Painting the Sphinx
The Harmonious Work of Warwick Goble (1862-1943)
From Triumphs to Tarots
The Essence of Erotica
EMG News for July
The Essence of EroticaWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
Alright, gang, today we're gonna talk about erotica.
Before you rush out to lock up your daughters -- or sons, as the case may be -- I assure you, the conversation will be mostly tasteful. Well, tasteful-ish. Kinda.
There's enough to be said about art and erotica to wallpaper any number of brothels, and I probably don't have anything useful to say about most of it. Certainly not on the hot topics of censorship and art, which are frequently related, although I'll admit that one of my great hot button issues is people mentioning "The Light of the World" (better known as the Piss Christ) in derogatory terms when they haven't actually seen it, which drives me completely batshit because if you actually SEE the piece and realize that the artist was not necessarily being deliberately shocking but was making a statement about the divine shining through the dross of the material world which was gorgeously done with a series of weirdly backlit photographs of the cross submerged in blood and urine that took him weeks to shoot which I’d never have the patience to do myself and…um…
…see, I told you it was a hot button issue.
Ahem. To get back on topic, we will not be discussing censorship today because I'm not cut out for it.
Instead, we're gonna talk about erotica. There's a lot of it out there, and most of it is terrible, and some of it is extremely competent, but very little of it is really GOOD.
I don't actually paint much erotica. Part of it is money -- my experience is that the price point for erotica is right around a hundred bucks, and after that people A) want something they can hang in the living room, or B) have a kink so bizarre, specific, and compelling, that they have to pay through the nose to get their army of Richard Simmons clones being crushed under the feet of Great Cthulhu while the latter is playing the bagpipes and wearing a goat for a hat.*
(Actually, the hundred dollar price point has been independently confirmed for me by a few people. Go figure. Obviously it goes higher for erotic artists whose work is collectible and whatnot, but that was my experience.)
Part of it -- most of it, maybe -- is that I'm kind've a prude (stop laughing, I am) and I'm reluctant to expose that much of myself to the viewer. And that's the key -- really GOOD erotica, erotica that WORKS, in my humble opinion, has to have a little something of the artist in it. If the artist isn't turned on, you can usually tell.
Case in point -- back in the day, when I was young and needed the money, I did a set of furry pin-ups under a pen name. As a friend of mine later said, "It's not that they're bad, but you can look at this, and you can see it's not the artist's kink. They're almost clinical."
Wise man. He bears watching. Because that's exactly true -- it wasn't my kink, and you could tell. A few of them are redeeming in that they're fun and silly and I enjoyed painting them for the costumes or the expressions -- those are the ones that actually WORK, in my humble opinion -- but I wasn't getting hot and bothered at the keyboard. They were competent, but they weren't good.
I see this problem in the adult section of convention art shows, not just in my own work. You stroll through the show, and there's a lot of BAD porn, and then there's often a lot of stuff that's technically skilled, but doesn't sing. It's just boobs/penises/orifices in various combinations. Often, with some very good artists, I see stuff that reminds me of the best of my own pin-ups, where you get the feeling that the artist thought it was all hysterically funny and enjoyed doing it… but rarely do you get the feeling that they were really turned on. It's competent, and it may even be good art, but often it's not good erotica.
I am reminded of an Anthrocon past, where I took my dear friend Carlota through the adult art show, expecting the usual squealing and cringing, and instead she put her hands on her hips, glared a bit, and announced to the world at large, "This porn is not nearly porny enough!"
This may say more about Carlota than it does about the art, but that's another story.
Mind you, it goes two ways, because then sometimes you find the stuff that obviously DID turn the creator on, and then you want brain bleach because dude, um, wow, with the, uh, thing, and uh, the other thing there in the, oh my, is that really a…goodness, with the Roman collar and everything, and uh, uh, LOOK OVER THERE, BUNNIES!
I don't know. I can't honestly say that the difference might not be between men and women -- men are generally quite visual creatures, and passionless T&A may work just fine on many of 'em. (It's an interesting fact that in many of the fandoms of my acquaintance, the erotic artists are predominately female, and the buyers are predominantly male.) Maybe there's a sociology paper in there somewhere, I don't know. Maybe this ties back into the old argument about women requiring emotional connections and men requiring boobs. Couldn't swear that that's not the case. Maybe we're desensitized by vast quantities of porn, which often has the same quality of stolid, workmanlike erotica. Plenty of competent porn out there, Tab A goes into Slot A (or Slot B, depending on your tastes) check, heavy breathing, check, moaning and writhing, check and check. Perfectly competent, serviceable stuff… but it's not GOOD.
Meanwhile, I've been working on a still-life with a... see, I'm getting embarrassed even talking about this… random object of erotic significance for some percentage of the population on a concrete wall, and I’ve been stalled out on that sucker for MONTHS because it DOES get me hot and bothered, and I can't quite bring myself to paint it out of sheer embarrassment. And it's a bloody STILL-LIFE. Not a nipple anywhere in sight.
I can probably manage to make the painting competent. Can't swear that it'll be good. Can't even swear that it'll get DONE, come to that, because that's the problem of course -- it's safer to do competent erotica that doesn't involve the artist, because otherwise you start to feel awfully exposed to the viewer. Great if you've got an exhibitionist streak, not so great for the rest of us. We love our viewers, but we generally like to have something between us and them thicker than a sheet of canvas. Gets scary otherwise.
I don't know what my point is here. It's nothing as grandiose as a call for artists to paint their kinks, because I still can't do it, so who am I to ask anybody else to do so? And there's a perfectly sound market for competent erotica, so jeez, if you can make money on it, more power to ya. I don't know.
*NO, I WILL NOT PAINT THAT.
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