Two bold designers recently shot an ambitious photoshoot of their spring 2017 collection featuring models actually having sex in front of the camera.
The campaign by Eckhaus Latta is being praised for its artistic bravery and innovative flair. Yet while it is said that sex sells, and one of the best parts about clothes is indeed taking them off, the campaign raises a question many have asked themselves while trying to distinguish art from pornography:
How subjective is art really?
The Kuleshov Effect helps explain the many nuances of figuring it out. It’s perhaps one of the most groundbreaking techniques in filmmaking. As the story goes, Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov discovered long ago that following up the very same close-up of an actor’s face with different images seriously alters how the audience interprets an actor’s emotions.
Next to an image of food, actors appears hungry; next to a coffin, viewers find traces of sadness, and so on. The knowledge of the montage’s power still remains one of the most widely used filming techniques today. More importantly, it goes to show how much art and its message are entwined with the context they appear in.
Because art’s ambiguity might have as many manifestations as does art itself. As proof, another version of the Kuleshov effect surfaces in music and how it interplays with our brain and interpretations.
A study titled "Crossmodal transfer of emotions and music" found listening to music strongly influences the way we decipher facial emotions, especially neutral ones. In the study, participants interpreted expressions as happy or sad depending on the music playing in the background when they viewed faces. This is why film soundtracks can diametrically shift the emotional response a film scene induces.
Art’s subjectivity is not only palpable within scientific environments, either. We come face to face with it practically every day, often without realizing it. There’s hardly anyone who hasn’t had a case of lyric misinterpretation, even basing entire life philosophies on a favorite line — only to find out later it means something completely different.
Who hasn’t sung in a drunken deluge Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” after a sad break-up, wisely emphasizing each time after the chorus: “No woman, no cry!”?
According to Marley himself, the chorus means pretty much the exact opposite of how most interpret it. But at the end of the day, does it really matter? Most hear the song exactly the way they need to relating to their personal context, similar to the people still drifting away in "Summer of love" nostalgia and romantic daydreams every time they hear “Summer of 69” — even though Brian Adams was only 10 years old that year and readily admits it's about his favorite sexual position.
Art’s beauty derives from the freedom it leaves for interpretation, and the meaning we construct has perhaps been encoded in us all along, waiting to be validated by a bigger force. That meaning is often the foundation of tastes, subcultures, friendships, morals, and our vantage point from which we view the world.
So when you see people fucking in front of a camera with a couple of pieces of clothing on their bodies, it’s only you who can decide whether they are making art or pornography.
It’s internal interpretation. It’s science.