Sure the title is a pun I couldn’t resist, but it’s also the lead-in to a serious question about art and perception. It arose in the context of a photography trip to Utah last April, which began in Arches National Park. A few weeks ago, in Bones of the Earth, I made my first post about the project with that tentative title, which comes from the impression that the exposed rocks represent structures normally below the skin of the Earth.
The rock formations in Arches and elsewhere are of many shapes. Among them are ones that can’t help but bring the word phallic to mind. The first picture I took that first morning (first image below) already fit into that category. That’s not why I made the photograph — at least not consciously — but it’s something that occurred to me at roughly the same moment I decided to set up the camera. And although the rock can certainly stand on its own as subject, it’s possible that the subliminal association helped draw my attention to it.
After wandering through the area and making a number of photographs along similar lines, I was beginning to wonder if this had to be considered an exclusively male landscape. Very shortly after that, the following rock caught my attention, though I think it took a few moments to figure out why.
That turned out to be the first of many, so perhaps this landscape was not so gender-skewed after all. But if anything, it underlined the question of how much our attention, whether considering a landscape or an artwork, might be directed by sexual associations, unconscious or not. This is not unlike the face recognition discussed in a previous post, where it is well known that the brain has special regions for the task. I suspect that with abstract art, where obvious subjects are missing or minimal, this kind of subliminal processing has a much stronger affect.
Have there been times when sexual associations played a role in either your art or your viewing of someone else’s art? Are there artists, abstract or realistic, who deliberately manipulate our reactions using such perceptual tendencies? I guess one example, at least, is Edward Weston’s gorgeous pepper.