September 15, 2003

Love, Spirituality, Sex II

Before my birthday I was talking about the above.

Paul Cadmus, "The Haircut," 1986

As a gay artist I thought it important to look at a few artists whose work touches on one, or a combination of these. Most gay art is voyeristic and its goal is to make an object of the male body for lustful purposes. These images are of perfectly proportioned buff bodies. For most of us such perfection is unatainable, and because of this the images are off putting. However there is art about human sexuality, gay and other, that may include the erotic image, but that goes
beyond it.

For instance, Paul Cadmus’ The Bath is a graphic presentation of male nudity created by a gay male artist during the mid-twentieth century. It is, however, much more than that. Cadmus’ work celebrates two young servicemen returned to peaceful pursuits of education and domesticity by way of the GI Bill, following the end of the Second World War. Lincoln Kirstein described the painting in the following manner:

In “The Bath,” Cadmus has harvested a homely still life of laundry--damp and drying towels and socks draping, the day’s salute to a continuum of the week’s study and chores. Their shared existence--chums in common feasts and famine, books, bath and bed--free from military discipline, held in its cozy routine the blessings of a world freshly at peace. Poverty could be defused, and since it also sheltered affection, might seem luxurious. (Kirstein, Lincoln, Paul Cadmus (1984) New York, Rizzoli , p. 24-25.

I am both a contemporary of Cadmus and a twenty-first century viewer of his work looking back through time at The Bath, and I can not help but anticipate the approaching McCarthy Era. In the 1950’s, “Minorities-- especially blacks-- fought the oppressiveness of the Eisenhower era, but only gays struggled without any public allies in the liberal establishment.” (Kaiser, Charles. “Life Before Stonewall,” Newsweek 4 July 1994: 78-79). The prevailing cultural cliché of the time was that homosexuals were too promiscuous to sustain meaningful relationships. Set against this oppressive political climate, the Cadmus image is designed to do much more than titillate the homosexual male gaze, and it asks the following question. Why can’t a man have a meaningful, long-term relationship, not unlike marriage, with another man? It brings social and political concerns to bear upon its own sexual content through the use of a domestic tableau, in which the two naked young men are depicted by the artist as homespun, “boy-next-door” type partners, and it invites the viewer to construct a narrative about the two young men. The painting demonstrates that the need to reconceptualize the Western definition of human sexuality existed for Paul Cadmus in 1950.

I shall continue with this series of artists whose works touch on the relationship between these concerns of mine; Love, Spirituality, and sex as I have time to do so, dear journal.

Or, perhaps I should say; Love, Spirituality, and Gay Sex. No, there's heterosexual sex, too. It's just not as good as gay sex.

May the Force be With You.

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