Wednesday, January 06, 2016

My defenses of Pin Up Art

2 years have passed since I quit KFC, with no backslides. It was a habitual, behavioral addiction, but note that I quit a particular franchise, not Fried Chicken. Not fast food. In the following months I escalated my commitments to behavioral sobriety by quitting McDonalds, caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and pornography.

Those last two are tricky though, refined sugar is really a shorthand for 'confectionery, desserts, cakes, soft drinks etc.' I will for example, use condiments like tomota sauce and bbq sauce, I will eat bread but not donuts. etc. My 'no refined sugar' creates some confusion, but is more convenient in explaining to people why I won't accept whatever treat or beverage is being offered me.

Similarly, 'pornography' suffers from being an undefined term. Like sugar, it is in some form or other, everywhere and perhaps if one was to go absolutist and hardcore, it would be even harder to remove from your consumption than sugar.

What I quit is probably quite a narrow definition - the content of pornographic sites and materials. Everything explicitly marketed as porn, and generally labelled as the 'adult' industry.

The broadest definition I can think of is 'masturbatory aids' which would include things like lingerie catalogues (and subsequently a lot of outdoor advertising) in fact it would include anything that alludes overtly or even subtly to reproduction, including the cut of some garments hung on mannequins - that emphasize hip to waist ratios or cleavage.

My suspicion is that most post-tween males, consume pornography of the 'narrow' definition I quit. I also suspect women increasingly consume porn, even that created explicitly for a male audience for a range of reasons. But I also suspect there is a sizeable minority of women who do not, and possibly have never consumed pornographic material, but are none-the-less exposed to the ideas of porn, certainly affected by the broader definition of masturbatory aids.

I will not defend the adult industry as it exists, though I could certainly criticize much of the anti-porn arguments presented, not for their validity but for their execution and effectiveness in regards to the stated aims.

I would almost certainly recommend that men quit their consumption (and almost certainly addiction) to porn. Particularly adult video, that I would have to say, is more or less indefensible for 98% of the existing content.

Furthermore, in the internet age, the adult industry calls into question for me, the very notion of consent. Given that all people are terrible affect forecasters, and also it being a domain where the decision to enter porn is probably mostly driven by subconscious decisions, and conscious consent is largely rationalization. If that was a parade of meaningless words to you, essentially what I'm saying is, I question the validity of consent given by an 18 year old, on behalf of the same person that lives with those consequences. It's the most extreme version of Daria's "My goal is not to wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I've wasted my life in a job I hate, because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens." except that girl wakes up at 19 not forty.

But what of the broader definition? All body ideals that allude to a woman's fertility. The spectrum of pornographic photography - from porno stills to 'gravure' photo sets, to erotic art, to lingerie billboards? And particularly in the genre of art I myself create and contribute to - being pin up art.

I don't know if I could or would defend these, if seriously under threat. But here are my defenses, many of which are not intelligible arguments but simply the incongruities I struggle with.

1. Pin Up Artists

The Golden Era pin up artists, like Gil Elvgren I don't know much about except that he painted from live models or reference photos. That I presume were paid gigs for the models and if he was not the photographer, I see little evidence of exploitation. But I have no idea what he was like as a person, nor any of the others of his time. The same goes for Dean Yeagle, who started much earlier than many other contemporary artists. But when I look at Bill Pressing, Chris Sanders, Luis Gadea, Shane Glines, Tim Sale etc. I see artists that aren't misogynists, or overt chauvinists, often happily married and as far as I have materials to form an impression of their personalities, none are sleazy or creepy.

In short, being a pin-up artist does not appear to require one to be, or associate with negative people, nor even have the ideals portrayed in pin-ups with their overall attitudes toward women.

I also find the anti-porn argument that rapists and violent offenders towards women are often found to have hard drives full of porn to be a weak one. I'm sure the content of the argument is all true and valid. I would be super surprised if rapists and violent offenders proved the exception to the consumption of porn rule. And I'm sure the marketing of pornographic videos does not help, and possibly escalates the incidents of these kind. I just reject it as confirmation bias, I would have to see the statistics as to what percentage of men consume similar amounts of porn and never sexually assault or harass anybody. I suspect I know people that would make this argument while simultaneously making the equivalent counterargument as regards recreational drug use.

2. Sunk Costs and/or Absence of Evidence of Exploitation.

One arguable form of pornography along the spectrum I haven't quit are the photographic offerings of Van Styles and Cherie Roberts (potentially NSFW) whom shoot a lot of scantily clad models, with a similar lack of graphic content and most notably an absence of violence towards women, as pin up art.

At this point I'd like to acknowledge that specific differences of opinion would arise. At one extreme, I'm told there exists feminists that view all sex between men and women as rape, I can't present this argument myself, it was something like the patriarchy exists, therefore all women are oppressed therefore all sex is rape. I can't drive the premises to the conclusion, I feel and assume that even in gender studies academic circles, this would be a fringe position. But I would acknowledge that there's going to be people out there that will quite easily and readily reject the idea that there's a spectrum or continuum of porn, where some is okay and some is bad. I can't argue against people who object to the broad definition of porn in its totality.

The other difference of opinion, is that while I believe in consumer preferences, I don't believe in consumer activism, I'm firmly in the caveat vendor camp, not emptor camp. Of course, where consumption is a crime in and of itself, vis-a-vis theft, or street narcotics or snuff porn. But speaking to the general case, I don't envision a world where the onus is on the consumer to do the research many if not most consumer activists do, to consume ethically.

In that regard, there are photographers in a similar vein to Van Styles and Cherie that do what I will simply call the 'creep shot', I believe Terry Richardson to be a reputed creep photographer of women, but I've never checked out his work to see if he does it, and I won't name other offenders because I'm not speaking to their market. It basically involves the photographer reaching in and touching the model - pulling on their underwear or pinching their nipple, touching their ass etc.

I personally just find it creepy. That for me is the line, between a photographer being a professional and a creep. Even if it is some premeditated performance consented to by the model, what the performance conveys I don't like.

In it's absence, I cannot conclude with certainty, that the photographer is a professional, that the model is consenting is an equal collaborator in the project and fairly compensated. I can believe it though.

Thus there's much material out their that involves celebrating women's reproductive value that I at least, am okay with, and okay with consuming. I'm okay with it on the absence of evidence that it belongs with the body of pornographic material that I personally prefer not to consume.

But then you move onto pin-up art. Drawings, that do not necessitate a live model, nor actual woman to be objectified. You are creating a symbolic representation and literal object. That this can impact given people's sensitivities on viewers can't be ignored. But I am not in the censorship camp or game. The producer however can do so, without harming a woman in the production process.

Which is optional, there is still scope for pin up artists to employ live models, sexual harass them or harm them in other ways. It's just wholly unnecessary.

Now least you be a layman in terms of art and unaware, many if not most artists draw from reference materials. I myself when drawing pin ups most often use photo reference, more occasionally I draw women from memory.

While I generally avoid references drawn specifically from the adult industry, preferring reference mainly drawn from lingerie, swimsuit and fashion photography, here then an image exists - and there is an argument that this reference material used to inspire pin up art, is a sunk cost. Even if there was some exploitation or harassment involved in the process of creating the images I and other artists use as reference, it is in economic jargon, a sunk cost.

The artist using the reference in other words has no power to undo the harm done to the model, should that harm have occurred. I would like to think that if a reference image of mine were created involving harassment, psychological abuse or even physical violence, that it would taint the image. But I don't and can't know. I'm not going to accept the blanket solution, which is to draw pin ups entirely from memory.

Similarly my actions going forward will never erase the history of the pornographic industry which I have in part been exposed to, along with most of our society. Milt Kahl the arguable greatest of the Golden Era Disney animators urged artists to know their reference so well, that they didn't actually need it anymore. I'm sure I could draw many pin ups till the end of my days without actually having to look at a single reference image. Why don't I? Because I believe my creative output would narrow. Reference helps me break out of ruts.

3. GJ

I occupy a very priveleged position in this world. Having a practical if not divine dominion over pretty much every animal on earth. I'm also a cis-gendered Caucasian heterosexual male. Thus, though I believe evolutionary psychology to have valuable things to say on the matter of sexual politics, I acknowledge that it is distasteful for somebody as privileged as I am to make arguments along the lines of evolutionary determinism etc.

I believe in the modern technological era, the vast majority of gender is culture, or a social construct.

But in the crime drama 'Top of The Lake' by Jane Campion, there features a scene where GJ informs an underage girl that is pregnant and coming to full term 'there is wisdom in the body, it will know what to do.' or something to that effect, that's an argument people can't have both ways.

I concur with GJ, but to me that carries an obligation to acknowledge in the superficialities (and pragmatism) both genders exert in partner selection, the wisdom 'of the body' has to be respected.

For example, the obsession with youth, in women particularly the working life of most models happens to coincide with their peak fertility - 18-25. Most of what gets emphasized and in the case of pin up art, exaggerated, are fertility cues with women, followed closely by health cues.

Long lustrous hair 'average' faces (somewhat of a misnomer, given that the ideal average faces are actually the ones with high levels of symmetry, indicating a lack of gene defects - ie healthy complete chromosomes) ample bosoms, large hip to waist ratios, are not mere cultural indoctrinations. They have a biological basis, all suggesting the healthiest genes to pass onto your children.

Pin ups can create super-normal stimuli, which is to say hip to waist ratios that can't exist in nature yet nevertheless can hijack the viewers biology and turn them on. Same with the gravity defying breasts of female comic book characters and so on.

What I believe is generally lacking 'out there' in public awareness, is an awareness of the limitations of our biology as regards the consumption of erotic imagery. Not that there aren't enough plus sized models, overweight models, fat pin up girls etc. Because attempts are made to create these products and they don't succeed because they are created under the assumption that marketers have decided the market wants iddy-biddy waists and big butts, double d breasts and cherry red lips.

Our biology decided we like these things, the adverse health effects are in the saturation of the market, much like the refined sugar added to all foods.

The one person I know to speak of a preference for drug free, Midwife driven births, does not appear to have objections to pornography.

Thus it is only in my imagination that I see a population of people that are pro-standing water births, natural births etc. but anti-modern day fertility idols and iconography.


As I said, these aren't wholly formed, and fully intelligible arguments or defenses as to what I do, but these are the general themes and sticking points that I haven't reconciled yet with how I feel about some of the art I create.

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