The text below is the excerpt of the book Gay Art, written by James Smalls, published by Parkstone International.
Art and homosexuality may seem like a strange combination, but both phenomena have been part of human history from the beginning of time, or at least from the beginning of recorded civilisation. Bringing together two large concepts – art and homosexuality – is nevertheless difficult and challenging. Both categories raise a host of conceptual problems and pose a series of unresolved nagging questions.
The primary question, “What is art and what purpose does it serve?”, has preoccupied humankind for centuries and has yet to find a definitive answer. There exists as many views and definitions about what art is (and is not) and its significance as there are individuals in the world. In the context of Gay Art, I am using the term “art” in a broad sense as human creation and communication within a visual field. Although the majority of the images here were produced in traditional media such as painting, sculpture, graphics, and photography, art would also include images and forms of production associated with, for example, popular culture, advertising, film, performance, conceptualism, or computer-generated imagery.
Ultimately, it is up to the reader of this book to decide what to accept or reject as art. Unlike “art,” the other term in this book’s title, “homosexuality,” can be defined more specifically. Homosexuality and its emotional aspects have existed in all cultures and in all time periods long before the invention of the term. It is and always has been one aspect of the very complex domain of human sexuality. The way homosexual love and sensibilities are visually expressed is often a reflection of the status of homosexuals themselves within their particular cultures.
These images are an indication of either the degree of tolerance in those societies or the sign of an increasingly restrictive prejudice fostered by traditions and religion. Before 1869, the words “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” did not exist. The former was coined and first put into use by the German-Hungarian writer and translator Karl Maria Kertbeny (1824-82). He also invented the latter term in 1880. Kertbeny’s purpose for using the word “homosexuality” was in response to an article of the Prussian penal code that criminalised sexual relations between men. Kertbeny wanted the article omitted, but was unsuccessful. The code became part of Prussian law in 1871 and was upheld and then strengthened by the Nazis in 1935, and retained by West Germany until 1969. Kertbeny had his own specific views on human sexuality.
Although there may never have been a coherent theory of homosexuality for him, he did divide homosexuals into specific categories: those who are “active,” “passive,” and “Platonists,” or those who love the company of their own sex without wanting to have sex with them. The designation “homosexuality,” then, started out as a term of sympathy and political activism to change a repressive law. However, over the years the word evolved into a concept that came to describe an individual’s sexual preference. The word and its evolving concept took some time to enter into European languages and thought patterns. In the 1880s, Kertbeny’s catchy new term attracted the attention of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a noted sexologist who used the word in his vastly popular 1886-87 Psychopathia Sexualis, a massive encyclopaedia of sexual deviance.
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