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Eroticism and Art [Hardcover]

Alyce Mahon


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Book Description

Nov. 15 2005
Art? Erotica? Or Pornography? Discussions of what actually constitutes erotic art are incredibly complex and usually highly controversial. The naked body in art has been with us since the earliest examples of Greek art and sculpture. The creation and display of such works of art has always inflamed opinion and today, even with our supposed relaxation of the codes of behaviour surrounding nudity, such images are considered provocative, dangerous, and are often unwelcome in the public sphere. Now - focusing on the last 150 years of western art, these debates are finally explored in an imaginative and engaging way using the latest research and analysis into this and related subject areas - by a woman.

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`This original and carefully researched study is enhanced by over 130 illustrations of which over 100 are in colour, with 28 full page plates, of which all but 4 are in excellent colour.' Day By Day

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Numerous full colour and halftone illustrations

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vital Part of Art and History Jan. 6 2006
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"What I like is erotica," goes the old joke. "What you like is pornography." There is probably never going to be agreement on how to separate one from the other, and besides, the same people who object to one are often going to object as well to the other. In _Eroticism & Art_ (Oxford University Press), Alyce Mahon draws a distinction. "Pornography's sole intent is to stimulate sexually; it is an aid to sex or masturbation." It is, in her view, more strictly concerned with power rather than mere sex. Erotic art, however, "is about equality between members of the opposite and same sexes." Even so, within erotic art is always another intent, "a shocking means to express social, religious and political criticism or defy bourgeois taste." Not all of the art discussed and depicted here is shocking, but this is closely related to how long we have been looking at it. Manet's _Olympia_ of 1863 shows an alluring nude, a high-class prostitute, staring frankly at the viewer. It was controversial at the time, but it is hard to imagine anyone getting worked up over it now. But Manet borrowed the woman's classical pose from an even more respectable Titian, and has in turn been borrowed by Mel Ramos in 1973 to show a California blonde complete with tanning lines along the _Playboy_ archetype, and in 1988 by Yasumasa Morimura, a male homosexual Japanese artist who assaults the viewer by posing both as the courtesan and the black servant in the original. Mahon, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, has drawn upon extensive sources (this is a book of mostly intellectual rather than sexual stimulation), and has concentrated upon Western art from the mid-nineteenth century to current times. She demonstrates that emphasis on the erotic in art is a constant and that it has profoundly affected not just art movements but also how humans understand themselves sexually.

One picture reproduced here is Courbet's _The Origin of the World_ of 1866. It is an audacious work that is still thrilling; it is simply a finely-rendered "lower portrait" of a woman, legs spread, dramatically foreshortened without showing arms or face. This was a decidedly male point of view, defiant and calling attention to "the dynamics and politics of desire" between artist, model, and viewer. Its dynamics and politics have been updated; two Yugoslav artists in 1997 made a video version. Instead of being a passive female exciting the male artist and viewer, the model stimulates herself in a feminist rendering of the same pose. Both artworks were shocking for their times, and certainly some would put the 1997 version in the category of pornography, but its deliberate intent to modify the message of the original clearly imbues it with the kind of political and social edge that Mahon finds as a universal characteristic of erotic works. Mahon examines the use of the erotic by the surrealists and even by the Nazis and fascists leading up to World War II. She has several chapters covering recent decades, including erotic, bizarre, or dangerous performance art.

Mahon maintains a detached "What can we learn from this?" tone throughout, appreciative of even the strangest sexual displays, and she analyzes them with elegance and sympathy. The subject is literally vital; one chapter after another shows images that might be titillating for some while simultaneously emetic for others. There are over a hundred, mostly color, pictures, all well-keyed to the text, although Mahon has discussed plenty of other unreproduced works that make it handy to have access to the Web to see what she is talking about. It is a handsome and glossy volume, with many pictures and ideas to provoke, uh, thought.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forbidden Art History Sept. 29 2008
By James E. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This whole Oxford series on art is excellent and this book is one of the best. It is a 21st century review of erotic art history which discusses the subject matter in a non-judgmental and aesthetic manner which both educates and illuminates how erotic art plays a role in society to freely express the deepest desires of human beings. I highly recommend this book. James E. Smith, Esq.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars dull and enigmatic Aug. 3 2009
By B. D. Haas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Page 227-228 (2007 paperback edition): "Serrano's Piss Christ (1987), a large colour photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in a container of his own urine and lit in such a way as to make it radiate like a Sacred Heart statue, alerts us to some of the key tensions between art of the era and this (aforementioned; my addition) censorship campaign. Serrano conflated the sacred (Jesus) with the profane (bodily fluids), using erotic (????; my addition) religious iconography as a means of both addressing the taboo of sexual desire (how????; why all of a sudden sexual desire????; my addition) and AIDS (AIDS????, how are we supposed to grasp this?; my addition) and discussing political impotence and religious intolerance before the epidemic." Remember: the text quoted is all there is about this work; I simply do not understand how a photograph of Jesus submerged in urine should make a comment about sexual desire (is the artist a known lover of the golden shower?)and specifically AIDS (what is the connection between Jesus Christ, urine and AIDS?; to me there is at least no obvious connection between the three; by the way: when seeing the work, how are we supposed to know the urine is the artist's own?). Maybe I have no feeling for art, but I would say this passage is full of non-sequitur's.
That in my opinion is the first problem with this book. In many instances the text is incomprehensible to me, and I really think this is due to the author and not to my incompetence. I could give quite a list of similar enigmatic quotes.
The second problem concerns the issue of looking, when the author describes a work that we can see for ourselves, because there is an illustration available. More often than not the author nevertheless seems to look at a completely different work. In these descriptions the author introduces conceptions that form the basis of further discussion, but as I do not see how these conceptions relate to the work described, the subsequent discussion passes me by. Convince me, I would say, that I might see what you say you are seeing.
My last remark: the book seems to be about politics as much as about art; I know that this is a common approach, but I always think it is a shame, in my ideal world in the end art transcends or eludes politics and erotic art in particular speaks to my senses instead of making dull political statements.
So these are the words that come to my mind when I think about this book: enigmatic (or simply poorly written)and dull, sometimes even page after page extremely dull. No, I do not recommend the book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-have book April 8 2009
By Fernando A. Castro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A must-have bool for anybody interested in the topic of the connection between eroticism and art although its insights are not very compelling.
Its scope is also very limited.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great informative survey of the erotic sentiment in art Oct. 17 2007
By DBuddha - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good overview of a frequently overlooked and more often misconstrued subject, which has nonetheless been a part of every human society since before writing was invented.
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