Is it porn? Is is not porn?

If that title alone doesn’t get a couple of extra clicks on my blog, I don’t know what will.

Not withstanding my intention to at least mildly titillate, there is a serious matter regarding the age-old, pornography-vs.-art argument going on in Bemidji. Now, I’ve always felt like I was pretty open-minded guy when it comes to such matters, but let’s just say I wouldn’t want to live or visit in Bemidji right now with my 5-year-old and nearly 3-year-old. Being a father, I suppose, changes one’s perspective on such matters.

In case you haven’t heard: A scuplture of a beaver by Deborah Davis – who I believe to be a Bemidji artist – found its way to the corner of Fourth Street and Beltrami Avenue in that community’s downtown district. The city had approved the placement of the sculpture, apparently not realizing it would be besieged with complaints. Perhaps staff and council members hadn’t taken a good-enough look at the work, which is described by the artist (in a Bemidji Pioneer editorial) as a "painting as that of Mother Earth praying and the circles of pinkish red surrounding her hands are roses coming forth." Or, as others have observed – and what appears to be beyond obvious in the eyes of this writer – it’s a clear representation of female genitalia.

I have to be honest and admit there’s a part of me (call it my inner Beavis) that’s amused by this sort of thing. And, if I were walking around downtown Bemidji without prior knowledge of the sculpture’s (known as "Gaea") presence there, I’d probably have two reactions – one of "heh heh heh" and "how the heck did this wind up here? But, as I like to consider myself relatively mature, I think my thoughts would quickly turn to somewhere along the lines of, "Would I want my son and/or daughter to see this?" And I’ve got to think my answer would have to be no.

The Pioneer editorial, I feel, does a good job of proposing what should happen when it comes to displaying art publically in the community. In the case of the beaver sculpture, initial placement of the work was allowed, the city administrator acted to pull the sculpture, and he was then essentially overidden by the city council. In the future, the newspaper suggests, a panel that includes various facets of the community (including artists, businesspeople, general citizens etc.) address complaints about public art, rather than leaving decisions regarding questions of indecency to one person. After all, what may be the city administrator’s definition of inappropriate may not be the same as that of many other people in town, and cries of "Censorship!" are an inevitability in such matters. (There’s a fine essay on this matter available here.)

So, yes, I’m in favor of a panel that would weigh the points of view of many when making a decision about a controversial piece of public art. But, if I had the opportunity to give my two cents, I’d argue that that forbidding such a piece of work from standing in a public view downtown is a bit different than showing it, say, in a museum or other private venue.

Maybe, then again, I’m being a bit prudish. You can make your own judgment by looking at the sculpture yourself. What would you think if this was placed in Worthington, or any other community in which you may live?

2 thoughts on “Is it porn? Is is not porn?

  1. I don’t consider myself a prude, but I wouldn’t want to see it on the streets where I live. It’s pretty clear to me that she intended ‘beaver’ to be a double entendre. If it is indeed art, it is adult art, and maybe could be in a gallery.

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