Sexuality and the Arts (Part II)


THERE ARE a number of vital reasons why sexuality has been one of the oldest topics, or contents, of the Arts, and will remain so unless human life becomes the product of scientific laboratory experiments – test-tube babies, artificial insemination, cloning, etc —  rather than the result of two human bodies engaged in intimate pleasurable social contact.

Jordaens’ Allegory of Fertility

Because we are all the result of the sex act, its duplication along with all the numerous attitudes, values, inspirations etc, surrounding the act becomes the most original and conceptually important moment in the presence and realisation of our lives. To belittle this fact, or to assume the progression of our lives without any thought or reverence for its inception, would be to lose contact with the significance of our physical earthly beginning. What would the loss of such contact mean? Or, what would result from such lack of contemplation or reverence for our human roots? A lack of feeling, a numbness regarding the temple of the body (it is no wonder that sensual figurative sculptures adorn many Indian temples), which has the potential to escalate into disregard or ignorance pertaining to a lack of respect for human affection, and its medium which is the human body.

The satisfaction of lust, for example, is  mostly based not on  love for another’s  body, but on the selfish one-dimensional gratification of own libidinal senses, and can result in violence via rape. Indeed, all forms of human hatred and human prejudice stem from dislike for, and aggression against, the entire existence of humanity, which begins with each individual living body.

The exploratory expression of countless issues surrounding the heterosexual or otherwise sex act, or the expression of physical attraction, supplies the justification for sexuality expressed in the Arts, yesterday, today, and hopefully in the future. While the social fabric of a nation or society may be constantly in confusion, political limbo, or turmoil, based on various accusations, ignorance and bigotries masquerading as truth, or the rivalry of merely jealous ambitions, etc, the ‘people’, or the potential and intended ‘voters’, can never escape their individual physical human freedom which they remain in possession of despite whatever government is in power, whatever economic situation, whatever social stagnation, etc, exists.

In fact, the entire existence of any society stems from this male and female sexual attraction and union, which remains the root, the incubus, the perennial laboratory where the power to draw human nourishment and personal development via the necessary social occupations or structures of any nation, is launched and renewed continually.

All other unions, between man and man, woman and woman, remain secondary and derivative of the male-female union that is activated by romantic and sexual attraction.

However, the reproduction of the species in male and female has to be perceived first as a vital opportunity for the building of an ideal society, before its positive potential can remain fresh and fertile in the human mentality, hence, the importance of building good personal, intimate, sexual or platonic relations between individuals.

What this means is that each girl or woman, each young or adult male, contains a potential far beyond their external physical attributes, whether called beauty, or some other form of attractiveness, and unless it is put to practical use in relation to each-other the power to transform society into its ideal pleasurable lifestyles will remain unachieved, or even unachievable, by citizens young or adult who are unaware of their unused power to truly enjoy and build their private and social lives. It is here that an essential physical and mental stimulation from the Arts linked to sensuality and sexuality, stepped into the lives of humans since antiquity, adding structural motivation, influence, and guidance.

This emphasis on accessing sexuality in the various art-forms has further importance when we focus on the negative aspects of sexuality. When we ask ourselves: What is the root cause of all the opposites of pleasure, which is human pain, unhappiness, poverty, crime, etc? The fact of our birth, of course. And before birth? Sexuality. To treat procreative sexuality or birth therefore as an inevitable, automatic, thoughtless activity for one’s own pleasure, without care for the material and social preparation necessary before adding to the world’s population, is to express a serious irresponsibility for the future of children, of individuals, and the potential well-being of society .The role of sexuality in the arts has been particularly linked to providing another kind of pleasure, less physically real and therefore far less involved in real human physical pain and pleasure. However unreal a painting, or novel, or film, etc, might be, it is not the same as ‘window-shopping’, where some item is seen to exist but perhaps we are out of money or the shop is closed. No, the work of art is not a ‘real’ utility period,  it cannot be consumed physically by our sensual organs, such as our mouth, penis, vagina, or anus. However, it is our very lives, by being real via our sight, our ears, our emotions, which can be stimulated, affected, influenced by what we see, read, listen to, etc. Hence the perpetual responsible onus on the Arts to project a lifestyle, a behavior, an artistic world worth emulating for the suggestive pleasure it offers.

Some of the world’s most cherished paintings do just this. The ‘Allegory of Fertility’ for example, one of Jacob Jordaens, the famous Flemish painter’s most universally meaningful masterpieces of 1622, provides a group of uninhibited nude peasants, obviously from the culture Jordaen knows best, his own, among whom are a few nude children and an African male – not in bondage, not servile, but part of a jubilant sensual original family structure, based on agriculture and the cultivation and reaping of vegetables, fruits, etc, as the painting demonstrates.

At the centre of the large canvas, a slim nude female is backing us; in other works, her sexual reproductive entrance from which all human life emerges, is not turning away but facing the fertility of the earth, including the dark African, one of its first inhabitants.She is facing all this in acceptance.

The presence of the African is highly significant, but not unusual for such European cities of the 16th and 17th Centuries like Antwerp, Venice, and Lisbon, three highly cultured European cities in which Africans, male and female, lived as special servant-mentors and artists’ models.

The tradition of individualism in European art finds some of its best ideals in sensual 17th Century Flemish painters like Jordaens and Rubens, particularly in their dignified and sensitive rendering of Africans at a period in history when European imperialism was reducing Africans to a sub-human enslaved species in the Americas.

Painters like Jordaens and Rubens were intelligent artists well aware of this historical travesty, and refused to lend their art to such an inhumane interpretation of a vital member of the human family. 17th Century painters like Jordaens and Rubens, also the 16th Century Venetians, Titian and Veronese, largely preserved the African unfettered in their works long before they were historically emancipated two hundred years later; they put people before principles their cultures invented to control suc
h people, anticipating a similar famous proposal the Venezuelan liberator, Simon Bolivar, a highly cultured man, made before the abolition of slavery in Venezuela had been achieved, when he issued a law allowing Afro-Venezuelans to attend early local 19th Century Universities, a proposal which Spanish colonials objected to.

Jordaens and Rubens’ startling, even shocking, individual stance against inhumane historical developments became a profound example for all those interested in the highest expressions of educated and civilized behavior handed over to posterity in works of art.

The masterful and majestic Venetian painter, Titian, in one of his glorious masterpieces of 1622 ‘The Bacchanal of the Andrians’, presents a symbolic scene of sensual  and sexual pleasure among the inhabitants of what is supposed to be an island of humans who have turned their backs on the world’s bigotries and conflicts.

They are not immoral wastrels, but celebrants of the earth’s and nature’s gifts to humankind; the intake of wine fermented from ripe grapes, the playing of flutes, the dancing of an interracial couple who seem to have just arisen from love-making, all this goes beyond timid one-dimensional conventionality which often shelters and harbors secret jealousies leading to earthly unhappiness. Titian, a master of color, in this famous masterpiece presented us with the ultimate reward for existence. The sexuality this painting suggests is a social equalizer, a path which can lead humans to the ecstasy of earthly pleasures despite their transient joy.

Such works of art in European museums today are popular reminders of the sacred value of sexuality as an imaginative yet influential practical guide to existence, without sowing the seeds for excessive complaint.