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Eros & Adonis: The Male Figure in Art History; A Compilation of Articles from The Art of Man Paperback – January 12, 2013
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I'll begin with the thought that homoerotic art is not necessarily nor exclusively gay art. Straight men and women, I believe, are as curious about the bodies of their fellow men and women as their gay counterparts. It is human to compare. We compare ourselves with each other all the time--and often, regrettably, unfavorably; we set up ideal mental images of masculine or feminine appearance and invariably do not come up to scratch. As Eros and Adonis amply demonstrates, for the greater part of human history our artists have more often than not concerned themselves with embodying these cultural ideals and offering them to pleasure the eye and mind. They projected the image of ourselves as we wished we were: for men, strong, muscular, imposing in stature, lean, and so on. It is only relatively recently (since Caravaggio? Where is he in this book?) that artists have worked to represent men and women as they really are.
But let's not forget that representations of the human form are not merely ideal but also, yes, erotic and arouse erotic response. Again, it's my belief that same-sex response is not limited to gay men and women. It's simply human. There is much denial on this subject, but even the most macho football fan, I'd suggest, is succumbing in part to the power of an ancient gene that stems at the very least from the days of Greek games and Roman gladiatorial events. As that great scene in the movie version of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers suggests, close combat is but the flip side of that other close body encounter, sex.
Those of us who love art--from its origins to the present day--would be fooling ourselves if we failed to acknowledge a pleasurably erotic response to homoerotic art; and would be failing, also, in our response to the art itself.
That said, kudos to Grady Harp for bringing these matters to our attention. He does so in a book that is rich with illustrations that establish at once the common ground of naked masculinity through the ages--the body strength, the up-front sexual apparatus, the incipient fertility--and the differences in our nature. Art, it turns out, can tell us by reflection a great deal about what it means to be a man; each work is in some sense a mirror in which we (men) see who we are. Grady's texts, while far from academic, give us a real sense of the artists about whom he writes and, importantly, the historical period in which they worked. His prose flows easily, as good prose should, and is at once eminently readable and informative.
I do have a couple of nit-picks. Admittedly, this is a huge subject and volumes could be filled with images and texts, but some of the choices--and omissions--do seem strange to me. I mentioned Caravaggio, above. Given the subject matter and the title, my mind connects immediately with this genuine, if mercurial master of the genre. And where is Michelangelo's "David"? And his "Moses"?--those two great, iconic representations of male energy, one at the spunky beginning, the other approaching the retrospectively reflective end of adult male life? I'd also question the inclusion of several relatively unknown artists interspersed between the likes of Reni, Thomas Eakins, William Blake... These outliers seem to have been included more for their modernity (and their explicitly gay subject matter) than for their historical standing. Their merits notwithstanding--and they are frankly hard to judge without first-hand experience--they make for odd bedfellows (excuse the levity!) with the great painters of the past. And if the concern is for modernity, why not consider David Hockney? Lucien Freud? Or even Francis Bacon?
One last nit-pick: lacking chronological arrangement of the material, I found it hard to make sense of the order in which the essays were presented. Perhaps I was looking for logical coherence where a simple patchwork was intended, but I would personally have been grateful for clarification on this point, if only to give me some sense of direction and purpose. Still, we sense that this is a work of personal passion and commitment, more of a journal or scrapbook than a treatise, and as such it is replete with sudden insights, interesting turns and odd juxtapositions. And to leaf through it is pleasure to both eye and mind.
I learned a lot by reading this book; it's a keeper! The reader learns about many outstanding artists in this book. Moreover, the reproductions of fine art by artists such as Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin; Agnolo Bronzino; Shozo Nagano; Cornelius McCarthy and more from the 17th century to the 21st century impress me quite a bit.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in figurative fine art; fine art and the history of fine art. Of course, people who appreciate the works of the artists reviewed in this book will not be disappointed. This book is full of informative, well written articles by Grady Harp with terrific images to see; and that's grand.
The artists honored here are Agnolo Bronzino (1503 - 1572), Guido Reni (1575 - 1642), Jacques-Louis David (1748 - 1825), William Blake (1757 - 1827, Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1809 - 1864), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 - 1904), Thomas Eakins (1844 - 1916, Eugène Jansson (1862 - 1915), Shozo Nagano (1928 - 2007), Cornelius McCarthy (1935 - 2009) and Wade Reynolds (1929 - 2011. These artists represent art from the 17th to the 21st century and each is notable not only for their importance in history but also for their celebration of the male form.
In addition to the essays on the above artists there are surveys of Greek and Roman Sculpture, the Influence of the Orient on Occidental Art, and articles on the uses of the images of Icarus, Ganymede, Apollo, Hercules, and Saint Sebastian throughout the ages up to contemporary times.
The writing is illuminating and the illustrations accompanying the written word are very generous and exceptionally vivid. This book should be in every art student's library and in the libraries of everyone who appreciates the impact of art history. Grady Harp, January 13