Posts Tagged ‘art’

The other’s sex

October 31, 2007

Gay men deprive women of their sexual point of view. Let’s get this clear. The point is not that gay men are not interested in women, sexually. Most women are not sexually interested in women either. The point is the sexual interest women and gay men share: men.

For centuries, even throughout the Middle Ages, it was acceptable for a male artist to portray both males and females, and not infrequently to portray them as sexually desirable (Think of all those paintings of Saint Sebastian). There were, of course, no female artists. But even when the arts separated themselves from religion, art remained a male domain, with dire consequences.

Girls and women as objects of sexual desire are being portrayed primarily by heterosexual men. Boys and men, however, I primarily portrayed by gay men, not heterosexual women. That seems odd. Think about it: when you see a painting of a naked girl, you assume the artist is a heterosexual man, when you see a painting of a naked boy, you assume the artist is gay. Why is that?

Part of it is simply that we (men and women) are afraid of female sexuality. Male sexuality (hetero- and homosexual) has found its expression for thousands of years, we’ve learned to interpret it, we think we know what it is. Female sexuality lacks such forms of expression. And since its primary object, men, is already being used by gay men to express their sexuality, it is even harder to develop a female point of view.

But isn’t there art that expresses female sexuality? – Yes, there is. Unfortunately the clearest example is not Frieda Kahlo, but Leni Riefenstahl. Apart from the more straightforward moral objections to her work, she is now also being accused of “stealing from gay Sergej Eisenstein”. Of all the things one might accuse Leni Riefenstahl of, this seems to be the most ridiculous. Unsurprisingly, the accuser is an artist, and a gay one, too. But the point is all too clear: girls, it is us, gay men, who get to portray men as sexually desirable, not you!

Art as Manipulation

October 2, 2007

Art always aims at manipulation. An artwork that fails to manipulate you fails as a work of art. Unlike an argument, art tries to get you to believe or do something without making explicit this purpose. Manipulation can be straightforward: skillfully generated perspectives, natural colors and light effects helped to make the painted look real. True manipulation, of course, wants more. You are not just to mistake the painted for the real thing, you are supposed to believe certain things, feel certain things, do certain things about it.

Modern art, seemingly attempting to break out of this, fails to end manipulations and continues to be art. It is an often radical change in means, but not in end. A desperate attempt to make such a break can be seen, for example, in Brecht. Brecht tries to break out of manipulation using what he called “Verfremdungseffekt” – an interruption of the play in order to remind his audience that they were of course watching a play. Whenever the political agenda becomes all too apparent, his plays start failing as works of art, the manipulation breaks down. And where his art succeeds, even the attempt to distance us from it serves manipulative purposes: we can now think of ourselves as distant observers, when we in effect have already bought into the key points.