Christian Acker – Design, Art, & Porn from a Christian Perspective

An interview from 2008 - designer Christian Acker responds to questions pornography, art and design.

(From 2005) This was a little bunch of interviews that I decided to begin a while ago. I interviewed a few people and never really finished. The premise behind this series was that a lot of people in the design industry seem to think that porn is okay to put into work because it is simply to them a nude artwork.

I wanted to know what other people thought… especially people who stand out in the design area online. Women were hard to come by to interview, there seems to be a lack of female profile which hopefully we can rectify some time in the future.

These are the responses I have gotten, some finished some unfinished. Some don’t even exist because I didn’t get around to it.

I’m always interested in what people have to say about this and the idea was to have a large discussion around the matter. They may be old but the detail is still relevant. So respond how you will.

What is your primary design discipline? (web, print, multimedia, etc)?

I’m a designer. I design for print mostly I guess, most of my time is spent on identity, logo design, and that dreaded “B” word… Branding (shudder). I also design a fair amount of typefaces.

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now… I just finished up a line of T-shirts with a company I often work with that does a lot of branding and identity design for the sports industry, the client is adidas/FIFA World Cup 2006. We did about 60 designs that will be available for the World Cup in Germany in ‘06.

I also have a number of fonts in progress, right now, including a new foundry called Handselecta, which is devoted to working with graffiti artists, analyzing their scripts and handstyles and converting them into fonts. Currently we’re working with a number of great artists, hoping to get the online font foundry up with about 7-8 font families by fall.

What role does Jesus play in your life?

I am a Christian. I don’t mean to be pretentious or obnoxious, but I find that the Apostles Creed is the best way to explain my faith at it’s core:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

How do you think the design landscape been changed as a result of the explosion of Porn online?

Ok, so I’ve been thinking and talking about this with my wife and my friends for about a week, so let’s see how it goes….

I suppose this could be answered in two ways. The role of design in the industry of pornography and then the role of pornography in the industry of design. Its the second that I think you’re asking about.

I think there needs to first be a definition of pornography, which is probably the hardest, murkiest part of this as a subject. I’ll start first with revealing my cards just a bit and saying that like sex, which is beautiful and appropriate and right within a context of marriage, outside of that context it is wrong, a perverted and distorted form of the reality of what it was meant to be by God. Similarly I think the same of the body, nudity, and sex as a subject matter, appropriate in some contexts and wrong in others.

That being said, cultural norms change and shift constantly, and applying historical models of modesty is not necessarily a biblical answer. Victorian modesty is not by any means the pinnacle of morality, yet I think most of culturally-christian, protestant America, specifically the generations of our parents and grandparents, tend to err in that direction.

This is a double edged sword, however, and living outside of a community that looks to Christ and biblical authority for answers is wandering in a wilderness, where moral norms are always shifting and it’s easy to become lost.

Man, that’s a long tirade to a question I didn’t answer, huh?

So, practically, is there more of a pornographic influence in design as a result of the explosion of the pornography industry, online? I think technology always is linked to pornography, the invention of paint most likely led to pictures of naked ladies. The reason why VHS surpassed Beta is linked to backing by the porn industry, the reason why DVD’s are produced but Laserdisc never caught on is linked to backing by the porn industry, I didn’t even want to check on the statistics what percentage porn takes up on the web. There was an article in the NY Times today about the projected $1.5 billion expected from adult content available on European cell phones within the next year.

What does that say? Is this industry the evil puppet master deciding which technology it will champion. I have a slightly more democratic view of it. People are spending outrageous amounts of money in this arena not because the industry is evil, but because we are evil, that industry is just selling the most popular product depravity can buy.

As a designer I see myself, primarily as a communicator. Viewing my profession in this way creates a certain amount of responsibility that one must shoulder. You can’t please everyone all the time. That¹s a truism, of course. But I don’t view my responsibility to please, I view my responsibility to communicate. To communicate the core of a message, or product, or attitude, or brand, may involve pleasure, it may not. But it always has a desired effect in mind at the start. Art, especially in the abstract postmodern sense doesn’t always have that goal in common. Some artists are unphased by what you take away from their work and think it is just as valid as what they thought of while creating it. An audience always brings their own experiences to design work as well, but my job is to communicate within a range. And it would be my failure for someone to take a message away from my work that was outside of that range.

Here’s the tricky part. In most instances I take whole responsibility of the work I put out there. But when dealing with an issue like the appropriateness of sex as a subject there is almost always a shared responsibility with your audience. What may be porn to one person may just be a Michelangelo sculpture to me. Dealing with subjects like this make me take a wider view of the context within which the work will be seen, a more pointed view of who my audience is, and how something can be misconstrued or misinterpreted or just missed altogether, because of an element that I must decide is either integral or superfluous.

I find much of the sex in advertising today superfluous, but I don’t point to the advertisers and say shame on you, I point to the public, and say shame on you. If it didn¹t work they wouldn’t do it. This is where I see organizations like adbusters really doing a wonderful job at creating work that is critical, pointed, and hopefully educating people to look beyond the messages that get planted in our heads. (I say this to their general goal, although some of adbusters political messages I don’t agree with)

I’ve always seen advertisings mantra as reflective of the churches method of acting out the great commission. We are to spread our message by “Afflicting the comfortable, and comforting the afflicted.”

What is your opinion of the way that Porn has been promoted as just another part of the artistic world? In your eyes is this a legitimate claim?

I think that the artistic world, or the individual artist should have carte blanche to deal with any subject matter, it/he/she deems worthy. I think good art interprets and make some commentary on its subject. Outside of that I guess I occasionally see pornography disguised as art and I suppose pornography can also be artistic. The photos of Robert Mapplethorpe or Jeff Koons come to mind. I find Mapplethorpe’s portrait photos to have a little more artistic merit than the “Made in Heaven”/Cicciolina seies by Koons, which seemed to be merely a living out of his own fantasy, in porn. He simply chose to sell through galleries and museums as opposed to videos, magazines and websites. His painting series from 2000-2001 however (”Pancakes,” “Pam,” and “Lips” to name a few of the paintings), which dealt with sexual subject matter but was a little more abstracted and refined than the photo series, I find to be quite nice, evocative of the sexuality of Dali’s paintings, where it is not so front and center.

But this is an example where I think the responsibility is shared between artist and audience, because I am unwilling to say that either of these artists should have stopped short of creating the work that they did, however some works are more appropriate in some instances than others, and the subjective question of whether something has artistic merit is always something that is a bit of a sticking point.

You can find Christian over at Adnauseum.