Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The “Gay Art Blog”

Last evening, as I meandered through the cyber-void looking for possible Gay Art themes other than THE MALE BODY I was discouraged as I am so often because so much of gay male art is based on the male physique. Many times it might even be classified as semi or hard core porn. Granted, I am personally titillated by perfectly rendered drawings, paintings, and photographs of the male nude. I am also interested in artist’s depictions of such gay historic and religious themes as Ganymede, Saint Sebastian, and Achilles and Patroklos. However, there is more to life, even a gay male life, than art about the male body. Being gay and male affects the way I personally view and understand the world around me, and my own on line journal and ancillary links is an attempt to demonstrate that specific gay male worldview. In fact the absence of advertising in my journal is in part because I resent the commodification of the gay male in our culture. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the abundant soft porn images of handsome late teen and early twenties males in Calvin Kline, Guess, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Jockey magazine advertisements, billboards, and posters to mention but a few. I expect that my gay sensibilities are different than those of other gay men to an extent; though I’m sure a study of these should demonstrate shared areas by many of us. I also expect that gay male art should sometimes be about gay male sensibilities other than the shared interest in the male physique. Having said all that, I found a Website that looks at gay male art and makes an attempt at criticism including the use of a rating system for the art most of which is about the male body. The rating system appears to be based on the personal and makes no attempt at empiricism, which is according to cultural wisdom the most rational way to view all art. There are of course other ways; for instance through the lens of Art History or History sans Art, or the critical eye of Art Theory including all those interesting subdivisions of art appreciation; color, composition, theme, and so on. We might look at the criticism of Art itself as a category useful in understanding individual artworks. Any, or all of the above, including other vehicles not discussed here could be shuffled, assembled, or reassembled and used as a system for Art Criticism and/or rating art.

I did enjoy looking through the “Gay Art Blog,” and found most useful the section of links that includes gay male artists, art galleries and organizations. I also found one artist who particularly fascinated me, Scott G. Brooks. His illustrative works look as though they should be in a child’s storybook, though the subject matter is often about the human condition, and seldom gay male themed, but with bizarre darkly humorous surreal twists. Is Scott's art Gay? No. Does it have a sensibility that might be considered gay male? Perhaps, but here I'm speculating. I make no claims concerning the artist's sexuality. It is, however, interesting to note that the sensibilities of this artist's work landed that artwork in the "Gay Art Blog."

Regarless of all my ramblings here, I have bookmarked the “Gay Art Blog,” and I plan to consult it occasionally in the future when writing my own on line journal.


Will said...

The subject of military lovers is a big one in classical studies as the Greek, Roman and Byzantine armies admitted, and even encouraged male couples to join. The famous Band of Lovers, 150 couples, was destroyed to the last man by Philip II of Macedonia (Alexander's father) who fell into tears when he realized whom he had slaughtered. Philip had many male lovers.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church there are several famous pairs of Military Saints. The subject is featured in John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. For some there is no documentation at all of a romantic bond, but for others, there is. What's interesting is that, generally, these paired saints have little presence in the liturgy and tradition outside of their association with each other.

Boswell focuses on Sts. Polyeuct and Niarchos, the former pagan but interested in Christianity, the latter steadfastly Christian, an established couple in their unit. When Niarchos was arrested and condemned, Polyeuct left his wife (daughter of the provincial governor) and children, went to the court, declared himself a Christian who would not make the Roman ritual sacrifices, and was condemned so that, he hoped, he would die with Niarchos.

As it happened their executions were scheduled for consecutive days, Niarchos first. The night before his execution, Greek Church tradition has it that Polyeuct had a visit in a dream in which the dead and sainted Niarchos urged him to be steadfast and not recant, his reward being to be with Niarchos forever throughout eternity. NOT to be with god throughout eternity--the standard guaranteed reward--but with Niarchos. Polyeuct died the next day and there are churches named for them as a couple by a religion that is officially homophobic.

The interesting thing about the Band of Lovers and the paired Military Saints is that they were all made up of adult men, seasoned warriors, not the older man/ephebe combination that also was a feature of Greek life, and that I believe most scholars believe Achilles and Patroklos to have been. Alexander the Great and Bagoas had the same relationship, while Alexander's beloved Hephaestion was Alexander's one age.

The whole subject of "gay art" is as complex and varied as is gay life itself, I think. Many artists wish to be known as an artist who is gay, while others wholly embrace the identity gay artist. Did Tchaikovsky write "gay music?" Did Benjamin Britten? Both men featured a title character who has been identified as a closeted gay man in the operas for which they are best known: Eugene Onegin and Peter Grimes respectively. Both composers were unquestionably homosexual--is their music?

Is MY art (designs for scenery and lighting--primarily--and for costumes--rarely) gay? I've never actually asked myself that question. I always considered (hoped) that my work was solely in response to the material being presented, and the collaboration with the director (many of whom were gay over the years--and I now design exclusively for a gay-run opera company).

Ultimately, how does one analyze someone's art as being gay beyond a blatantly gay subject?

Dr. John Bittinger Klomp said...

Will – thank you for your thought provoking comments about Gay Art. Is there such a thing, and does it have to be about the male physical form? If it isn’t about the male body, can it possibly be Gay Art? As just one example, where does artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres fit when considering these two questions? Ah, I think I have the beginnings of my next journal entry. Again, thank you, Will.