Sunday, May 6, 2012

From Kenneth Clarke to Pornography and Back ~ Part II: Why Sex is not enough ~

I had to have my own personal sexual revolution.  And so I did.  It is hard to exactly measure these things but I would say it lasted about 15 years.  I explored my sexuality and my sexual expression as an individual and in relationship on every level I discovered from root chakra to sacred sex ritual.
The term revolution implies reckless debauchery.   And to be fair there was a little of really explore one's sexuality that is almost requisite.  However, it was not for the most part wreckless or debaucherous.  Instead it was thoughtful, heartfelt and purposeful.   It often had charecteristics of restraint and abstinance was also a part of it.     Attittudes and practices of self pleasuring as well as masturbation for "higher purposes" was also experimented with and examined.  

The are a couple of reasons why I am beginning the second half of this essay with a kind of confession about my own sexual revolution.


Like the larger culture a generation before me....if was the natural expression of the kind of freedom that our culture (with all of its social, medical and legal support) would logically compel one to do at this point and time in history.  One would have to be living under a rock not be compelled as an individual to do this in some way or to some degree.  On some very basic level we now have the tools, the understanding of how to use them and a social fabric that either doesn't care or outright supports us to have sexual relationships without the need to worry about the complications and consequences of disease, pregnancy, marriage and death.  To be sure...those risks are still there, especially if we ignor what is available to us.  And to be sure there are groups within the larger culture who pass on mores and attitudes towards sex that were forged in an era long ago where such tools and awareness did not exist.  The forces to experiment, shape one's own sense of self around attitudes and "lifestyles" concerning sex and sexuality have never in human history been as thorough and compelling as they are now.  


Without capitualiting oneself through a personal sexual revolution the chances of being able to harness this vital source of physical and spiritual power will not be at one's disposal.  Furthermore, the need for this kind of intrinsic germain human power has never been greater.  The very same forces that the humanist merchants (which is to say wealthy non landed gentry, nobles or clergy) and their coterie of bankers and artists of the Renaissance, who worked so hard to create a platform that celebrated the individual in his body and as a political entity and as a vehicle for God...directly...without the need of the intercessor of a priest.....that restored the individual as the seat of power ....also created institutions and systems that when they developed into their modern offspring, would create a system so toxic to the individual and to the whole enironment that we are in some ways despite our every growing vast endangered species.  

The risk, without seriously contemplating the lessons embedded in the tradition of nude art, and all it has come to represent and support, is that there will be a conversative backlash so intense that we will be plunged into another dark era of centralized power, mass exterminations or starvation if nature does not do the dirty work for us.

...Let me re-state my central point in a manner more in keeping with the terms of the first half of this essay...
The ideals of the Renaissance Humanist created the engins which ultimately became the modern publicly traded corporation.  Corporate entities could not exist without wage earners (not slaves) without capital unattached from notions of sin (usery laws), and without a consumer with capital of his own (fungible wealth as opposed to land) and a sense that he (and eventually she...but only when the need to find broader markets mandated it.) could spend his/her wealth with free will.  And that eventually would require an ever larger hold over the individual's mind and body...which like an overgrown weed would eventually choke itself and the garden it overtook.

...Stated even more simply...
modern life requires that the individual find within himself/herself the nature/god given engins to maintain and restore vitality or he/she is fucked.  He will be druged until penniless, fed with such crapy food until he is obese and housed in the most removed from nature and soul less environments ever conceived and be left with no choice but to do work that was as boring and soul draining as any medieval peasant's drudery but additionally...cut off from the forces of nature.   In the words of  H.G.Wells.  .....  You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed…”   This cushy "safe" but pasionless and soulless reality is the result of the modern corporations ability to deliver so much to the individual.  So much...and yet so little.  

It is as though Michealangelo's hero, David, who stood up for the individual in the 14th century and basically said "Fuck You" to the church and all of its de-humanizing ways, but then went on to become the Goliath he slayed in his youth.  He did indeed slay the giant and went on to become one himself as bad if not worse than the one he slayed.  The medieval church was replaced with the modern corporation.

One might conclude, as I believe a lot of my contemporaries have, that sex is going to save us.  And I think we are on to something.  But sex is not enough.  I am arguing here that it is erotic energy that will revitalize us and provide the foundation from which a new "David" will arise to challenge the Goliath of the modern corporate construct/structure.  (As a side note I want to quickly clarity that I am not stating that corporations are bad..some are but that is a different discussion.  Rather I am saying that their fundamental structure is a logical development of ideas put in play 500 years ago and are now in need of being fundamentally overhauled at the foundation.)  

I will define "erotic" in more elaborate terms later..for now....I simply want to state that "erotic" is the energy that gets created when we come together with certain principles and values (which can be seen and remembered in nude art).   Come together to make dinner, play music, raise children, exercise, drink coffee and yes...have sex.  A popular movie called The Matrix galvanized a generation with the horrific image of human beings being harnessed for the electromagnetic energy that our physical organism creates.  A kind of human battery.  This was then harnessed to support the activities of the machines which ruled the Earth and was attempting to stamp out the renegade human beings that had become free from the matrix in one way or another.  What was most tragic about the movie to me, however, was the tragic loss of potential for real energy that resulted in each human being being isolated in its own chamber.  The machines were not realizing anywhere near the full potential of those human batteries.  Of course when people get together they can be dangerous!  They might create a new hero, a new saviour,  and that is exactly what happened in the movie.  The human beings who able to "come together" generated more power, even though they were vastly outnumber, than the power of the machines.

And that is what we are talking about here.  We need a power source that is has to be free in order that it not be part of the system.  And it needs to spring naturally from within.  All I am saying, really, is that there is within us something that generates energy, as if out of nowhere, when we come together to do things.  It is like the energy you can feel when you put two magnets together.  The energy field is there when the magnet is by itself but it is not active until it comes into contact with another magnet.  Similar... but this energy is not electromagnetic.  I don't know what it is.  That is not the purvue of this essay.

But I have gotten ahead of myself a bit.  Let me return to the statement made earlier that "sex is not enough."  Why not.   Why isn't the energy of sex enough to lead this revolution of sorts?  Its a good question.  It is a powerful force afterall.  It makes babies.  It occupies the minds of men and women an awfully lot of the day and night.  It is powerful stuff.  It brings people together!    All of that is true, of course.  

Another important ingredient that helps form the backdrop of challenge to our souls is the sheer scale of our civic involvement.  Most of us feel the strain of democracy under the weight of sheer size every time it is time to vote.  "How can my vote possibly matter in the face of such largess?" And the tug of war begins aknew.   What we know and value on the one hand and what we feel and intuit on the other.  The result is yet another drain on the psyche.  Another layer of schizophrenic fretting that taps our resources that make us feel vital and that without....we feel drained or depressed.   

we can eat organic...
we can take vitamins...

we can be sure to get more sleep, exorcise daily and learn how to let go of things that we can not have any impact on...    
Those are all good things.  I advocate for them.

However, the argument I am developing here is that all of those things are not only not enough....they don't fundamentally address the problem.  It is still there.   And we have moved closer and closer to its eventual demise for 500 years.   That is a long time. 

What we really need is a break through in how we structure ourselves.  How money is collectivezed and moved.  How we find human scale expressions of democracy even while there are 6 billion of us alive today.  How the individual can restore his  trust  that the larger systems that do everything from grow and produce our food to how our retirement nest egg is managed.  Or  how we can find  a human scale for community  within the increasing mass scale of everything from ones 763 Facebook friends to the need for a doctor who actually knows you and your kids.  Can the pace of scientific medical and chemical breakthroughs stay ahead of our dwindling trust in our ability to distribute that care in ways in keeping with our already sagging sense of democratic principles.   These are very large challenges.

And can we really address these deep systemic problems by looking at the history of naked art? 
Actually, that is the point of this essay.  Yes looking at naked art will lead us to the answers we need.  It is the answer to the child who asked me why I always paint naked people.  

Masturbating to porn will not.   
And here is why.

First,everything about the way porn is designed is done so to inspire sexual feelings and ultimately....sexual release.
The aesthetics of porn are meant to inspire the individual's private feelings and drive the individual towards an ever more isolated and private experience of sexual feelings and release.  I am not making a moral judgement here about that.  What I would like to emphasize is that it is a further expression of the forces that are at work in our culture that were set in train at the beginning of the Renaissance with the circumvention of usuary laws and the beginnings of modern banking and accounting.  These systems, as I pointed out earlier, are the engins that made possible the industrial revolution and eventually the modern corporation.....and modern pornography,  its aesthetic (which I will get to in a minute)  its corporate structure and the way in which it is distributed and experienced and the social and moral climate that would also be permissable enough to allow it even while traditions of shame and guilt still linger on.

To be blunt, pornography as we know it today is both the result and the band aide for coping (for many individuals) of the structures in our society that have also left an increasing number of people without the kind of health care that our modern era would seem to have been able to deliver. Yes, we have technologies and knowledge beyond what was even imaginable 100 years ago at the dawn of modern medicine.  And yes....we have the kind of broad wealth and brain trust that would support what seems like an ever quickening ability to solve medical challenges.  But the shift of medical research away from a scientific "community" to a market based economic model indicates one more logical step in the march towards the need for a major overhaul in the way medical research and care is done or it will collapse on itself and leave the individual further and further from the equation.   

A "major overhaul."  Hmm.   But what could that possibly be?  To say that we have to go back to the "individual"  is only half the equation.  That is what was done at the Renaissance, after all, to rescue the "individual" from an increasingly corporate and power hungry Church.  The other half was art.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that art was used to galvanize the thought and design of everything and from public art to banking systems.  And it didn't go smoothly or easily.  Those in power don't like to give up power.   And at the other end of things....the guy at the bottom resists change because his world is fragile but nevertheless in tact.  Don't rock my little boat!   The public was so enraged by Michelangelo's David when it was unveiled that they attacked it and broke off on of the arms.  

What was the other half of that equation?  If shifting the emphasis back to the individual was half that equation to affect real change.....what was the other half?
Keep in mind at that time and in those circumstances an emphasis on the individual was more akin to a tool for shifting power away from the Catholic Church and onto the rising merchant class.  Entrepreneurs.  But why did this new class of people we call entrepenuers seize on the idea of the "individual" and the tradition of the classical nude in Greek art to provide a philosophical and visualization for their desire to gain power?

Let's consider the current situation.  Currently there is a growing sense that there is something wrong with the system.  The corporate structures that brought us so much prosperity over the last 100 years (the worst and most destructive wars in human history not withstanding) are now getting so big that they can no longer deliver the goods and that the democratic ideals that made them possible in the first place will now quickly disintegrate under their size and power.  So, ok, shifting the emphasis away from the corporate structures that are increasingly powerful and increasingly unconcerned with the "individual" may be true and easy enough to agree with.  That is probably what is driving the "Occupy Wall Street" movement  But if one wants to gain any insight from the past, it seems like the more ellusive and yet more important question is to whom is that power being shifted and why.   Who or what has a rising hold on power and can place the individual at the center of that growth and acrual of power if only the rules that currently favor the corporation could be changed?  

I don't have an answer for that.  What I am suggesting here, though, is that it is likely that whoever or whatever they are, they would be wise to take their cues from Ancient Greek nude sculpture as well as the work of the Rennaisance.    The answer to my question is not likely to come from gazing at these works.  Rather the qualities that will guide this entity are there for the taking in these works and if handled well as it was in the Rennaissance, will do much to help galvanize the public and help give them the confidence they need to switch their way of thinking and thereby help the transition.  Its not likely to be stone statuary or the invention of the printing press.   However, it is likely to be an artistic expression that puts the values and qualities of harmony, balance, sensuality and grace into an artistic expression that is at one and the same time focused on the individual and forceful and easy for all to grasp....something like...say...the nude.

As I became a young adult in the late 70's and 80's, many of my older peers were lamenting what they saw as the failure of the 60's cultural revolution in the United States and other developed countries.   I would argue that the civil rights movement was a result of that and can hardly be deduced as a failure.   And the same goes for the sexual liberation and advances in women's rights.   But the fundamental shift away from corporate culture did in fact fail.  And I believe precisely because it did not have at its root enough understanding about the balance of forces that make classical period Greek sculpture what it is.  It did not balance apollonian and dionysian  forces.  It was all dionysian and therefore unable to sustain and mature into a new cultural foundation.  Even more important, however, was the lack of a new "class" of citizen who stood to consolidate power the way the merchants of Venice were able to do in the 15th Century.  And so once the pop of Dionysian frenzy wore off there was no one to catch the wave set off by this magnificent cultural explosion (not so incidentaly my newly liberated sexual freedoms).  No one...that is...except the very same corporations that were attacked in the first place.  Makers and distributors of food.  Makers of arms.  Entertainment moguls.   Those that produce our news.  etc.  Instead, by the 1980's they were poised for a backlash that we now call the "yuppie years" or to some...."the Reagan years."   We saw the "corporation" come back with a tenacity and force not seen before.  

I will end here for now.  In Part 3 I will tie up loose ends and make my final point about the necessity of art patronage to be about power.....not charity.  I will, as promised in the title, get us back from pornography to Kenneth Clarke    

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