The Intersection of Art and Sexuality: A Historical Overview

Tickle.Life Editorial Team  |  Oct 18

The Intersection of Art and Sexuality: A Historical Overview

When we observe from a historical point of view, art and sexuality have a close relationship. They have been a recurring motif throughout the centuries, extending from the Greco-Roman tradition to the contemporary period. Historically, we can find symbols of sexuality in art in the form of sculptures, drawings, paintings, engravings, etc. 

Through these artistic works, we can explore the expression of emotions. Here, the focus is on capturing the beauty of human anatomy, where the creators view the subject as priceworthy. However, when it comes from a viewer's point of view, it might vary depending upon their perspective. 

Several people consider erotic art as pornographic. But, in reality, there is a difference between both of them. Pornography, in simple terms, offers a quick fix to our sexual appetite or desire. But, erotic art focuses on the sexual desire of a higher order. 

Here, we will look into the historical overview of how art meets sexuality. 

History of the Intersection of Art and Sexuality

erotic art and sexuality_paintings_nft
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

When we look at art and sexuality historically, it has been represented in different forms. In Greek and Roman art, we can find phallus sculptures present as wind chimes in the gardens. Besides, in Roman towns like Pompeii, there were several erotic wall paintings. 

However, when archaeologists rediscovered the city and preserved it, the authorities only provided access to men to these places. It was so until the 1960s. 

Besides, in the Greco-Roman period, there was the famous artwork of the Warren Cup. It showed the ancient practice of pederasty. Pederasty refers to young men who will be choosing men older than them as their sexual partners and mentors. However, in the 20th century, there were different homophobic views on this artwork. But, it has inspired several artists from the LGBTQ+ community.

Other than that, historically, we can find the intersection of art and sexuality in the famous pottery of Nearches from 570 BC. It is one of the oldest depictions of self-gratification. Here, the artist brings in satyrs, where three of them are masturbating on one side. In the Baroque period, there have been several artworks that brought in carnal detailing to classical themes.

When we move to the Eastern civilization, Kamasutra by Vatsyayana is a treatise on pleasure-based elements. Besides, the famous Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Madhya Pradesh, India, is also well known for its erotic sculptures. These sculptures decorate the interior and exterior of the temple. However, there is no clarity on what the images represent. They can be focusing on the tantric sexual practice or depicting sex as a cultural tradition. 

Besides, in the years that went by, numerous artworks showed the meeting of art and sexuality. 

leda and swan erotic art depiction

The 15th Century artist Caravaggio has also brought classic motifs into his works. One of them is the Musicians, which had a provocative result. He has also brought out a representation of the seduction of Leda by Zeus using his creative freedom. 

In the 17th century, artists created marble forms, showing the lustful pursuit of Greek gods Apollo and Daphne. It is also a way of bringing the classical motifs in an erotic light. In the 18th century, Guiseppe Bartolomeo Chiari brought in a new version of the Biblical story of Bathsheba. Here, Chiari drew both Bathsheba and her maid exposing their bosoms. When we move forward to the 19th century, the works by Auguste Rodin are commendable. He created erotic sculptures like The Kiss and The Eternal Lord, where The Kiss presents Dante's Inferno

In the past centuries, censorship of eroticism was also present. One of the ways they did it was through the removal of genitals from sculptures.

Sexuality in Art in the Modern and Contemporary Period

In the 20th century, there has been a change in the representation of sexuality in art. It comes with the creative works of symbolic artists. They brought in the representation of the deepest desires. 

Some of the artists who created symbolic art include Edward Munch, Gustave Moreau, and Paul Gauguin. Besides, in France and Germany, artists belonging to symbolism moved away from the archetypes and focused on bringing in their creatures of dreams. However, in the first half of the 20th century, there has been a close connection between classical psychoanalysis and artistic works. But, later in the century, artists started to focus on transpersonal experience and gave importance to mind, body, and spirit connection. 

Betty Tompkins is an artist who brought in a sexual revolution during the 1960s. However, their artworks had to face censorship and were even seized by the French government. In recent years, social media platforms like Instagram banned Betty Tompkins’ account, making them another erotic artist who became the prey of digital censorship. One of Tompkins’ artworks that led to a lot of outrage and scandal is F**k Paintings, which came out between 1969 and 1974. It is an artwork that depicts sexual intercourse explicitly. 

Since then, there have been several artists who have created their narrative of sexuality through artworks. As Picasso has clearly stated, both art and sex are inseparable and entangled. 

But, even now, there is draconian censorship of nudity and eroticism happening around us, especially on social media. When it comes to the creation of erotic art, LGBTQ+ and women find it the most challenging to express their creativity. However, one of the most important things that we have to remember is that sexuality is a portrayal of artistic freedom. Hence, we have to embrace and celebrate sexuality in art like any other depiction.

Cover Image by Unsplash


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