Exposed: The Aesthetics of The Body, Sexuality and Erotic Art - HART6530

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


Many pictures, still and moving, in Western society and globally, in high art and demotic culture, incorporate sexual imagery and themes. This module will explore different aesthetic perspectives and theoretical approaches to such images, including those typically classified as pornography and erotica around which much of the existing philosophical literature focuses.
Here are some of the indicative questions this module will investigate:

• What is erotic art?
• In which respect and to what extent is it different from pornography?
• Is 'pornographic art' an oxymoron?
• What is the relation between erotic experience and aesthetic experience and are they at all compatible?
• What are the differences and similarities between voyeurism and aesthetic interest?
• What is the role of transgression in art?
• Are obscenity and art mutually exclusive?

To answer these questions certain fundamental issues in the philosophy of art will need to be addressed. We will therefore engage with current research on the definition of art, the nature of aesthetic value, aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties, the relation between art and morality, the psychology of picture perception, and the role of imagination in art. However, more is involved than just an abstract philosophical problem. The sexual and the erotic have often caused controversy in the history of art, and especially in the contemporary world of art (construed in the broadest sense) there are many works that consciously explore the boundaries between erotic art and pornography. Any investigation of our central theme would not be complete without a careful examination of such works. Thus, the module will draw on a variety of sources and disciplines (art history, film studies, literary theory, sociology and cultural theory) to study the sexually charged work of traditional, modern and contemporary artists, such as: Titian, Boucher, Courbet, Hokusai, Schiele, John Currin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas Ruff, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Nagisa Oshima, Michael Winterbottom, Virginie Despentes, Nicholson Baker, Catherine Millet, Alan Moore.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 40
Private study hours: 260
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Essay (2500 words) (50%)
Seminar Diary (maximum 6000 words) (50%)

Indicative reading

Levinson, Jerrold (2005), 'Erotic Art and Pornographic Pictures,' Philosophy and Literature, 29.
Maes, Hans (2011), 'Drawing the Line: Art versus Pornography,' Philosophy Compass.
Mahon, Alyce (2005), Eroticism & Art, Oxford: OUP.
Nead, Lynda (1992), The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, London: Routledge.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module Level 5 students will be able to:

- gained an introduction to key issues in contemporary aesthetics, such as the definition of art, the nature of aesthetic experience, the relation between art and morality;
- understand some models for the informed critical analysis of images of sexuality in art and society;
- demonstrate an understanding of the interdisciplinary scope of art history and the philosophy of art, and of the wide range of concepts and methods that are pursued by art historians and philosophers of art;
- develop their abilities to apply these concepts and methods, so broadening their ability to investigate and understand artworks.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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