Sexuality in Art

About a week ago I started a series about nudity and sexuality in art. I published the first post which dealt primarily with nudity. Then, more recently, I tried to get to the second post, Sexuality in Art, but the WordPress editing software flaked on me and my text disappeared when I tried to save it. That was a real disappointment because, although I’d only written three paragraphs, it had taken quite a bit of time to organize my thoughts in a coherent and pleasantly readable manner. I was somewhat pleased with what I had written because it wasn’t one of the easier bits of writing that I’d done. I’d been hoping that I would remember pieces of it, but they simply have not come back to me. So, I’m just going to try to write what’s on my mind. Hopefully, it won’t be too incoherent.

Growing up, the aesthetic ideas of modernism still held sway in my little provincial world. Somewhere out there, the art world was already turning, or had already turned, to post modernism, but it hadn’t filtered down to my middle brow milieu. Art was mainly discussed in terms of formal or plastic properties, color, form, texture, line, composition and so on. It was received wisdom that only the unsophisticated thought much about the subject of a work of art. Nudes, consequently, were discussed in much the same way as a landscape or an abstraction. My own particular medium being painting, that is my main point of reference. A nude was considered more as a prompt for a formal composition than a subject itself. If nudes had any particular appeal, it was their very neutrality as a subject. No one ever expressed a particular interest in whether or not they painted or drew young models or old models, ugly models or pretty models. I always felt happy when a male model showed up, but that was only because most models in art classes are female and it was always nice to have a change.

In my last attempt to write this piece, I included a picture of a painting I had done thirty years ago. In my post on nudity, I described this painting.

One day, I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror. The window was to one side and I found myself fascinated by the play of light across my torso, especially across my collar-bone. I painted it. It was an important moment for me because it was the beginning of the development of my own style. At the time, I was purely interested in formal aspects of painting, the color, the composition. The subject, my torso, was at the time beside the point. Eventually, however, the subject matter of my work would become more important.

At that time, I was still under the sway of the notion that what was important about a painting was its formal qualities. I left the head off of the torso for no reason other than it did not contain the elements that interested me. There was no particular message intended by that move. Eventually, though, I would rediscover an interest in subject matter.

Of course, throughout most of history, subject was far from irrelevant, although the artist might not always have much choice over what that subject might be.

Now, the subject of sexuality has always interested me. I’m almost tempted, with a wink and a jab to the rib, to ask who isn’t interested by it, but it seems to me that some of us have a broader and more general interest in it. Part of my interest, however, stems from the fact that most portrayals of female sexuality that I’ve seen have little to no resonance with me. Yet I don’t think I am inherently that odd. Sometimes, I suspect that it is due to a fortunate combination of circumstances. First of all, my parents were both atheists. My mother had been raised as a Catholic and she believe that the Catholic Church had taught her to be ashamed of her sexuality and her body. She consciously, because she has told us, did not want to pass those negative feelings onto me and my sister. At the same time, I came of age at the height of the sexual revolution. Somehow, all those received notions about how women were supposed to behave never filtered into my mind. I was never given an easy prescription about what was right or wrong. At the same time, I was a highly ethical person, even a bit of a prig, so I did spend a fair amount of time reflecting on what I believed to be right and wrong.

So, a great amount of what I see and read on the subject of female sexuality strikes me as simply wrong and I feel compelled to get my point of view out there. I know many people will think that I am wrong, which is why so often I write from a first person point of view.

Once it is accepted that the subject of art is important, then any aspect of human experience becomes a legitimate subject, and this includes sexuality.

One place where I can't show my work is right here on my own blog. WordPress does not allow images of genitalia. The left third of this painting has been cropped.

One place where I can’t show my work is right here on my own blog. WordPress does not allow images of genitalia. The left third of this painting has been cropped.

For me, if I have a coherent argument, I would rather write about something. I’m not personally fond of visual art which is too didactic. I tend to turn towards painting when words fail me. So, while I say that many of my paintings deal with sexuality, if you were to ask me specifically what a painting meant, I might not be able to tell you.

Sexuality has always been one of the many topics addressed by art. The beauty of the human body is another and that is not always sexual. There are many times that naked bodies appear in art. Sometimes they are sexual and sometimes they are not. It is not always easy to tell. However, historically, most artists have been men, as well as most art patrons, and a male perspective on sexuality has most certainly dominated. I think it is important to get my views out there. Yet, if my nudes in general are often barred from being displayed due to nudity alone, then my more sexual nudes are certainly unwelcome in many places. Quite of few of the exhibitions I have been in have been specifically exhibitions of erotic artwork.

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1 comment
  1. Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the
    challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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