence: multi- or “many,” after all, is more than ambi- or “both.”
However, ambivalence is an attribute of the observer — of his or her sentient or cognitive dimension — whereas multivalence is an attribute of the observed — of the sensed dimension. So which one makes art? It’s complicated — and there it is! — the troubling arousal.
(c) 2020 JMN