Archive for July, 2013


Sensuous tattooI thought I’d wrap up the erotic art series by discussing the human body as a canvas. People do all sorts of interesting things to their bodies to make them more sexually appealing, and it varies a great deal from one culture to another. When I started looking up some of this on the internet, I quickly realized that the subject itself is huge. I could spend years putting together a thesis on it if I wanted to have a thorough discussion. And gods, would I ever need to do research to understand some of it. There are things that some cultures consider erotic that flat freak me out, like foot binding, neck stretching, or lip plates. So I decided to focus on the things that I find erotic.

I’ve always been fascinated by people who treat their bodies as art in pop culture, using their physical appearance as creative self expression.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

I’m talking about folks like Lady Gaga or David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days. Make-up, hair, clothes, and body movements all combine to create erotic works of art. Gaga in particular has fun with a wide variety of looks. I’m not sure I’d even recognize her without the costuming, because in public she is usually displaying herself as an artistic creation, and so we don’t often see the canvas underneath. Some of the things she does, like the pointy implants, intrigue me more on an intellectual level – the woman likes to make a statement. But some of what she does is quite sensual, and sexy as hell. It doesn’t necessarily

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

inspire me to want to have sex with her (though I suspect that would  be a wild ride), but arouses me in a more general way. Then there’s the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust. I like feminine beauty in men, and masculine beauty in women. He’s a bit thin for my taste, but look at the lines of his face and the way he uses color to create an otherworldly image. Check out that costume, too. Talk about body confidence! He knows he’s got a great canvas to work with, and isn’t shy about emphasizing the sensuality of it.  As I consider these artists, it occurs to me that they both employ a couple of different approaches. Sometimes, the art obscures the body, so that the “canvas” is hardly noticeable. Other times, the art enhances the body, so that the beauty of the canvas itself is the focus. I think I find the latter to be the most sexually appealing.

In pop culture, the art of the body is part of the artist’s image. In film and television, the art is a part of a specific character. The actor’s body

Chiana from Farscape

Chiana from Farscape

is an instrument of his or her craft, and that includes appearance as well as speech, expression, and movement. One of my all time favorite movies, The Crow, uses makeup in a fairly simple way to express the internal world of the main character, and there’s something about that darkness and pain that really appeals to me. (It doesn’t hurt that Brandon Lee was scorching hot.) What really interests me, though, is my reaction to non-human characters. One that always struck me in particular was Chiana from Farscape. The actress herself is pretty, but put her in that make-up, wig, and costume, and wow! Her body movements were incredibly sensuous, too. What is it about her that is so sexy? The hollows and angles of her face? The big, dark eyes? That

Prince Nuada from Hellboy II

Prince Nuada from Hellboy II

adorable chopped hair? She’s another case of someone I wouldn’t necessarily want to have sex with, but who I find arousing in a more general sense. On the other side of the coin, there’s Prince Nuada from Hellboy II. He’s a wonderful blend of creepy and sensual, ugly and beautiful.  The textures of his skin remind me of abstract art. The lines and angles of his features are both elegant and arrogant, and he looks capable of doing the most erotically evil things…Yeah, I’d definitely have sex with him. I might not survive it, but what a way to go.

A fade haircut

A fade haircut

What about everyday people? We all express ourselves through our bodies in some way. Hair is the most obvious. Most of us try to make our hair look appealing, or at least not appalling. Some focus on the simple sensuality of the hair – texture, scent, shine. Healthy hair is just plain sexy. Others get much more creative. The “fade” hairdos can be really cool, a great example of self expression. When I see a particularly interesting one, it makes me curious about the person wearing it, makes me wonder what they’re saying about themselves, and sometimes what I see there is quite a turn-on. These days you see a lot of braids, especially in African-American hair. And dreadlocks, I find nice long dreads really hot. Now that I think about it, just going to the hair salon is a sensual experience. Having someone wash my hair and massage my scalp, toy with my hair, surround me with the scents of shampoo, conditioner, and other products, blow hot air on me…it must be the same for the hair stylist. I wonder if that’s part of why they get into the profession?

Tribal Tattoo

Tribal Tattoo

Tattoos are another common form of body art. I’ve got a band of roses around my right ankle, and would love to have another tat done if I can ever scrape up the money. The variety of what’s out there is absolutely amazing. In some cases, it’s just part of an overall image. Motorcycle leathers, beard stubble, long hair and tats, yum. In other cases, the tat itself is the star of the show. I particularly like those that enhance and emphasize the beauty of the body that wears them. Tribal designs that make you all the more aware of the hard male body they decorate. Delicate lines that coil around the natural curves of a woman’s form. Like with fade haircuts, many tattoos make me curious about the person wearing them. They reveal something that I find sexy even if the tat itself isn’t that arousing.

Play piercing wings

Play piercing wings

Piercings are popular nowadays, too. Pierced ears have been around for a long time, but in the last few decades other sorts of piercings have become common as well. I’m not really a fan, though I do think a tiny stud on the side of the nose can be cute. What I find appealing is the less common “play piercing.” These aren’t meant to be permanent, but are a temporary work of art using needles. I particularly love this image of “wings” created with piercings. One of these days I’m going to have to try needle play. The endorphin rush must be delicious, and I love the idea of making myself a temporary work of art. I’ve seen needles done in gorgeous patterns, decorated with beads and dangling jewels, twined with ribbons to create a sort of corset, and who knows what else you could do with them. What an unusual creative medium.

The body makes a beautiful fine art canvas as well. Body painting can be stunning, and very erotic.

Body painting

Body painting

It strikes me that sometimes that, for me, the art on the body is more arousing than the nude body itself. Perhaps because it’s more subtle? Suggestive of pleasure rather than a blatant display of body parts? Perhaps, as I’ve said elsewhere, it reminds me of how I feel about sex, which is often far more beautiful than pictures of the act itself (which can look pretty silly, you have to admit). The art speaks to the landscape of my senses and emotions around sexuality.

So the next time you dress up or fuss with your hair, think about the erotic art of what you’re doing. Are you emphasizing a particular part of your body? Presenting a certain image to the world? Are you putting your sexuality on display, or hiding it? Your body is a canvas. Take a look at what you are expressing with it. You might  be surprised by what you find.

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A pillow book painting from 19th century China

A pillow book painting from 19th century China

I’ve been curious about pillow books for a long time, and thought writing a blog post about them would be a great excuse for doing some research. I’ll start with the same caveat as in my last post: I’m not a historian or an expert of any kind. Research is a hobby (yeah, I’m a geek). All of what I write in this post is information I’ve found via the internet, and while I try to make sure my sources are solid, I make no guarantees.

So what are pillow books? There are a couple of different kinds. Some are basically journals that were kept by the bedside for writing down your thoughts. (The most well-known example of this is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a lady in the late tenth century Japanese Imperial Court.) I’m not going to talk about that type. I’m much more interested in the sex manual pillow books. These were beautiful works of art designed to teach newlyweds the pleasures of the bedroom.

Painting from a 19th century China pillow book

Painting from a 19th century China pillow book

The origins of the pillow book go back to ancient China. In the third century BC, philosopher Ko Tze wrote that “food and sex are life’s most natural appetites.” According to the Dynastic History of Later Han, “The arts of the bedroom constitute the climax of human emotions and encompass the totality of the Tao.” What a lovely way of looking at sex, don’t you think? I like the idea that being good in bed is part of being spiritually healthy. And that’s what pillow books were about: creating spiritual balance and a strong relationship through sex.

In China, pillow books were instruction manuals included in a bride and groom’s wedding trousseau. Their purpose was to both instruct and arouse. This poem in particular reveals a lot about how they were used and how sexuality was honored:

Painting from a Chinese Pillow Book, date unknown.

Painting from a Chinese Pillow Book, date unknown.

I have swept clean the pillow and the bedmat,
And have fitted the burner with rare incense.
Let us now lock the double door with the golden lock,
And light the lamp to fill our room with brilliance.
I shed my robes and remove my paint and powder,
And roll out the picture scroll by the pillow.
The Plain Girl I shall take as my instructress,
So that we may practice all the variegated postures,
Those that an ordinary husband has but rarely seen,
Such as taught by Tien-Lao to the Yellow Emperor.

(Excerpt of a poem by Che Heng (AD 78-139)

As you can see from the poem, pillow “books” were originally scrolls. Over time, they developed into books, usually containing 12 panels of illustrations. They spread from China to other parts of the orient, including India, Nepal, and Japan. Along with the paintings they included love poems, quotations from erotic texts and novels, and sometimes teachings from esoteric traditions of sexual energies. The young couple would look through the book together and learn how to pleasure each other in a loving, intimate way.

Painting from a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

Painting from a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

Let me emphasize that while pillow books contained very explicit images, they were not pornography. There is more to them than just variations of sexual positions. The settings are all detailed, and usually include gardens or some reference to nature. The clothing depicted is beautiful, with flowing lines and fine fabrics. The images are layered with the ideals of feminine beauty, spiritual meaning, court customs, humor, tenderness, and sensuality. One thing I find interesting is that the male and female bodies are quite similar, with soft curves for both rather than the modern dichotomy of males being hard and angular. In fact, in some of the images I wouldn’t know for sure which was which if it weren’t for the sexual organs displayed. It’s a great example of how the standards of sexiness can differ between one culture and the next.

Painting from a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

Painting from a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

In Japan, pillow books are associated with erotic paintings known as Shunga. I had trouble finding reliable sources on this. Some say Shunga sprang from pillow books, while others say it’s the other way around, and some seem to suggest that they’re not directly related. According to Wikipedia, Shunga began in the Heian Period (794-1185 AD), and was supposedly inspired either by Chinese medical illustrations or by Chinese pillow books. (I rather hope it was the latter.) Some sources claim that Japanese pillow books were originally geisha sexual instruction manuals which eventually spread into the mainstream as teaching aids for young brides. It’s funny that the information on these is so confusing, because the Japanese version of pillow books is supposedly much more well-known than its predecessor in China. Or maybe that’s why—the more popular something is, the more misinformation you’re bound to find about it.

Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, sex manual, erotica

Painting from a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

I love the idea of pillow books. In our modern western culture, sex is talked about more openly, but often in a pornographic, disrespectful way. Either that or in a romanticized manner, like in romance novels. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but do they foster intimacy between couples? Pillow books were a means of mutual exploration, a way to initiate and ease communication. How cool would it be to have something like that today? Especially for people who are ready to lose their virginity, but have no idea what they’re doing? I always wonder how people manage on their wedding night when both of them are virgins. A pillow book would be an excellent tool in that situation.

Cover of a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

Cover of a Japanese Shunga Pillow Book, date unknown

It would be interesting to start a new tradition of pillow books. I certainly could have used one back when I was first trying to figure out the whole sex thing. Something that gave accurate information, conveyed both the pleasure and the intimacy in a sensual way, eased the embarrassment, encouraged communication, and at the same time was a turn-on. If any of you artists out there want to give it a shot, let me know! I’d love to collaborate.

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