The Path of Least Respectability

I recently had the honor of participating in a group show dedicated to smut. Yes, you read that right. It was called Dirty Little Drawings, and that’s exactly what it was. Hundreds of 5.5 inch square artworks on paper dedicated to pleasurably erotic depictions of the male form. Was this just a bunch of artists getting their rocks off, or was it something deeper—a form of pleasure activism?

promotional poster for an erotic art show; featured collaged images of nude males from photos and famous artworks like the David

Seeing the fabulous display of talent in person, I was struck not just by the skill and variety of styles, but the amazing fact that we all choose, against the odds and probably at the dismay of many a friend and family, to proudly display erotic art.

It got me thinking about how artists choose their subject matter. (Or does it choose them?) I’ve pondered my own choices a little in previous blog posts on figure drawing and queer representation. So, why the human figure—not generally, but specifically the human figure in various states of undress and arousal. It all revolves around desire. The desire itself is composed of many, many things. It wanders, it takes twists and turns. It travels over hill and dale and back again. You might think the desire is pleasure oriented, and entirely personal—and it is! But the celebratory display of pleasure can be its own kind of activism, its own kind of resistance to oppression. Sometimes horny is just horny, darlings. Sometimes it can be the catalyst for revolution!

So, a trollish type might inquire, why not play it safe with a nice landscape? Or make your commentary with totally indeterminate splatters, or self-consciously clever bits of affected irony? I mean, when the capitalistic, mainstream art world gives a soul so much (🙄) to choose from, how could I possibly refuse some item from their particular menu? Well, let me tell you, darlings.

Authenticity. To create, I have to want to create what it is. Commissions and freelance work have never been my cup of tea. I’m not temperamentally suited to it nor have I devoted time and effort to build the mindset and skillset necessary for such endeavors. I also don’t want to chase after trends and fads. So, here I am walking the path of least respectability.

Now, sometimes a playing-it-safe respectability, the avoidance of conflict, can be a useful survival strategy, but when it becomes of way of life the soul shrivels and dies. The lights go out. This turn on the merry-go-round of incarnation is likely to lead to another just like it, or worse. I will have wasted the precious opportunity this human lifetime offers.

To make things in a world so focused on consuming, to offer rather than take, to realize a vision of what I want to see more of in the world, these take some serious motivation. The dubious and dull comfort of respectability is not going to cut it. Pleasure activism requires a hell of charge in the batteries to keep going. I gotta really be fired up when it’s time to make the donuts…

The trade-offs of this path are indeed difficult, but worth it. Just look at how frustrated desires have twisted so many people into monsters. The pain they bear radiates off them in waves of destruction that threaten everything and everyone around them. Yes, my way of quiet, horny rebellion is tough. Yes, it gets to be a little too much at times. But, then I contemplate the alternative, a life and legacy like J. Edgar Hoover, Roy Cohn or Milo Yiannopoulos, and the doubt eases a little—sometimes it evaporates totally. We affect each other, like it or not. If I’m pursuing respectability and recognition at the expense of my authenticity, I’m poisoning the air around me with every dishonest breath I take.

But then moments like the Dirty Little Drawings show, regular gatherings for figure drawing, and other times of community and sharing remind me, it’s all worth it.

The world is too damn straight!

two handsome men kissing

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Published by Edward Ficklin

Edward Ficklin (he/him), maverick artist not afraid to say gay, is a self-taught painter, writer, publisher and sometimes technologist. He creates sensuous and erotically-tinged queer surrealist art, publishes queer-centered sci-fi comix, and pontificates regularly on a range of topics in his Queer Quantum Dispatch newsletter.

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