One cliche about art is that the you’ll know it when you see it. The same is often said of pornography. Personally, I am much more comfortable identifying pornography. Yes, fine, snigger if you must, but I’ll stick by this statement: graphic sexual content is easier to spot. That places no moral value on either pornography or art one way or the other, only to say that with porn it isn’t that hard to decide what you’re looking at.
When the two things are potentially combined—pornographic art—does the evaluation become more complex? I might have argued yes until I read this story on law.com yesterday, about the decision by a New York State Tax Appeals Tribunal that an “exotic dancing” club should not be given an exemption to state sales taxes.
According to reporter Josh Stashenko, the “two-member Tax Appeals Tribunal held that the routines performed nude or nearly nude by dancers at the Nite Moves club near Albany were largely learned from other dancers or on YouTube and the Internet, and are not the kind of carefully arranged and practiced patterns of movement normally equated with the art of dance.” There you have it: pole dancing (presumably nude or not) does not constitute its own art form.
One might consider the case closed—and for legal purposes it probably is—but the panel also included the following statement: that for these dance maneuvers “the degree of difficulty is as relevant to a ranking in gymnastics as it is dance.” Hmmm. That actually seems to muddy the waters a bit, since there are surely some (possibly many) people who consider gymnastics a kind of art form, just as they consider ice skating and ice dancing “arts,” even while they are competitive.
Interestingly, the Tax Appeals Tribunal was overturning a lower judge’s ruling that the club deserved an exemption because the dancers’ routines were complicated, potentially dangerous, and required a great degree of skill and practice. Someone thought that pole dancing was art, and that someone was no less than a judge! Which makes it perhaps less surprising that the Tribunal also decided to distinguish this club (called “Nite Moves”) from other places such as a “‘theatre, opera house, concert hall or other hall or place of assembly for a live dramatic, choreographic or musical performance’ for purposes of the tax statute.” The Tribunal was taking no chances: not only is pole dancing not art, it is non-art form performed in a place no one goes specifically to see art.
I suppose that clients of Nite Moves might beg to differ, but I would not expect to hear from them at the club’s next appeals hearing. No doubt they’ll be too busy checking out the nude art at (tax exempt) MoMA to testify.