The Huffington Post | By Sara Boboltz
Depictions of penii were common in ancient Greece -- but particularly small ones, which adorn many of the marble sculptures that survive the period. Were the men of the time really so poorly endowed? Or did they prefer to feel superior to hunks of marble? Nope. Large penii, actually, were associated with the grotesque. The ideal aesthetic, explained by Aristophanes, was "a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks and a little prick."
Life must have been pretty boring for the person copying out line after line in the pre-printing-press world. Penises show up in the marginalia of several medieval manuscripts from flying green penis monsters to sun-ripened penises dangling from penis-laden tree branches.
In some contexts, one art historian suggested, such dong drawings existed only for luls. "A tree with phalluses is funny throughout the ages," she explained. And while that’s undeniably true, an alternate interpretation suggests a negative connotation. It’s thought that a Tuscan penis tree mural uncovered ten years ago was all political, commissioned by one Tuscan faction to associate the other with "heresy, sexual perversion, civic strife and witchcraft."
Louise Bourgeois --- "Everything I loved had the shape of people around me—the shape of my husband, the shape of the children," Bourgeois has said. "So when I wanted to represent something I love, I obviously represented a little penis." The title of the work, however, lends it ambiguity. In the 1960s Bourgeois began constructing hanging sculptures and using a variety of materials—here plaster and latex—to create organic, fleshy sculptures that recall the human body.
The Renaissance: So by this time, people were opening up to the idea that the sun might not move around the Earth, but sculpting a foreskin-covered assault rifle as art still would've been far from kosher. So when an artist wanted to paint some dingaling doodles, he might resort to symbolism -- using food. Yum!
Raphael's "Cupid and Psyche" was a veritable fruit salad of salacity. One corner features a suggestively shaped gourd, with suggestively shaped eggplants at its base, piercing an extra-ripe fig splitting open with juiciness. *Blushes.*
Straight-up male genitalia was also seen -- Michelangelo's "David" is of course one of the Renaissance's most well-known pieces -- but mainly in the context of religious and historical subject matter. It was also still teensy and uncircumcised, because there was a time when people didn't just cut off foreskin (which is probably good, because they might not have realized the importance of sterilizing sharp objects before they come into contact with infant genitals).
Prior advances in anatomy had begun to influence how art students learned about the human body, too, encouraging them to strive for accuracy. They tried less to recreate Classical proportions (read: teeny peen) than to represent the model’s true figure.
In 1920, Constantin Brancusi scandalized everyone at the Salon de Indépendants when he unveiled a shiny, curved gold sculpture called "Princess X." Supposedly, when Picasso said it looked kind of phallic, Brancusi got all pissy and denied it. But we should note that this was the era of Freud’s whole “subconscious mind” theory that had some artists exploring dreams and symbolism of form. (The subject's long neck in Magritte's "The Rape," above, suggests a phallus piercing its torso-face.) So maybe Brancusi didn’t consciously mean to make a phallic symbol? Maybe? No?
As art became more brash, like the music of that one shaggy-looking male quartet, artists -- including lady artists -- created even more explicit works shaped by new-ish technologies (photography!) and popular culture (movies! music! canned goods!).
Herman Makkink's fiberglass "Rocking Machine," which bears a clear phallic likeness during its appearance in Kubrick's 1971 "A Clockwork Orange," helped the artist gain notoriety. Drawing on decades' worth of fancy psychoanalysis, Louise Bourgeois coined her slogan, "Art is a guarantee of sanity," and went on to create the monument to reason dubbed "Fillette" -- a giant penis-slash-female-torso. And, among his many representations of household names like Monroe and Campbell, Andy Warhol printed his self-described "dirty art" featuring a dude standing with his legs crossed, fully exposed, and -- and -- full-sized!
Of course there was also Robert Mapplethorpe's "Man in Polyester Suit," famous for delving into LGBT and race issues. It features -- that’s right -- a black man in a polyester suit, with his dongalong casually sticking out of his pants like he forgot about it or something, as one does.
Finally, we arrive at...
Since only a rare few things will shock the art world these days, there are penisesseriously everywhere. Examples abound!
“We don't sit down and say, 'This will piss so-and-so off.’ We make the work we instinctively feel like making,” explained punk artist Sue Weber, who, along with Tim Noble, created a mass of phalluses in the mid-1990s that makes a shadow of the couple’s heads leaning back-to-back when light hits it just so. Fellow sculptor Jamie McCartney cast myriad genitalia -- male and female -- to complete his works, which tile together private parts like the world’s most X-rated backsplashes. McCartney says he uses humor to “break down barriers and encourage public engagement with tricky subjects.” Like their nether regions.
Meanwhile, Kristen Fredericks continues to knit more penile creations down in Australia, where they sprout eyes, hang out in packs and, inexplicably, grow breasts. Fredericks, who definitely looks like somebody’s mom, formerly worked as a knitwear designer before she put her considerable needlework skills to better uses.
But in the Contemporary sphere, there’s also...
“It is monumental, heroic, romantic, left-radical, an act of protest,” explained hooligan Aleksei Plutsner-Sarno. “I like it as a piece of work, not just because it is a penis.”
Should you like an unbiased third-party opinion of your budding photography skills, Madeline Holden, who runs the site Critique My D*ck Pic, will* deliver**! Promising “100% ANON, NO SIZE SHAMING,” the New Zealander sheds her lawyer alter ego to pass judgment on some of the many, many, many penis portraits sent to her, saying it’s shown her how “fragile” the male ego is. Maybe you wouldn’t guess anyone wielding civilization’s most time-honored symbol of power and dominance might ever feel “fragile” about it. Yet Holden says the blog has been “an anonymous outlet for them to share their deepest vulnerabilities (and to swing their d*cks around).”
And, finally, who could forget Snapchat, which has truly democratized penis art, allowing anyone to improve photographs with crude sketches.
So that's it. We make penis art, we used to make penis art and, as shown by eighth grader Eliot Ratray on a school trip to a site of 35,000-year-old historic cave drawings, we will always make penis art.
"My friend Ian dared me to draw a wiener [on the cave wall] so I did,” said the youth. “I was going to make it peeing but Mrs. Wiser started walking over.” And an artist was born.
for more on Russia see my post of 2/13/2014 of Petr Paulensky's 'protest art'
and for penis performance art
see my post of 6/1/2014 regarding Steven Choen's 'Coq/Cock'