Eros, in Greek mythology, is of course the god of love, born of Chaos and united forever in harmony with Psyche, the feminine personification of the human soul. In his purest form, Eros represents the ideal of love in all its manifestations; it's we myopic humans who tend to limit his sphere of influence to the genitalia. In the blunt world of Internet porn, this obsession with the masculine compulsion to pound, reeks of a fear of the feminine, which is why so much straight porn (which is what comprises most Internet porn) seems so homophobic, repressive, and compulsively orgasmic. Erotic art, on the other hand, is profoundly and joyously all-embracing and humanistic, almost to a fault. Much of the research for this article was done simply by typing "erotic art" into various search engines, then following the Yellow Brick Road wherever it led us. What we discovered was an imposingly vast Oz of erotic websites, with people across the spectrum of artistic expression expending a tremendous amount of energy putting them up, and usually making no money doing it. These sites range from the miniscule, on which an individual artist holed up somewhere in the world posts his own work, to online galleries trying to run a business disseminating the work of established artists. And the numbers are staggeringly out of control. There are literally untold hundreds of thousands of websites devoted to legitimate erotic art, as opposed to porn sites pretending to be art.
What's the difference?
"It's been said that the difference between erotic and pornographic art is the way the model looks at you," says Robert James, a Southern California artist who runs an online gallery of erotica called Erotiqus (www.erotiqus.com). "In erotic art, she's looking away somewhere, in mystery or dream. In pornography, she's looking right at you, saying, 'Baby, I'm here for you.'"
Sabrina runs a small but popular website (www.sabrina.org) that specializes in erotic literature. "I believe that porn only hones in on the physical," she says, "while erotica tries to involve the emotions as well. I don't condemn pornographic writing at all. There are times when you want a sexual experience to be fast, furious and nasty, and times when you want to draw it out into a memorable, passionate, loving and erotic time."
In fact, everyone we spoke with expressed the same general take, namely that porn is superficial and limited, while erotica is deep and infinite. It's sort of a vague distinction, but the immense diversity of artistic erotic expression found on the Internet supports it. Whatever you are looking for, be patient and you will find it. From digital photography to online performance art, from Body Art to Japanese anime, Eros is thriving on the Web. It may be unorganized, it may seethe with anarchic energy (which we love), but it is out there like pulsating veins of molten gold.
Let's just say that there is no dearth of erotic photography on the Net. With well over 200,000 websites devoted to the subject listed on the Lycos search engine alone, erotic photography has got to be the most abundant form of online artistic expression by far.
Perhaps the best way to begin an exploration of this immense universe of images is by starting with one of the larger sites that exhibit or link to the works of many photographers. The Creative Nude (www.creative-nude.net) portal is one such destination, and an impressive one at that. Despite being plagued by incessant little sponsor windows that open up every time you travel from one page to another, there are links to hundreds of photographers' sites in sections like The Creative Nude Photography Network, Wide Open Nude (Fetish and Bondage), Sensual Literature and Film, Glamour Girls Photography Links, and Twelve Provocative Galleries of Fine Art. There is no art per se on the site itself except for select images of individual artists' works, but it is a fine place to begin educating yourself about what and who is out there.
Another great resource is the Fine Art Nude Photography Network, found on FAN (www.fineartnude.com), a site devoted to providing the "Best in Nude Art on the Net!" The Network has links to the sites of about forty or so fine art nude photographers, including Lindsay Garrett, Ronald lee Hildebrand, Glen R. Johnson and many others. FAN also provides an online search engine devoted exclusively to an array of sensual art sites and a Fine Art Photography Bookstore, but actual sales of photographers' work is done on the individual sites.
Surfing and exploring is certainly the key and it's fun too, but it's important to jot down where you've been and what you like, because it's awfully easy get lost in a sea of sites. Most sites devoted to works of art are free, and many don't even have any banners or advertising of any kind, so navigating is often a breeze. Artists, believe it or not, tend to be ethical as well, so most of the time you won't find yourself fighting off unwanted windows or sold off into exit traffic slavery as you are with many porn sites.
Painting and Drawing
Warning. For some reason, we encountered many porn sites posing as erotic painting sites. If you use a search engine and type in "erotic painting," you will confront them. So keep an eye out. That said, there are thousands of fine erotic art sites out there. Again, unless you know the name of the artist you are looking for, the best way to get an overall perspective is to visit a webring and make short sojourns from there, sort of like having a home base from which to make brief trips when traveling abroad. And perhaps the easiest way to find the particular ring you are looking for is to go to WebRing (www.webring.org), a free service that offers easy access to hundreds of thousands of members websites organized by related interests into easy-to-navigate rings. You can utilize the RingWorld Directory or RingSearch to narrow your focus. If you have a site you want to list, you can apply to the appropriate ring for inclusion.
One of the rings we found is the Erotic Art WebRing, which currently has more than 130 websites listed, catering to a variety of erotic art forms, many of them fine art erotic paint-ing and drawings, many of them foreign sites. One of the first on the list is the site of an Austrian artist named Harald Gruber (www.8ung.at/hagruber/homeUSA.htm), who produces what he calls "technerotic paintings," original paintings with a digital touch. "Erotic women and technical elements form creatures born in a future," reads his homepage introduction. "These paintings are visions of a future, where the difference between human beings and artificial beings does not exist." If that doesn't float your boat, each Erotic Art Ring site homepage contains links to either the previous or the next five sites in the ring, so eventually you are bound to find something or someone you like.
Yes, Body Art, which includes tattoos and jewelry and any other sorts of illustrations or piercing that enhance the human form. As we all know, this is a very popular form of art and is most certainly considered, though some may squirm at the thought, erotic. And it is anything but modern, since mankind has been altering his physical form since the dawn of time, usually with the objective of attracting the opposite sex.
And yes, there is within the aforementioned WebRing a Body Art Web Ring, a Body Painting Ring and The Tattoo WebRing, providing links to almost a thousand Body Art websites, including more tattoo sites than you'd ever want to visit in your life. There's F. Kirk Alley Tattoo (www.fkirkalley.com), realtattoo (www.realtattoo.com) and Mountain Man Tattoos (www.ecenet.com/~tattoos), to name but three. For body jewelry, there's Show Off Your Stuff (www.showoffyoursstuff.com), the Extreme Body Piercing Studio (www.extremebodypiercing.kuzma.com/ index.html) and All Pierced Pain Torture and Blood (www.plaza one.com/pierced_in_pain), which this writer would only dare to glance at before running away in mortal terror.
Most of the Body Art sites are up and running businesses as well, selling either the jewelry that they make and show or providing sites for brick-and-mortar tattoo parlors scattered around the globe. On the homepage of many Body Art sites, you'll find the address of the shop and the store hours. This will be very helpful if you're ever in, say, Manchester, England, and a sudden urge to get tattooed should overtake you. You will know that Dave T''s House of Tattoos (www.thestudio99.freeserve.co.uk) is close by and open Monday-Friday, 10-5, and Sundays till 6.
There is something essentially erotic about all sculpture, even (or especially) the most abstract. Perhaps it's because we can relate so directly to it as a tactile object, or maybe it's because sculptors are so... lusty. In fact, so much superb erotic sculpture can be found on regular art sites that if that's what you're looking for, you should take your time and visit as many regular old online galleries, domestic and international, as you can. There will usually be a separate erotic art or sculpture section hidden away somewhere. The ARTas(r) Art Galleries (www.artas.ch/gallery), for example, is a beautiful Swiss site that features an eclectic array of International artists, with several sections devoted to erotic art. One such section contains a truly exquisite series of tiny ceramic antique Chinese figurines in erotic poses.
Dave (www.eroticartist.com) is an erotic sculptor who also runs an online site in his spare time. He was lucky enough to get the above domain name in order to display his own works, which include sculpture and collages, and works by the occasional guest sculptor. At the moment he is displaying works by Paul Martin and Lance Olsen. He chooses not to aggressively market his artwork, though if someone wants to purchase a piece he will oblige. If he is going to sell a piece, though, it will only be a bronze copy of a clay original. Like many other artists who have made the move online, the wondrous possibilities of the Internet seem almost irrelevant. "It's a way for me to show my art without going to a whole lot of trouble," he says. "It's been fun. It's been a hobby. I haven't really intended to have it as a business."
Because of his fortuitous URL, though, Dave's site is placed well in the search engines and gets pretty good traffic, so there may be increased demand for his work in the future. He is also a member of the WebRing, which has and will continue to be men- tioned prominently in this article, because it is probably the best place to begin any search of art, erotic or otherwise, on the Net.
The written word. Is it online erotic art? Most definitely. What the Internet has provided for erotic literature has been nothing short of a revolution, especially for women. "Until quite recently, erotic literature presumed a male readership, and erotic art catered to a male gaze," wrote Anne Semans and Cathy Winks in their 1999 book The Woman's Guide to Sex on the Web. "Everybody's heard of the '60s, but few stop to consider the revolution in sexual expression that took place twenty years later when desktop publishing and video technology burst on to the scene." The prevailing theory in fact says that men are more visually oriented than women, who tend to be more attuned to the slow turn-on that erotic literature provides. In general we hate generalizations, but the explosion of online written erotica by women is certainly indicative of something, even if it's just the fact that the Internet is anonymous and for the most part, safe.
The WebRing to which we have referred ad nauseam has the perfect ring for all you erotic literature lovers out there. It is called The Whisper of Eros, contains 161 websites devoted to various factions of the art form, and can found in the Literature section of the WebRing. This cornucopia of sites contains everything from BDSM to gushy Romance-style stuff to graphic Penthouse-style fantasies, and everything in between. It's as though a veritable floodgate of erotic words has been let loose on the world. Some sites package their literature in the form of an online magazine, like Eros, The Erotic Entertainment Magazine (www.erosmagazine.com), a monthly that plans to provide a print version in July, while some like to keep it intimate and personal, like Smoothtales (I>www.smoothtales.com).
Another great resource is the Erotica Reader's Association (www.erotica-readers.com), "an International group of women and men interested in the provocative world of literary erotica," on which you will find a great variety of erotic poetry, stories, book reviews, opinion pieces, erotic video reviews and even suggested music to write by. With links to other sites that they recommend, it is also a great place to start your search for the some of the best erotic writing on the Web. But don't forget, as with the visual artists, the Internet is crawling with brilliant unknowns who ply their crafts in the relative secrecy of their individual sites. Our plea is that you take the time to find them and give them a few minutes (or more) of your time. You may be more than pleasantly surprised.
Animation and Comics
Because it uses less bandwidth than video and because of the improvement and proliferation of animation software, this form of online art is very popular these days, especially in erotica. Often graphic designers are also illustrators or animators or both, and there is a definite melding of art forms going on, with new hybrid forms of creation springing up all the time. In fact, almost every form of art we have spoken about thus far, except for sculpture and the written word, can be digitally enhanced. But this is perhaps no more so than in the creative graphic arts. Erotic illustration tends to fall into certain sub-genres, such as Fantasy, Science Fiction or Parody, but there are certainly many variations to the rule.
A good site devoted to the venerable art of pin-up illustration is Pin Up Girls ( www.geocities.com/FashionAvenue/Salon/4039/index.html), and features over 600 illustrations of Vargas-style illustrations.
Then there is the Hentai Artists Ring, which contains 149 sites devoted to the wildly popular Japanese form of anime art, which, be warned, is often very graphic in nature (and, understandably, many of them are in Japanese). One that is in English is Cute Pet (www.cutepet.org), which contains very graphic depictions of astoundingly endowed hentai figures doing any manner of nasty things.
There is also a separate Comics and Animation ring that is part of the aforementioned WebRing, with 74 separate rings (like solar systems within a galaxy) devoted to myriad forms of the illustrative arts. If you can't find what you're looking for there, you might just have to create it yourself.
Getting a grasp on this fertile field is like fishing for salmon with your hands. As we said, there is a lot of digitizing going on out there. It's one of the more cutting edge forms of art today, though some artists we spoke with felt that, like anything "computerized," it is inherently inferior to anything hand-crafted. We don't agree or disagree. We just want you to know that it's out there and where to begin looking for it.
There are many sites that can be found on the Erotic Art Ring. One that has some amazing images on it is called Tongue Monster (www.tonguemonster.com). It has a page of 3-D animated GIFs with anuses that wink at you, and flying penises and tinkling girls. Subject matter aside, the animation is flawless. The stationary 3D digital images are no less impressive.
Howard Austin Feld (www.eroticcanvas.com) is a digital artist whose site contains his own digital photographic artwork. All of the pieces are for sale, and there is a members area that needs to be joined, but it is a very good place to go to get an idea of what is being done in the field of digital art.
But it is by no means a rarity. Many of the sites previously mentioned in other categories contain digitized art, and almost all of the artists we spoke with said that they either had or were planning on working in that area. Most worked with PhotoShop software when enhancing either photographs or drawings, and everyone seemed pleased with its versatility and ease of use.
Actually, the two are separate forms of erotic art. No kidding. There's chocolate erotic art, as found on The Erotic Chocolate Shoppe site (www.eroticchocolates.com), which contains an arousing assortment of anatomically correct chocolate goodies. And then there's the enema as erotic art, as seen on a site (www.sover.net/~dbjay3/frame.html) pushing David Barton-Jay's book, The Enema as an Erotic Art and Its History. We just thought you should know.
The Cutting Edge
The Walker Art Center is located in Minneapolis and is one of the nation's leading resources for contemporary art. They have an excellent online site (www.walkerart.org) that includes a section called New Media Initiatives. A quote by Freeman Dyson on the homepage of that section reads, "The effect of concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in new ways. The effect of tool-driven revolution is to discover new things that have to be explored." Gallery 9 is the sub-section of New Media Initiatives that has to do with performance art as it interacts with the Internet. Artists such as Laurie Andersen and Annie Sprinkle have performed for them, as well as many others. Most of what they are doing is not specifically erotic in nature, but it is all very much a turn on. And since words cannot begin to describe what they are up to now and in the future, we suggest that you simply log on and take a look for yourself. It's the interface of what's to come.
This overview has, we know, barely scratched the surface of what's cooking in the online world of erotic art. We apologize. We are only human. But it's a start, and we can only hope that we have at least piqued your interest and led you to some good sites. In the near future, AVN Online will be looking in depth at some of the more innovative areas of online erotic art.
Until then, remember, you can't go wrong using www.webring.org...