Is cheesecake art?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by kyle_madison, Sep 4, 2014.

  1. The previous "PC Police" thread has got me thinking about the nature of art, both classical and the (relatively) more recent photographic. As I peruse the portfolios of many of my fellow photographers I notice a commonality between a lot of them - the female form is a major source of... inspiration. What's especially interesting is that it's usually ONLY the female form. There's rarely any men. And this is not just commercial stuff, it's amatuers and personal collections. My question is, why?
    A lot of times, like in the case of American Apparel and its lopsided take on sexiness in its ads, this is pawned off on the idea that nude women are a classical subject matter enjoyed down through the ages. This is true. But somehow those people forget that those same ancient lovers of boobs also sculpted and painted a lot of peen. The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Italian Renaissance up through Picasso. All these artists reveled in the male form as well. True, there are some artists in the French school, like Boucher, who painted women almost exclusively, but most art historians sort of laugh them off as semi-pornographers. Renoir painted only female nudes and he admitted he was "painting with his prick".
    So where has the general love of the human form gone? Why is the male gaze more prominent than ever? Is it that male artists are getting lazier and artistry is used merely as a chance to look at naked babes? Are heterosexual male artists afraid of being labelled gay if they photograph other guys?
    Funny enough, actual hetero pornography is so focused on male pleasure that there is way more dick and spunk in them than T and A. The popular CFNM genre is the pinnacle of this.
  2. Is cheesecake art? Ohhh, yesss... (sez the guy with Bettie Page memorabilia dating way back before she was hip again).
    I find most nude "studies" trite, not particularly artistic or even erotic. Interesting observation about Renoir - at least he was honest. A stroll through a typical "critique" session of nude photos of women on or any site usually reveals the unabashed truth - guys love T&A. They rarely even pretend it's about form, light, shadow or anything but pix of nekkid chix. My generic Continental Gentleman faux critique of most nudes would read "Ah, my friend, I see that you have a lovely redheaded girlfriend/model who will pose nude for you! I too have a lovely redheaded girlfriend but, alas, she will not pose nude for me. So, congrats, my friend, on having a lovely redheaded girlfriend who will pose nude for you. Bellissimo! Brava! Cozy fan nudie!"
    But I luvs me some cheesecake. And skinny girls with boy hips can't do proper cheesecake. Sorry, Miley. Fortunately most photographers doing cheesecake genuinely love the genre and are doing sincere homages - no tiresome ironic subtext. And there are quite a few women photographers doing cheesecake as well.
    But does that love and sincerity make it art? Arguably, yes, because cheesecake really is primarily about form. It's less about exploitation of the human woman and more about depiction of an idealized archetype, an iconic figure closer to commedia dell'arte stock characters than to a real woman. In that sense it is at least artsy, art-lite. Cheesecake isn't necessarily salacious or erotic, although some viewers may see it that way.
    As for depictions of male figures, I would argue that the male figure is equally prominent in popular culture, but more in the realm of performance art than fine art. Pop culture, kids toys (GI Joe and He-Man, anyone?) and sports are rife with ripe manflesh, from lithe figure skaters and gymnasts, to the incredibly skilled aerial gymnasts and folding chair slammers of fake-wrestling, to body builders, to mixed martial artists grappling and heaving their entwined sweaty bodies around the floor trying to inflict auto-erotic asphyxiation on each other. My grandmother was always a fan of martial arts and my biggest supporter as an amateur boxer, but her real passion was sumo. She loved those diaper wrestlers. Millions upon millions of bros can safely enjoy those performance arts without fear of being painted as 50 shades of teh ghey. But don't talk to the dude in the next urinal. Because that's not cool, bro. The male upon male gaze must be askance, indirect, a subterfuge, a subtext beneath a pretext of manly men doing manly man stuff, especially if it involves sweating and bleeding.
    Yeah, I'm exaggerating a bit for effect. There's quite a bit of nude photography of men, some with apparent erotic intent, some not, and some taken by men who self identify as heterosexual. Some is on But is a fairly middle of the road site and has traditionally been conservative toward the nude, male or female, mostly to minimize the administrative burden of dealing with angsty people who fear they'll go blind or something from seeing nekkid bodies.
  3. I'm interested in men and stories and also form. While busy searching for souls and essences (and I'm using those terms with a little bit of tongue in cheek), I'm aware of the importance of the body in that search, since if there is a soul or essence it is also the body . . . not housed in the body. And the body, being what we see, is good photographic fodder. After all, we have sex with it, we take showers with it, we swim in the lake with it, the light falls on it, the breeze blows on it, and shadows obscure and also help reveal it. We can touch the body and touch with it.
    From my own experience, especially with younger people, there's not the same inclination as in days of yore to divide the world up into heterosexual males and homosexual males and gay and straight females. I have to wonder if the very use of those labels to frame the discussion might hamper questions about sexuality, nudity, and photography from really taking hold in a contemporary and now more loosely-defined world.
    One reason I like photographing bodies is that they can be empowering. People may also tend to be more vulnerable when naked. And I often find myself more vulnerable in their presence.
    In terms of the PN nudes gallery, ironies abound. You have photographers claiming to be artists and often claiming to be above sex who post sexy pictures of sexy babes. Some of them may have confused soft core porn with art. (Yes, some cheesecake and beefcake is art.) It's also possible to allow one's passions and sexuality into the mix, not to vainly deny those things as so many do, and then to be more likely to come up with art because of such honesty and authenticity. I'm suspicious when artistic purity is claimed. When aesthetic "purity" and artistic reach (and even some types of spirituality) include a more honest approach to carnal pleasure, a little human frailty, a little fall from grace, and some genuinely-motivated passion, art is more likely to ensue than when absolute purity of motives is claimed and the aesthetics of porn act as photographic standard bearers.
    In terms of form and light, Leni Reifenstahl's Olympiad shows what a master she was. Also goes to show that someone with a good eye who knows how to handle a camera can do a bang-up job (on men and women, by the way) no matter how much humanity they may be lacking.
  4. Magazines like Playboy were always more popular then magazines like Playmate. It's been said that men are titillated more visually than women. The latter prefer imagination through the written word. Interesting that some of the more thoughtful photos of nude women are taken by women. I think they are more thoughtful about the genre. Men do kind of look at it as T & A although my favorties are those with the funny little double entendre captions at the bottom.
    Sort of like this.
    "I don't feel dressed unless my stockings are on."
    "The horniest ones are my favorites."
  5. Oh. I forgot the original question - "Are they art?"
    Who cares!
  6. Cheesecake is not art, but a great cannoli or blintz definitely is.
  7. Two really well thought out answers here. I hope Fred and Lex will read my belated response.

    First, Fred. You and I are on the same page regarding this subject except I think you're more rare than you claim. I find younger people may accept other types of sexuality, but in a lot of ways they are digging their heals deeper into their own identification. They may accept the other, but they don't want to be mistaken for it. I also find - living in the Bay Area - that overt sexism is becoming cool again. You can see it in the art of David Choe, who's sexually violent work adorns the walls of Facebook. Choe, btw, has confessed to rape without admitting to it. Grok that one.
    What I see, whether its in cheesecake or in superficially more complex work like Choe's, is women's bodies being used over and over to provoke. They make you feel sad, or disgusted, or shocked, or titillated. But they never tell you the story of the woman. After awhile you get the sense you're not looking at the artists' best. You're looking at a cheap trope.
    Lex, you had me nodding for your first paragraph, but then you veered into some bad territory. I understand there is a certain sense of rebellion in embracing "real women" as opposed to the kind of emaciated look media often feeds us. I wrote an article about how a curvy woman is short hand for f*ck-budy in most fiction while the man often ends up settling down with the skinny girl. I call it the Jackie O. vs Marilyn trope.
    But the real problem is the judgement here. The idea that there is a "real woman", or a certain attractive woman. These judgements are only skin deep. It says nothing about the person. It's great that different kinds of bodies can be found beautiful, but equal opportunity exploitation of women is still exploitation of women. And there should be no need to bring down one side in order to bring up another. Archetypes? Who is to judge what the ideal of a woman is?
    The idea that men are equally exploited sounds good, but it doesn't hold much water. When you see a buff superhero you are seeing muscles. They are there for his own power, his own enjoyment. Muscle equals strength. There is no power in ginormous boobs. They don't crush enemies or help leap tall buildings. They don't add to the statue of the character. They are just there to excite the (male) audience. Unless those boobs are feeding someone they have no function other than the sexual. Take a look at this link to see what actual male exploitation would look like: . Notice that in the process of actually sexualizing a man we take away some of his traditional masculinity. He looks feminized because sexual display for the approval of others is considered only the domain of women.
    Plus we have to get into the area of how a character's worth is perceived. Women's worth is based solely on looks, men's are not. Look at any TV show that has a portly, old, or generally dumpy guy married to a hot wife - The Honey Mooners, King of Queens, Raymond, Modern Family, etc. It never goes the other way. Those guys are funny, charming, hard working, etc. The wives are just hot. And often times ball-busters.
  8. `

    Cheezcake, or more spezifiklee Beevcake, is always
    lauded as *FINE ART* when it's on the ceiling of the
    Sistern Chapel. It's in the "infalliability clause" ;-)


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