Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Relative Erosthetics (or Disgust vs. Desire)

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

This is accepted wisdom. And I have no desire to argue with it. But, as an expression of diversity and variation among what is essentially a homogeneous species (looking at the broad strokes - we mostly all have two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head; our faces mostly all contain two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth), it still fascinates me. Though there are more or less (as nothing is universal in human nature) "objective" traits that people generally find attractive - things like symmetry, absence of blemishes, youthfulness, and fitness - the human mind is so complicated that we can be psychologically conditioned (usually subconsciously - or preconditioned, depending on where you stand on the nature vs. nurture debate) to find so many different things appealing (or unappealing). Skin color. Hair color. Hair density. Hair location. Fashion. Personality. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As an artist, aesthetics is a very important discipline to me. And as subjective as it is, the underlying principle is that some things look better than others. The "why" is a whole interesting field of study, but the fact alone is itself rather amazing. Applied to the human body, this is what I call "the truth about beauty". The idea that some people are more beautiful than others is, perhaps, exclusionary, but it is true, and I have never been one to conceal the truth behind convenient and comfortable lies. Rather, I prefer to emphasize the fact that beauty is not everything, that it is highly subjective (i.e., there are not "beautiful people" so much as "people that you, me, or somebody else finds beautiful"), and that it is something any person can cultivate in themselves within certain limits. So, if you don't feel particularly beautiful, you can either ask for somebody else's opinion (an underrated approach), try to improve yourself, or else focus on other traits you might possess (e.g., speed, strength, intelligence, compassion, a fat wallet).

But let's take this concept a step even further, to the realm of sexuality. The various things that people are attracted (or not attracted) to is incredible. I've learned as a model, trying to imitate fine art nudes I've come across and liked, that different people, with different bodies, do not necessarily look equally appealing in the same poses. Some of this could be attributed to an objective discrepancy between the shapes of their bodies. But let's focus on the subjective element, centered on the basic principle that different people find different bodies attractive. It's enough to recognize that in any varied group of respondents, different celebrities will be cited as the pinnacle of beauty and/or sex appeal. In the realm of porn, this manifests as a diversity of body types (even if some are more popular - and therefore prevalent - than others). Skinny, curvy, tall, short, light-skinned, dark-skinned, tattooed, freckled, long hair, short hair, no hair, lots of hair, teenage, middle-aged, elderly - the list goes on.

I think it would be fascinating to do an art project (yes, one that could be described as "pornographic") on the phenomenon of "erotic aesthetics" in action, by comparing a large assortment of portraits, each featuring a different nude model in the same sexually provocative pose. There could be multiple instances of this project, each one focusing on a different pose (since different people will naturally find different poses - and levels of explicitness - appealing). You could even do some that are sexually explicit, involving various combinations of bodies engaged in various stages of foreplay and coitus. The kernel of the project would be the demonstration to an audience of the sheer range of reactions - from abject disgust to quivering desire - that can be elicited by a photo of the same act or pose, when only the persons involved (each with a different subjective beauty or sex appeal rating) are swapped. Call it "the subjectivity of obscenity".

It's not just an excuse to see pictures of all kinds of people having sex - if it were just that, the world wide web of porn would already have me beat. I want to go beyond that - to the next level, the next stage of inquiry. To study and explore the dynamics and psychology of sexual arousal. It disappoints me that this is a project I cannot do as a self-portrait artist. Indeed, finding a large enough sample of participants who would be willing to pose for sexually suggestive or explicit photos would almost certainly be prohibitively difficult. You could, I suppose, adapt this project to tamer standards - focusing on the erotic appeal of "simple" nudity, with an emphasis on merely the different body types people are attracted to. Or, to go further, you could explore the same concept within fashion - having different models wearing the same outfit. Could be interesting from a gendered perspective, having men and women side by side, all wearing the same outfit that's usually associated with this or that sex. Almost like a "who wore it better?" - dresses, skirts, heels, short shorts (sadly, women have a decided advantage over men in the aesthetics of cross-dressing). Not that this hasn't been done before...

See, when I compromise my vision, it loses its unique, revolutionary touch. I have a lot of limitations, but you can't say that my ambition is one of them.

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