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Google's Nudes and Prudes


My name is Charles Moffat. I am an art historian, artist, and the creator of the Art History Archive.

Shown to the right is Pierre August Renoir's painting of "Diana" (aka Artemis) from 1867.

According to Google this image is, and I quote, "Adult Sexual Content", and therefore a webpage I made years ago about French Impressionism, is according to Google, pornographic. And they want it removed from the Art History Archive if I want to continue having Google advertising on the page.

So the question then is, do I remove an image even though it is an important painting that has historical significance and then pretend that my art history website is "comprehensive". (And by comprehensive I mean so much so that the U.S. Library of Congress years ago made backup copies of the website because they deemed my website itself to be of historical importance.)

Or do I tell Google to shove it, and simply remove their advertising from the page about French Impressionism? Keeping in mind that this website stays afloat thanks to advertising and sponsors.

Now that painting of Diana was not the only nude mentioned or linked to on the page of French Impressionism. There are also several other nude Renoir paintings. Lets face it, if we are talking Renoir, the guy did a lot of nudes. There is also other nudes by George-Peirre Seurat, Mary Cassatt, and Paul Gauguin.

Do I remove all of them just to please the prudes at Google?

In other words, do I censor part of "art history" just because Google provides roughly 90% of our annual advertising.

I think not.

It is after all just one page. We can simply remove the Google advertising from the French Impressionism page and carry on. We lose less than 1% of our advertising funding, and hopefully we will make it up later with independent sponsors.

Independent sponsors may make up less than 10% of our annual advertising, but they do make a difference.

Also the Art History Archive isn't hugely popular. Not like Wikipedia for example. But we are different in a number of ways.

  • #1. Unlike Wikipedia, we also publish art history articles, opinions, essays, etc. Articles like the one you are reading right now.
  • #2. Our goal has always been to provide an art history resource which is "better than wikipedia", and to provide the best art history articles available online (in English). It would be nice to have other languages too, but oh well.
  • #3. Once per year Wikipedia goes asking people for donations to keep the website afloat. It is actually rather annoying, but necessary in their case. Our philosophy has been to simply allow topical advertising, which is usually advertising for artists, art supplies, art galleries, museums, vacations overseas, etc - and thus topics that we frankly do not mind advertising.

    Note also that I highly doubt that any art galleries, museums or artists mind that they are advertising on a page about French Impressionism that contains a few Renoirs. Many of the galleries and museums in question own Renoirs, or if they do not, then they wish that they did.

    So why does Google care so much?

    Because they are so worried about keeping their Google Adsense advertising as "family friendly" as possible that they block out nude sculptures, nude paintings, and anything else of historical importance which just happens to be contain nudity.

    Not pornography.

    Just anything that is nude.

    Because there is a difference between nudity and pornography. In the words of Judge Potter Stewart, who famously said "I know it when I see it" in a landmark case about film censorship.

    Google apparently is so obsessed with being prudes that they cannot tell the difference. Google doesn't know it when they see it, because they never see it at all. It is just a bot algorithm searching for anything that looks like porn. There is no person behind the machine checking to see if the things they are censoring are worth censoring.

    Fortunately there is a person here at the Art History Archive who can tell the difference.

    Here is another quote from Potter Stewart:

    "Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime."

    So with that in mind I shall note the following:

    "If we begin to bow down to the demands of companies like Google, which are largely governed by computers, then we might as well surrender to our robotic overlords now and get it over with."

    Now it isn't like Google is being run by intelligent robots who can walk and talk. Not yet. But the company does have a lot of their services automated and when was the last time you actually spoke to a real live person who worked for Google Customer Service? I have never done so. If I had, I would tell them they need to fix their algorithms.

    So it isn't robots. Not yet. But it is computer algorithms making decisions, which is basically the same thing. The computer algorithms make decisions, send emails, enact changes, and do a million myriad other things without any human supervision.

    In contrast artists can tell the difference between nudity and pornography. A computer algorithm has yet to be taught the difference.

    An artist can also create a work of art. A computer could simulate something based on its algorithms, but it wouldn't be considered art necessarily.

    For example, a cartographer can create a map which is simultaneously a work of art. This is commonly used in fantasy world's such as Westeros and Essos from the TV show "Game of Thrones" / book series "A Song of Ice and Fire", and is a good example as the introduction of every episode is a series of images from a computer animated version of the map.

    In contrast, a computer can create a fantasy map. But it won't be an art piece. For example if you go to the website and enter some random decisions into the "Fractal World Generator", and the computer will spit out a randomly generated map. Is it any good? Not really. But it is an useful tool for people too lazy to design their own map.

    Anyone who is familiar with fantasy maps vs the randomly generated kind will know that the maps created by humans are far superior.

    Likewise, when you call or go to customer service, the service you get from a human is always going to be better than any service you could get from an automated machine. And if the machine was somehow better, then the humans are seriously lacking and should be retrained to provide better and smarter service.

    This therefore is Google's failure. Their customer service is horrid. Basically non-existent.

    Definitely room for improvement.

    Meanwhile, on behalf of the Art History Archive we shall continue to show art history comprehensively and uncensored. No idiot computers are going to tell us what we can and cannot do.

    It is the computer algorithms that need to change, not us.

    Charles Moffat
    Creator of the Art History Archive

    See Also:

    "Nudes and Prudes" by Bertram Brooker

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