There is no way to understand modern gay erotic art without understanding how it came from its history. While many homophobes would like to believe that homosexuality was the invention of the 20th Century, this is a lie. Homosexuality has been with mankind uninterruptedly from the moment homo sapiens first came into existence. So too has art.
Art has always had three functions: to express feelings, to capture images, and to be decorative or entertaining. The second function, capturing images, has had a variety of sub-functions: education, religion, and sexual stimulation among them. While we are all familiar with the Kama Sutra and its ancient illustrations, relatively few of us Westerners realize that it is a religious text and it is not shy about promoting homosexuality with the same, pardon the pun, gay abandon, as heterosexuality. But look at an unedited copy of the Kama Sutra and there you have it, men on men, men on women, women on women. And for all that instruction in how to use sex as a way of achieving nirvana, the pictures are perhaps crude, but certainly explicit.
Until the invention of mechanical photography in the middle of the 1800’s, art was the only way to do image capture and artists were expected to come up with good likenesses. Henry VIII’s artist, Holbein, got in terrible trouble with His Majesty when Henry was between wives and Holbein went to capture an image of Anne of Cleves. Unfortunately for Holbein, he really liked Anne and brought back to England a lovely image of her, leading Henry to set up the marriage. Henry, thinking far less of Anne’s appearance (calling her a Flemish mare) practically divorced her before he married her. Fortunately, neither Holbein nor Anne had to pay with their heads.
Portraits of mail order brides, grooms, mistresses, and lovers were a standard of erotic art until the invention of the camera. Until the invention of the camera, every purpose to which images of naked people have been put was to be found in gay art – both lesbian and male. Masturbation, including gay masturbation, was tantric massage also not invented in the 20th Century and actually dates back far earlier than homo sapiens.
The camera changed everything.
With the invention of the camera, paint and charcoal could be used for image capture, but there was no longer any need to do so. Yet, it took a while for the freedom that meant to fully sink into the consciousness of artists. Crude photographs existed literally decades before truly abstract art came on the mainstream of art. Yet, when we look at the impressionists like Renoir, and especially my great favorites, the post-impressionists like one of my greatest influences, Van Gogh, we realize that art, for many, had moved from image capture to image inspired work. Once purely abstract work came on the scene, even that allowed for erotic art. One need only look at my most abstracted work to see that much of it calls eroticism to mind, even if only as to mood.
In that, I am hardly alone. Also we find many images that are certainly human beings, but equally clearly never to be mistaken for a photograph. Can artists like me do paintings that can be mistaken for photos? Of course we can. Look at my own Doppler Effect. But we don’t do photo realism when we don’t want to because we find we have something to say other than the image, times when photo-realism would actually distract from our message. For an example of that, look at my Invitation to the Dance, where the erotic joy of the dancing male couple would only have been hidden had I selected my photo realistic style.