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Submitted on
September 23, 2010


132 (who?)
It’s All in the Details
It was about a year ago that I posted a news article which attempted to clarify why and how official policy and community viewpoint can differ so greatly in regards to what can be considered to be obscene or pornographic and I even spoke about it a bit in my journal.

Much of what was written in that previous article holds true today so I will only briefly outline the basics of what was written there in this article and I would urge any who haven’t yet read it to do so.

Recently there has been a lot of dissatisfaction being voiced concerning types of content which is allowed in the deviantART galleries and almost an equal amount of misinformation and other incorrect assumptions about what is allowed and what gets removed.

Much of the discontent in this area stems from the differences between official definitions and policy and the individual viewpoints held by members of the community.

In the past we, the staff, have tried to address these differences by amending the FAQ with clearer language, posting journals and news articles trying to explain this nuance or that definition but regardless of those efforts there continue to be misinterpretations and misunderstandings so in this particular news article instead of trying to explain the various policies and procedures I’ll attempt to explain the reasoning and viewpoint which exists behind those policies and procedures.

Provoking a Response
In the 1971 case of Cohen v. California, United states Supreme Court Justice Marshall Harlan II summarized exactly how subjective “artistic merit” can be when he stated, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric” and that statement remains true to this day.

Art is intended to be evocative, and given that works of art so often succeed in evoking such diverse and passionate responses it is not surprising at all that artistic expression is often the target of so many censorship efforts. Post-modern art, for example, derives its value from defying past standards and expanding the traditional boundaries of art, often by deliberately attempting to shock and offend the audience.

Even here at deviantART, a community founded on the concept of being a gathering place for all sorts of creative persons and artistic visions, there is a certain level of censorship. deviantART does restrict the submission of certain types of content – some for critical legal reasons and some for what could be called completely arbitrary reasons which we have made because of our concerns about the health and direction of the community.

Because the concept of being a community which is intended to welcome all sorts of creative endeavors while at the same time denying access to certain content and themes are so at odds with each other we make every attempt to keep our restrictions to the barest minimum. If it appears at times that we appear to make exceptions for certain types of works it is because we are trying to find more reasons to keep a work than to remove a work; a fact which results in probably too many of you in the community assuming in error that our staff is poorly trained, biased, or lazy.

We make every attempt to allow works which are evocative and this sometimes means that a work will be erotic and sexual enough, or political enough, or religious enough, to offend someone with more delicate sensibilities. This is the main reason our mature content tagging system exists and why we’ve made improvements to it over the years to help artists warn their audience that a certain work might be offensive to them.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The type of content which generates the most concern and the most complaints tends to be photographic nude works which are considered inartistic by the people doing the complaining, some even going as far as to quote the three standards for determining obscenity set by the United States Supreme Court in 1973, one of which states that an obscene work “taken as whole, lacks serious literary, political, or scientific value” as justification for asking for the removal of the deviations they find offensive.

Unfortunately the determination of “serious literary, political, or scientific value” is not as clear cut and easy as one could assume. As I’ve stated elsewhere, “artistic value” and “obscenity” varies greatly depending on your cultural and family upbringing as well as your personal viewpoints. The question of whose standards to use is difficult at best which is why official policy on the matter is written to address quantitative facts about a work rather than the qualities of the work.

There was a case which demonstrates exactly how hazy the term “value” can be when applied to art which I’d like to relate to the readers here for greater clarity.

In 1969, United States Customs agents in Baltimore Maryland seized ten paintings and drawings which had been shipped in from Europe for an exhibition in the United States. The works were a portion of a larger collection of erotic artworks which had been previously shown and displayed in museums in Scandinavia. Among the ten works seized were works by Hans Bellmer, George Grosz, Karel Appel, Melle, Cesare Peverelli, and five other works by artists whose identities were unknown.

The Customs agents seized the works under the authority of a federal law which prohibited the importation of obscene materials The ten works seized included themes which were explicit in their showing of male and female sex organs, sometimes in conjunction or approaching conjunction and the agents judged that the various themes were sexual and obscene enough to stop their entry into the United States.

The issue involving these works eventually received a legal ruling, and although the case was decided before Miller v. California (the ruling which determined the obscenity standards still used today) the court applied a similar three-part standard to determine whether or not the works were to be ruled as obscene. Despite the clearly sexual content of the works, both the trial court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the works all had artistic value and therefore did not meet the third legal criterion of obscenity.

Now I mention this particular case not because we use it to justify keeping certain works but because it demonstrates how individual judgments concerning “values” can reach completely different conclusions and it is because of  these differences in personal judgment that deviantART policies rely more upon empirical observations about a work rather than personal opinions concerning artistic value and intent – by relying more upon the former we are able to ensure greater consistency in the actions taken, or not taken, by our staff.

While members of our community are certainly free to call something obscene because, “I know it when I see it” (Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, 1964), our staff tries to avoid involving such personal and ultimately subjective observations in our policy decisions, even though they may completely agree with you on a personal level.

When you think about it in a broader sense when we talk about “artistic value” we must also consider that not all artistic works are intended to be aesthetic or even fully interpretable which in turn can spark an entirely different conversation about exactly what “art” is supposed to be in the first place – who gets to make that decision?
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Kuwaizair Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2011
but "trolling" drawings is wrong. a baby chopped up can send a message. if I made fun of how Fella looks, then I am a bad person?
affinityimage Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2011
Okay I get the rule and I get the objections to the rule, I was reported on an Image and it was deleted by me as a way to avoid the wrong type of attention as an artist. It was clearly not porn.

However as I browsed around and this thread was one, I can not help but think, that members who browse around flagging art, images, or what ever are missing the point, the sites administration seems to be on the job, it may take time but they are doing thier job, they have opened a place for you to report an image, if its a bad thing it will be removed, if its not leave it a lone. Grow up!

This has been argued over and over through out history, to the point where works of art have been damaged, try any Greek Roman statues as an example of what this can do.

I would think everyone would be more interested in the copyright violations, than this. Stealing an image knowingly or not is an issue that costs the artists.

“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?” - Michelangelo

This is not a pornographic website; My work is not, the images contained within the pages of my parts of this site have been created with the sole intention of portraying the nude body as art if the artist so chooses. Meaning me..

There is an unbelievably wide spectrum between beautiful expressions of the nude human form and the portrayal of explicit sexual acts. Those that have not been exposed to different levels of nude art, will often find they cannot discern between them, the result is the categorization of all nudity as indelicate and exploitative.

Exhibiting the nude figure as 'art' is oddly regarded as vulgar and distasteful in many modern cultures/societies. This is a rather peculiar development, considering that since human history began, the beauty of the nude form - has been a source of inspiration for many renowned artists of all genres!

Forcibly suppressing access to nudity can never achieve anything, except to stunt minds and prevent us from learning crucial lessons about art, taste and personal perception. Differentiating between levels of erotica, art nude, and pornography is a important part of artistic culture that should be learnt, not swept under the carpet and ignored.

Those narrow-minded enough to believe that nudity in its purest form should be hidden; often do not possess the capabilities to discern between artistic expression and crass exploitation, nor do they understand the innocent eyes through which we see. We are not born with a irrational fear of the nude body, it is something that has been wrongfully ingrained into us by society: Objections to our own skin is ridiculously irrational, body shame is not natural - nudity is. (Muse, was quoted in this she is a Model, Artist and friend).

TreLore Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2010
To me in a truly free country nothing should be censored. Art is meant to free the soul, body mind and spirit from restriction. true art is an expression of how the artist feels or see the world. When censorship is allowed it restricts freedom of thought and expression. Like you have said one man vugarity is another mans lyric. Until we get past such limited thinking, we will always have people who think something that is beautiful is obsene.
tmpst24myst Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2010  Student Writer
In the report I made, I'm glad I noted the artistic value - it simply surprised me to find such a provocative deviation on deviantart. In my inquiry, I wanted resolution as to how and when and why?
The response was neither clear or defined; just a statement indicating that it was reviewed and was found to not meet the removal requirements.

In short, thank you for posting and re-posting clarification on this matter. The piece I flagged, has incredible artistic value, and it's this article that explains the, 'how, when and why?' I had initially been questioning. While I still have some reservations on said piece, they are my own. I wouldn't want anyone telling me how to title any of my work, nor would I want the content flagged without probable cause. In your previous news reports and now this one, along with your journals on this topic, I've come to appreciate the evolution of art on this site. I would also like to say that if it weren't for your publications on this matter, I would still be looking for the, 'how, when and why?'
Thank you and I hope that others can get the same clarification as I, through your publications.
feltrim Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Hobbyist Photographer
ok so lets get this straight, not masturbation, no toys, obviously no peni to vagina, what a about a heel of a stilleto entering the vag, how about tongue to vag?
i reported these, tongue to vag, no response, Shoe to vag, marked as invalid?
how is that not a violation? actually of all the reports i have made i have recieved 1 response. Go dA,
realitysquared Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
No response means that the report hasn't been reviewed.

Marked invalid most likely means that the image didn't actually depict what you thought it did.
feltrim Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Hobbyist Photographer
oh and i just checked the tongue vag is still there, as i'm not a flametard, admin peeps can note me, and i will send the links!
mikeengelen Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2010
I don't know... But being honest, as an artist you need to have a very broad vision of things. It can be very very frustationg and very contradictory things.

Artistic passion means also experimenting. Sometimes you have to break your own rules, going beyond what you know in order to acheive something new, even if you're scared of what could possibly come from you.

But it's a need, a human need to do so. And at one point or another, the sexual thematic, that part in your brain will demand it's artistic share, it needs to be at least expressed There're a lot of different viewpoints yes, and that's why we don't get in a common agreement, but beyond that, I think that not expressing ourselves, and being as truthful as foregoing with our artistic needs, is more harming than self-censoring.

Silence is more harmful, I guess. Sometimes you dare to express, sometimes you don't, but being honest, The feel of going forwad and being truth, leaves me with an overall better feel.
Hurricanrana Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2010
The way I see it, an erect penis or a strap-on have all the ability to be artistic and to invoke a non-sexual or thought provoking response.
taorio Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2010
Ref: your tag line....

If you stuffed part of a great white shark up your butt that would work all by itself, and you'd probly be a lot more comfortable.:)
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