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arts

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male  
 
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These tactics for simultaneously displaying and refuting homoeroticism would be epitomized--and eventually worn thin--by the physique magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, whose g-stringed beefcake models were supposedly on display for the wholesome appreciation of fitness enthusiasts or, not insignificantly, as anatomical references for figurative artists.

Over time, certain titles became more explicit, revealing their homoerotic motivations, while others continued to capitalize on the mystifying lingo of the "physique enthusiast" to veil (however thinly) their brawny eye candy.

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Featuring both photographs and highly stylized drawings, the physique magazines conveyed an interest in what would soon become two distinct breeds of gay erotica: the photochemical media, which are thought to capture the raw authenticity of bodies and sexual acts, and handmade renderings, which can exaggerate and fetishize more freely.

Moreover, unlike painting or sculpture, which (reproductions notwithstanding) are relatively inaccessible media, photography and illustration are more conceptually geared toward the masses--fitting media for the newly emerging gay consumer who could purchase physique paraphernalia through the mail or at the newsstand.

Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, 1920-1991), arguably the most widely celebrated maker of homoerotic art to date, would come to popularize the hand-drawn dirty picture. At first adhering to the softcore ambiguity of the physique genre, Tom of Finland later brought new "girth" to homoerotic explicitness with his raunchy pictures of impossibly muscled and colossally endowed subjects: domineering soldiers, randy sailors, mischievous cops, and leather-clad bikers. Gone are the heavy-handed allusions to bygone Greek ephebes, ambiguous sensuality, platonic friendship, or old-world tropes of any kind.

No matter how physically reproportioned, Tom's men reign from contemporary life and employ twentieth-century narratives, locating gay lust not in a hazy, imagined past, but in an accessible (if highly exaggerated) present.

While Tom of Finland may not uniformly represent the interests of gay artists of his time, his work is emblematic of a number of major shifts--from ambiguous to explicit, from historical allegory to contemporary narrative, from delicate youths to virile hunks, from high art to popular smut--that prefigure a new era of explicitness, capped by the rise of commercial gay pornography and its imminent detachment from gay artistic production.

Contemporary Issues

Starting in the 1970s, gay and lesbian civil rights groups began to make inroads against oppression and , pushing for visibility and working to lessen the stigma long associated with homosexuality and images of it.

Within the last decade, as a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and political groups have turned away from more radical politics to seek out the acceptance of the mainstream, the most tolerated images of homosexuality are those that adhere to heterosexual models for normative gender, monogamy, family, domesticity, and decency, and that downplay the carnal pleasures of their subjects.

But this mainstreaming of homosexuality does not account for the entire picture: "less palatable" homoerotic cultural products (including art, but also television shows, films, and the like) are still often held to higher levels of moral scrutiny than their heterosexual counterparts and encounter a disproportionate amount of censorship and backlash.

Even contemporary homoerotic artworks whose subjects or motivations are not overtly political can generate considerable political shockwaves when exhibited publicly--such is the case of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1986), whose explicit photographs of S/M scenes incited public outcry and fueled tremendous backlash from conservative legislators and religious leaders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Also beginning in the 1970s, gay commercial pornography began to proliferate, first in magazines and adult theaters and eventually into its present multimedia ubiquity, taking over much of the erotic functionality that homoerotic artworks had long quietly performed for those with access to them.

Although there may have always been an invisible audience for homoerotic images, a commercially lucrative demographic of gay men was identified in the 1970s and emerging technologies of mass distribution and shifting social mores made possible its targeting by an emerging porn industry. The allure of bona fide pornography easily surpassed the erotic table scraps that artworks had previously made available.

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