Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Okay then

Maybe I'm feeling a bit provocative of late. I didn't mean to shock by voicing some ideas about tattooing that were a bit dark . I was only thinking out loud, and wanting a bit of dialogue. I didn't get it here, but I did in real life. It upset a few, but it did provoke some interesting conversation, and that is all I wanted.

I sometimes don't see what's taboo, or if I do, I want to talk about it and find out what others think.

So, I might be doing it again, by airing these thoughts:

There was a plate of crudites at a party that were particularly beautiful. Carrots with purple skin, bright yellow carrots, "watermelon radishes", and a bunch of other things, all quite colorful, that I had never seen before. I met the grower of these delightful vegetables, and we wound up talking about the immense variety of beans. I do not recall their name, but a friend grows some beans that are particularly stunning - magenta pods filled with purple skinned brilliantly lime green beans. When I was done describing them, a man said, "They would be wonderful to photograph with nudes." Okay. Sure. I said, "Well, they are quite sensuous." He responded, "I didn't say they were sexual." "No, sensuous", I replied.

As it turns out, he was a fine art photographer, and it wasn't some strange comment coming from nowhere. I looked at some of his work on the Web, and some of it seemed to fall into the category of "erotica" more than "fine art photography" (if there is a line). Seeing this, I wondered why he took such seeming offense at thinking I had said "sexual." Reflecting on this, I thought about those slippery categories: 1. Fine art nude photography. 2. Erotica. 3. Pornography. Where's the line?

I have never had a good answer to this question. It seems that the answer is simply a modicum of discretion, and aesthetics, nothing more or less. We know it when we see it.

The "law" has not been able to figure this one out. I certainly can't.

It's considered fine for men to take photographs of nude young women. I'm not saying it's wrong, though sometimes I suspect their motives, but I got to thinking: if a woman did the same thing with young men, wouldn't people, in general, be bothered? I believe so. If I did it, I'm sure it would be scandalous in this small town. Yet, there are many middle aged men who photograph, draw, and paint young nude woman every day here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to go out and do something. So, when I think I'm not provocative, or transgressive, I suppose I'm disingenuous, or just blind to myself.

I'm not planning on becoming a photographer of young men, but the idea that it would challenge people did make me think someone ought to do it, simply because it's a taboo based on sexism. Additionally, since I have strong feelings about abuses of power regarding sex and age, and about the idea that youth equals beauty, I will not be engaging in this project (and of course, I'm not a photographer). But, I did think, if I were a photographer, I'd like to photograph older people naked, to challenge myself, for one thing, about my feelings that my body has become "ruined", and this will only get worse. Are wrinkles and sagging skin really that aesthetically displeasing? Isn't this just a remnant of our gaze being affected by having to assess quickly the fecundity or virility of potential mates? I suppose, too, that we are repulsed by that which is dying, but autumn is beautiful, and the starkness of winter can be breathtaking. These last thoughts were not on point, but these are but ruminations. . .

Image note: Goya "The Clothed Maya" 1803
Goya painted the "The Nude Maja" in 1800. "Without a pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning, the painting was the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art." * The questions start here. Does intent and meaning create the divide between high art and pornography? When I hear a heterosexual man state, "I find the female form beautiful", though that may well be true, why is admitting lust a taboo (and how can it not be so)?

*Licht, Fred: Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art

Addendum: I have compressed my thinking about these subjects into a smallish space.vI do like talking and writing about my half baked ideas. I also do enjoy hearing what others have to say on any subject I babble on about, so please, if you are so moved, even if I write something that bothers you, please leave a comment.


jmcleod76 said...

Oh, you beat me to my idea! I was reading about the possibility of you photographing nude young men, and I thought "Why not nude old men?" That would be quite a project and, in the hands of the right photographer, not just provocative, but also a thing of real beauty.

At what age, would you guess, our culture declares one's sexuality void? I know people in their 70s and even 80s who have hinted to me that they still have enjoyable sex lives. Yet, to most people, the little old lady next door, or her grouchy old curmudgeon of a husband, are somehow deemed asexual by default. That's part of why the Golden Girls was so provocative. Sure, you had Blanche, the "slut," who was actually younger than the rest of the "girls," but all of them "got it on" at one point or another, including batty old Sophia.

And why did I go right to sex? As you noted, sensual and sexual are not the same thing. I imagine those nude old men projecting both power and vulnerability. Maybe a showing off of battle scars kind of thing.

As for porn, you're not alone in declaring "I know it when I see it." That's what Justice Potter Stewart famously said when the Supreme Court considered the question. But you probably knew that, and were channeling him, there. I'm not sure I buy it, though. My erotica, or even fine art, could easily be someone else's pornography. Or even, as I catch myself becoming a bit more prudish, at least in my personal sensibilities, if not in my political beliefs, vice verse.

Speaking of unconventional nudes, have you seen this? Go, Spock! Nimoy felt the need to explain, in an interview about the project, that he wasn't sexually attracted to any of those women, but did find them beautiful. (God forbid anyone be sexually attracted to fat women. That would make you a "chbby chaser." But I'm being unfair to dear Mr. Nimoy, who I rather admire, for this project and in general).

Julie H. Rose said...

So much to respond to! I never thought of the Golden Girls as "provocative." I used to take offense at the premise of it being funny that "old women" could be sexual.

As to your question "why did I go right to sex?", I think that part of what I was asking is why we differentiate between the sensuous and the sexual, as if crossing that line was taboo (though they are different - I am not sexually attracted to beans). There's so many answers to this question, and many of them bring up more questions. As for Nimoy, I applaud him for his book, but the fact that he said he's not sexually attracted to these women is actually offensive in this context. It is true that finding overweight women sexually attractive is considered something of a perversion in the "white heterosexual" culture.

At what age do we consider sexuality (and sensuality) null and void? If I think carefully about this, I will say "it depends." The "older man" can be viewed as sexually powerful until he becomes "elderly." With women, all bets are off, though with both men and women, it seems that status and power can keep one's sexuality "legitimate" well into older middle age. I do think that once a woman is past child bearing age, we tend to think of her as sexually dead. 'Tis true, though, that we bristle at thinking of elderly people as sexually active. I know a woman in her early 80's who has spend the last two decades going to senior centers to talk about safe sex. There's a lot of sex going on in retirement communities, and STDs right along with it, but no one wants to talk about it. 'Tis distasteful to most to even think of it, like imagining one's parents doing the nasty when we first learn of sex and saying "ewww!" Seeing that sentence, I must say that the expression "doing the nasty" brings up how, really, I think all of us are pretty well inculcated with the notion that sex is dirty, so if figures that we, as a culture, delineate a very small window of acceptability in portrayals of it, and thinking about it, that are considered okay.

I did know that some Justice had said "I know it when I see it" but was too lazy to find out who it was. Thanks! Though I do see that I judge in this way, I don't buy it either, for context, and frame of reference is everything.

Julie H. Rose said...
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Nathan said...

It's amazing to think about the mainstream cultural split-attitude about sex and sexuality. On the one hand, it's used to sell everything under the sun. On the other hand, many people can barely talk about it at all with each other, let alone get past whatever hangups they have around sex being "dirty" or taboo. And then you have those who can only talk about sex and sexuality in very clipped, perhaps provocative, but ultimately very shallow terms. It's rare to find discussion, art, or even pop culture that can express the actual depth present in sex and sexuality.

Julie H. Rose said...

Nathan, thanks for leaving a comment. As I wrote, this was a short post. The topic could take up an entire blog and never end. I agree with you in that our culture is crazy (not your words). But the split you wrote of - it is insane. What would you expect from an essentially shame-based puritan culture seemingly obsessed with titillation?

Julie H. Rose said...
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