Nude Photography: Is It Art?

Photographers and website owners need to know the difference

Woman in art gallery

aydamir01 / Twenty20

Are all nude photos art? It’s a debate that rages among photographers and the general public. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue and opinions vary across cultures. If you are a photographer or have a website, you need to be able to judge where an image crosses the line from art to adult content.

Art is more difficult to define than "adult content." Art is an expression of human creativity. It isn't appreciated solely for its beauty or emotional power; the best art causes an emotional response in the viewer.

Adult content on the other hand is made to intentionally cause sexual excitement.

Using those two subjective definitions, you could say that adult content, by causing a response, is a subset of art, but the fact is that adult content is illegal in many instances while art is not. So, for a photographer or website owner, the line that needs to be drawn is at intent. If an image intends to cause excitement, stay out of trouble and don't post it on the internet.

Why All the Fuss Over Nude Pictures?

While artists have been depicting the nude form for generations, photography is often singled out as being particularly inappropriate for nude representations because the images are exact copies of a real subject. The realism of the nude in a photo makes some people uncomfortable, whereas a nude representation in white stone statues from antiquity or pencil sketches (no matter how detailed) do not seem as real to viewers. The realism of photographs lends them to being more morally serious to view than a drawing or sculpture. Because real people are depicted in nude photographs, many people feel like they are invading private moments—as though they were standing in the room when the photo was taken. This realism makes it much harder for some people to view nude photography objectively.

Boudoir photography often walks a knife's edge on whether it is art or adult content without showing any nudity at all because the intent is to elicit arousal. However, because the subject is usually clothed, people are less upset by boudoir photography than nude photography.

So Can a Nude Photo Be Art?

For a nude photo to be considered art, the nudity mustn’t be the focus of the photo. In art, nudity is secondary to the subject form or another concept. The subject is nude because clothing would interfere with the lines of the form, not because someone is turned on by the idea of nudity.

In general, if the focus of the photo is the genital area or a sexual act, it most likely constitutes adult content no matter how artistically you pose the subject(s). If the photo includes any pose you have seen in an adult magazine centerfold or any similar publication, it is unlikely to be art.