What do art, flirtation, affirmation, sex and erotic desire have in common? Does what they have in common illuminate the hearts and souls of artists, or delineate their values and what they think is sacred and fundamental about humanity? Can this linking thread provide effective respite and act as a potent countervailing force to the current tide of hatred, discrimination and heartless cruelty? What the hell kind of blog post is this, when the world is in such evident turmoil?
Art is about giving aesthetic pleasure. It’s also about solace and refuge, amplifying our feelings of hurt and alienation, so that we can work through and genuinely feel our emotional reactions, knowing that other humans feel what we feel, gaining comfort from that solidarity. Art is more akin to a big hug than you might think. That aspect of making love, which involves sharing a deep, loving, human connection, where your numerous, obvious faults are inconsequential, even as you present yourself in your most exposed, intimate and vulnerable state, stimulates the same brain chemicals and areas of the brain as experiencing art does. Art appreciation, to your brain, is highly analogous to making love. Both connect us to an important and, lately, a tragically overlooked aspect of our fundamental humanity. They bring us pleasure.
The artist flirts both with their subject (whether that be a human being, the natural environment or our collective imaginations) and with their audience. Making art is a subtle form of seduction, where the artist effectively asserts that, while for perfectly sensible and practical reasons, he (or she) won’t make love to their subject, they will be rendered as utterly desirable nevertheless. The appreciation of that desirable depiction is further confirmation of the subject’s desirability. The audience, in appreciating the work, reinforces the notion that, while no actual love will be made, the artist and their subject are, indeed, worthy of desire and love. The creation of beauty, in art, is a means of expressing desire. Art and sex are inextricably linked.
Flirtation, for hundreds of years, has had a very bad reputation, seen as something seedy, dishonourable and undesirable, but there is a school of thought that says it has a very important affirmative function. We all tend to dwell on our shortcomings, our saggy, imperfect bodies and the ailments and afflictions that seemingly disqualify us from thinking ourselves worthy of desire. Low self esteem and self loathing are all too common. Yet, this excessive focus on our flaws is not truthful. It’s an exaggeration.
When somebody has the compassion and empathy to identify and then affirm our many excellent qualities, which make us highly desirable and worthy of being loved, we tend to distrust them, at first, and try to discover their hidden agenda. We feel they’re buttering us up in order to deceive us or take advantage of us. In extremis, we believe their flattery to be a form of vicious sarcasm, intended to highlight the flaws in us that we think are so obvious and overwhelming. But they might not have that intention at all. Perhaps their purpose is to rebalance your negative self image, reminding you that you have enormous worth and that, were it practical and sensible to do so, they would have no hesitation in making love to you, finding you exciting, stimulating and your body and mind pleasurable and erotic. Maybe all they’re trying to do is remind you of why you’re worthwhile, as a creative, fertile, fecund, growing and wonderful human being.
There can be little doubt that reminding us we are lovable, through art and/or flirtation, communicating shared pleasure and exciting the parts of us that are all about feelings of inclusion, safety, coziness, appreciation and loveliness can have profound healing potential. They bond us together in our human family. Instead of making us feel alienated and threatened, we feel belonging and that our presence makes a positive difference. In the current political climate, this is what we urgently need.
As an artist, there are friends I would dearly love to paint (nude or otherwise), people I would love to act playfully with, devoid of any agenda and judgement, harmonies I would love to sing with my musical pals and folks I hope I could express my deep and abiding appreciation toward. Their very presence has the potential to excite and arouse my spirit. That’s not a bad approach to the divisions and hatred that have been shamelessly exploited by those seeking power and personal gain, of late, if you think about it. Hate and discrimination are evidence of low quality of thought. Maybe people harbour those low quality thoughts because they haven’t felt enough love, desire or pleasure. It could be a projection of their own pernicious feelings of unworthiness and an attempt to deflect this feeling onto other groups of people. Their lives may already be a dystopian, precarious, anxiety inducing, living hell. They may hate because they feel cornered, with nothing left to lose. At root, that’s a brain problem. Insufficient dopamine in the frontal cortex. Art and art appreciation could help. So could telling other people what you like most about them.
We think of ourselves as rugged individuals, but we’re hard wired for inclusion, community and social constructs. This is because we’d perish otherwise. We’re our own worst critics and would never love ourselves enough to make up for the love we ought to feel from those around us. We don’t have the capacity and yet possess a strange and perverse propensity to see the very worst in ourselves, rather than the best. In short, we need people and art to periodically and consistently remind us that we’re desirable.
The root of the problem may be that literally millions already feel excluded, lacking any real connections to their community and not experiencing any social cohesion at all. They might feel abandoned and neglected, so when somebody points to their enemy, real or imagined (or cynically contrived), they leap to support this person, whether or not that person has any real intention or ability to materially change their circumstances. It’s manipulative and cruel, but in the absence of any real hope, their only seemingly viable option.
Artists have a role to play in correcting this societal distortion. They can do much to remind humanity of how desirable each and every individual truly is. They can deliver pleasure, where there is only misery. Art can save the world and may yet have to. Changing minds, through creating feelings of deep-seated inclusion, would seem to be the key.
Artists that make this their life’s work are pretty special.