Thursday, January 17, 2008
Time To Turn On Ourselves
When I was growing up, so-called erotic images of women were everywhere in our house. My father owned early editions of a cult comic, Vampirella. They had breathless, pulp fiction titles – Will Vampi Succumb To A Death Cult's Orgy Of Destruction? was one – and covers featuring images of sexy women that were obviously drawn from a life model. Unlike the conventional DC or Marvel comic art I became familiar with later, the images were loose and languid, even if their poses were suggestive of a fight, or some other kind of struggle. The buxom expanses of skin they revealed were suggestive and yet somehow 'accidental'.My mother owned books on the work of Egon Schiele. His drawings and paintings were executed in loose lines with delicate washes of colour but the women were passive and more victim-like than those on the cover of my father's comics. They also wore ordinary clothes instead of sexually fetishised costumes. Nevertheless, the bodies of Schiele's women were just as much on display – more so, showing pussy, ass and blushing breast.The one thing all these sexualised images had in common was they were made by men.Male artists make erotic art for other men, not women. From lowbrow, comic-inspired illustrators (such as Robert Williams) to the respected makers of 'high art', there's not one man – neither Picasso nor Matisse nor Jeff Koons (his erstwhile muse, Cicciolina, was a porn star, for pity's sake) – whose sexual imagery doesn't rely on graphic renderings of breasts, ass, pussy, or fucking. It's not that their works aren't beautiful or even that they don't arouse me – they are and sometimes, they do – but there's no sense of foreplay, no attempt at emotional or intellectual stimulation underpinning their raw depictions.Women tend to value foreplay more. The erotic art women make is more often about what happens within them during the process of arousal rather than an external act or anatomical location. Its power lies in the suggestion or, more precisely, the narrative of suggestion created through small gestures.The best erotic artwork by women has yet to emerge so this makes it difficult to analyse properly. Women are just beginning to explore and express openly what turns them on, rather than wasting energy trying to figure out what turns men on and worse, expressing themselves only through what they think men want of their gender.