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Posts by Richard Rothstein

Looking Behind The Queer Eye

I’ve always been somewhere between irritated and offended by Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.  Did it perpetuate offensive stereotypes:  the clueless lives-like-a-pig badly groomed straight man and the flaming nobody makes it as pretty as a poof gay boy?  And then there is that nagging feeling–as it is with all stereotypes, that both stereotypes are built on a grain of truth.

Regarding homosexuality, the world seems focused on two very queer questions.

The first question suggests that homosexuals differ from heterosexuals in no other way than the sex act.  Are we just like everybody else, differing only in our choice of sex partner?  Or does sexual orientation, like gender, cause us to think and feel differently in many ways other than just sexual attraction?  And is this particularly obvious when it comes to the visual and performing arts?  Is there, in fact, a Queer Eye?

img src=”http://rjr10036.typepad.com/proceed_at_your_own_risk/images/2008/01/06/bret_and_stephen_070.jpg” align=”middle” />

The second question, of course, is the raging controversy: nature vs. nurture?

But there is a third “elephant in the room” question that is mostly ignored;  Are gay men generally more creative than everyone else or is this one big fat whopping stereotype?

The compelling implication of the creativity question is that if the answer is yes and we are generally more creative and more sensitive to our environment, than the first two questions make no sense–unless you actually believe that talent is a chosen and subsequently learned skill.

Does Bravo Television’s Queer Eye For The Straight Guy play to an offensive Jim Crow kind of stereotype or do queer men bring a greater sense of style and taste to the physical world?

img src=”http://rjr10036.typepad.com/proceed_at_your_own_risk/images/2007/12/31/queer_eye.jpg” align=”middle” />

Do gay men naturally dominate the creative arts or are we simply more comfortable being out and loud in this more permissive and expressive environment?  Have anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and homo-ologists built a house of cards on a very false premise?  What is the queer eye?  Is the queer eye born of and nurtured by the closet?  Obviously, our sexual tastes coupled with the repressed and confined boundaries of the closet drive a much keener awareness and sensitivity to human behavior and the environment in general.  Visual details from color to hand gestures become much more important to the queer boy than to the straight boy.  And survival is the driving force.  The wrong hand gesture in an ordinary school yard can earn you a bloody nose.   A pink shirt in high school announces “fag” to some, “pride” to others.

During very early stages of childhood development, queer boys necessarily become superior observers, consummate actors and very creative creatures.  Even within your own family, you catch on quickly to the fact that you are seeing the world through different eyes than almost everyone else around you.  Many artists will tell you that pain and “experience” are the greatest muses–and who feels more pain and has more “life experience” than a queer?

img src=”http://rjr10036.typepad.com/proceed_at_your_own_risk/images/2007/12/31/survivor.jpg” align=”left” />Obviously, the same cannot be said for other minorities–persecuted or otherwise.  We are unique in that we are born a minority even within our own ethnic, cultural or religious minorities.  While any queer Jew or African American will tell you that he or she acquired useful survival tools as a Jew or African-American that apply to queer survival, the queer needed to take those survival tactics and strategies to an entirely new level not even remotely imagined by his or her immediate blood family.

So let us ask another obvious question.  In order to survive, the queer must call upon inner resources and behavioral skills not even remotely part of the lives of most heterosexuals.  Survival compels the queer to hone senses and sensitivities far beyond the needs of the average mainstream heterosexual.  Is that the fuel behind enhanced creativity and sensitivity?  Is that the origin of the Queer Eye?

So here we are circling back to nature vs nurture.

And the debate rages on.  One prominent thinker attributes queer creativity to a form of impaired maturation.  Another suggests that homosexuality forges a stronger relationship between mother and infant, which some science now suggests may be the evolutionary basis of art.  Does the disproportionate number of gay men in the arts suggest an unusual and extraordinary capacity to speak the language of maternal love?

Are we retarded (but in a loving way)?

Internationally respected scientist, artist and author (The Naked Ape) Desmond Morris, who became a bestselling author by applying zoology to explain human behavior, has now utilized the same techniques to put forward an explanation for homosexuality.

In his latest book, The Naked Man, Morris theorizes that men are “made gay” because they retain infantile or juvenile characteristics into adulthood – a phenomenon known as neoteny. img src=”http://rjr10036.typepad.com/proceed_at_your_own_risk/images/2007/12/31/desmond_morris_2.jpg” align=”right” />

According to this theory, gay men also tend to be more inventive and creative than heterosexuals because they are more likely to retain the mental agility and playfulness of childhood.  Intuitively, that sounds  and feels “right”. 

“Gays have in general made a disproportionately greater contribution to life than non-gays,” said Morris, who is also a noted artist. “The creative gay has very much advanced Planet Earth.”

“The playfulness of childhood is continued with certain people into adulthood. This is very much a positive. Adult playfulness means that certain people, often a fairly large proportion of them gay, are more inventive and curious than heterosexuals.”

This new Morris theory has been attacked by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London. “It’s arts faculty science to say that gays are neotenous,” he said. “It’s a stupid idea. Where is the real evidence?” more… »

Male And Manhattan Architecture

Since I last checked in with Art & Perception, I’ve been exploring the synthesis of two of my most persistent obsessions: Manhattan and beatuiful men. I was partly motivated by comments on this blog questioning my lack of people in my city views and details. As a result of that, I have of late gone in a completely opposite direction.

Truth be told, I rarely enoy nude male photography, it leaves me cold. Too obvious. On the other hand the naked city in all of its hardness, rigid angles and cubist statements is to my eye powerfully masculine and quite arousing. So I wondered if I could use my camera to create some kind of visual and emotional communication between the stone, steel and glass architecture, textures and colors of my adored metropolis and the architecture, textures and colors of beautiful men.

I’m not sure I’ve succeeded quite yet, but I do feel I am on the right path. And I must confess–not surprisingly–the exploration has been great fun.

Perhaps the strangest part of this experience has been that the sexual and visual pleasure that I’ve been experiencing during this process of of exploration has been unique and extraordinarily intense in ways I had not imagined. Furthermore, the experience has given rise to intense personal feelings that I’ve not experienced during the actual act of sex. Partly, this is because–with one exception–I have not indulged in sex with my models despite the fact that one of the criteria I’ve used to select my models has been powerful sexual attraction. Limiting myself to the visual experience has opened the door on new sensations and much more powerful visual experience than I’ve ever had before.

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Manhattan Men In Motion

Some weeks ago there was a discussion on this blog about why I don’t photograph people as part of my studies of Manhattan.  Since that discussion, I have, of course, become obsessed with photographing people.  In case you were looking for an example of how we influence each other on this blog, you now have a very good example.

With all respect for the various and wonderful women of the world, as a man there is an undeniable connection between my brain, my eye and my penis so, not surprisingly as a gay man I have pretty much focused my camera on me…and the streets of Manhattan are chock a block full of beautiful and sexy  men. And at the risk of stereotyping and generalizing, as walkers, men and women are very different.  Men are going somewhere and they are focused on that–even if it’s nowhere–almost oblivious to there surroundings.  Women are observers. They’re moving more slowly and looking at store windows, how other women are dressed, what possible threats there may be to their safety–and if they’re being led by a man, they are never looking forward.  It’s actually pretty funny to observe.


I’ve also learned that male Manhattanites are so focused on their “missions” that you can stick a camera up a man’s ass and he’s likely not to notice unless it has a vibration mode–and even then he might mistake it for a passing subway train.   As a result I’m loving the ability to capture unposed body language and, more specifically,  Manhattan male motion.

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Queer New York At Night: Times Square Views

Queer Art; Or Is All Art Queer?


Last week I postulated that Art Deco as an art movement speaks a distinctly queer language.  This week The New York Times asks how openly and assertively gay artists reflect the emergence of gay culture into the mainstream. It’s a fascinating article that speaks very much to the issue of how art both reflects and influences cultural change.  While words are one thing, the work itself goes a lot further in answering the questions. What is gay art?  What is it reflecting?  How is it reflecting and changing gay culture and the culture at large?  Rather than talk about the work of the artists discussed in today’s Times, I attempted to visually represent the leading edge of this supposed new school of art. As a gay man I am of course fascinated by this work and its collective messages, but I’m more curious to know what straight men and women think.  However, while I look forward to your opinions I would also postulate that even those of you who are “straight” are, as artists, absolutely queer as well, regardless of who you bed so I’m not really sure you can provide a “straight” perspective…nonetheless…

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Art Deco: The Gay Lodestone?

Are the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge queer?

In response to my “tribute” to the Empire State Building, Karl asked a simple question that caused me to do an extraordinary amount of thinking.  This post is the answer and it’s hardly a simple one.

I was gushing over my life-long fascination and love affair with the Empire State Building and its powerful iconic nature. Karl asked: “How much of your attraction to the building has to do with the architectural style itself? At first I couldn’t’ see how to separate the two but after a while it dawned on me that there was much more to the question than was immediately apparent.

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The Empire State Building: Breaking The Second Commandment

EXODUS 20:2-14: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I’m fascinated by the relationship between secular and religious iconography.  In particular, I have an intensely passionate emotional and intellectual relationship with one of the world’s most compelling and famous secular icons: the Empire State Building and it is through that passion that I’ve come to understand something more about religious iconography.

When it comes to religious iconography I am seriously handicapped as an agnostic, a cynic and as a Jew.  This subject is particularly challenging for a Jew, secular or otherwise. Even a secular Jew grows up “understanding” that iconography is simple-minded at best, blasphemous at worst. The truth is found within our hearts and minds and to seek the truth through images is false, intellectually lazy and in opposition to the absolute word of God.

But my life long relationship with the Empire State Building has defied my Jewish perspective and seditiously lured me into the world of image worship. (Just one of the commandments I routinely break.) more… »