RECOMMENDED FOR READING
Studies in Erotic Art
Book by Theodore Bowie, Theodore Bowie, Otto J. Brendel, Cornelia V. Christenson, Paul H. Gebhard, Robert Rosenblum, Leo Steinberg; Basic Books, 1970
This book is the direct result of an early realization on the part of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey of the importance of art in providing insights into man's sexual life. When royalty money from the sale of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male began to accumulate in the early 1950's, the Institute for Sex Research, which he founded at Indiana University, broadened its scientific and medical library to include not only standard reference books on art but also a specific collection of erotica in the form of books, works of art, and photographs. This collection, by now quite broad in its range, contains the work of children, prisoners, psychotics, and crude pornographers as well as that of famous writers and artists. A great portion of it has been contributed by the authors or artists themselves, by other donors, and by various police agencies. The development of the collection was first entrusted to Dr. Clyde Martin. When he departed, the task was taken over by Mrs. Cornelia V. Christenson. It was thanks to her initiative that the first Conference on Erotic Art was organized at Indiana University in the fall of 1967, with the cooperation of the Department of Fine Arts and the active support of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Wescott, Mr. Lawrence Saunders, and Dr. Walter Alvarez, whose aid is here gratefully acknowledged.
The scholars who participated in the Conference presented more or less informal papers on the subjects which are formally discussed in this volume. The Conference was an experimental project, for which no particularly unified approach was set other than that of examining erotic art in terms of stylistic development and formal analysis-in short, the standard professional approach. It was impressed upon the participants that, while some aspects of erotic art could be isolated and studied from the esthetic side alone, the theme tended to escape any confining limits, being by nature as "undulating and diverse" as man himself. It is probable that if a second Conference on Erotic Art were to be organized, there would be strong pressure to include psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, and historians of religion, literature, and culture generally as well as art historians. Even such a classic demonstration as Leo Steinberg's analysis of the reasons why there is a missing leg in a statue by Michelangelo is striking proof that the broader the frame of reference, the more clearly one can perceive how deeply sexual problems inform a whole civilization.
The study which stands in greatest contrast with his, Paul Gebhard's commentary on Peruvian erotic pottery, is a demonstration of anthropological statistics. In favoring this method the author had to hold in check his own essential humanism simply because so few cultural data about the makers of this pottery are ascertainable. Robert Rosenblum's excursus into the symbolism of Picasso's sexual imagery might be paralleled by that of a psychiatrist. Otto Brendel's broad historical study of the artistic eroticism of classical antiquity is inevitably marked by his philosophical turn of mind, while my own approach to Japanese eroticism-which in some ways is so curiously similar to that of Greece and Rome-would be considerably more resonant than it is had I been able to contribute to it something more substantial than a bit of poor man's sociology. In making these statements my intent is not to disarm critics: we are all keenly aware of the miscellaneous character of this volume, though no particular apology for that is needed. These are but the first few pickings in a vast quarry. Some kind of beginning had to be made.
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| Representations that might be termed erotic, in one sense and another, occur frequently in Greek and Roman art. In discussing them, some principle of selection will have to be stipulated at the outset, lest the wealth of material obscure the information of more general character-historical, social, and humanistic-which the modern observer may hope to derive from studying them. Thus I do not intend to deal, for instance, with the very common phallic representations in ancient art except in these preliminary remarks, although, by comparison with the arts of many other lands and periods, the very commonness of this imagery among the classical civilizations might be judged an exceptional feature that invites discussion. By the testimony of its most frequent erotic symbol, the Greco-Roman culture ought to be declared a phallic one; by contrast, the vulva as a symbol occurs only occasionally, and known examples are rare. But it would be rash to conclude from this observation that the Greco-Roman was altogether a man's world. Other facts known about the ancient Greek and Italian societies argue against so sweeping a judgment, or at least counsel us to modify it. Even though the direction of public affairs was essentially a male domain, and the city streets, the marketplace, and the places of athletic exercise were a preserve, mostly, of men, the feminine contribution to that universal commodity called culture was considerable and, on the whole, highly regarded.
The phallic element in ancient art and religion had its own history, to be sure, though this history has yet to be written. It did not occur with equal frequency at all periods of classical art or in all areas of ancient beliefs. In the iconography of Greek art, as in Greek folklore, phallic images occupied a well-defined place. Traditionally, for instance, they formed part of the boisterous gaiety of the half-animals, mostly rather good-natured, who were the retinue of the wine god-the Sileni and Satyrs, lusty and uncouth creatures of the mythical fantasy, often depicted as comical and, sometimes, a little pathetic. Equally conventional were the stern and watchful images of the god Hermes, shaped as phallic pillars. Ancient Italy possessed a native counterpart to these inventions of the Greek myth, in the lore of the Phallus-Genius, guardian spirit of a household. Later the Romans developed from Greek precedents their proper version of a Bacchic religion, which included mystic ceremonies in which a phallic symbol was carried in a winnowing basket. Popular superstition long continued to look upon the phallic symbol both as an averter of evil and as a harbinger of good luck and fortune These mythical fantasies, fears, and hopes led to images which may be said to be erotic in content. Yet to deal with their various meanings, histories, and social or anthropological implications plainly constitutes a task in itself. The catalogue of ithyphallic representations in ancient art would fill more than one volume. There are, in addition, representations of the phallus as an autonomous symbol not associated with a mythical situation or narrative. Erotic art can be, and often is, symbolic art. This aspect, like the mythical narrative, I intend mostly to bypass. It seems to me that the purpose of this investigation will be best served by turning, first of all, to the instances of art that is erotic in the most obvious sense of the term. Accordingly I propose to limit the following discussion to works of Greek and Roman art that either show sexual acts explicitly or represent situations clearly preparatory to such acts.
CATEGORIES OF EROTIC ART
The extant examples of ancient erotic art have not yet been collected systematically. 3 There is reason to believe that a great deal of pertinent material rests unused and unattended in the ...