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Sensual Gallery

Sensual Culture

Inspiration should be a verb, not a noun; it is a complex dynamic, a force of Nature and our nature. When someone asks me what “inspires” me and my artwork, I can’t imagine naming any one thing, or list of “things”. It’s like asking my favorite color. I can’t help but answer, ALL, “all of the Above and Below”.

What doesn’t inspire the artistic eye that doesn’t merely “look at”, but “sees through” to the imaginal depth of any given perception or experience? Rather than the impressionistic senses informing the soul, the soul informs the multisensory experience of being. Inspiration means life, the opposite of death. It implies purpose, direction, meaning, ecstasy, creativity.

Any moment can be as inspirational as the next. Inspiration can come from an internal movement or sensation, a love affair with color and form, the awe of an incandescent moment, even the pain of a soul on fire struggling to express itself or the zeitgeist of the times. All ways of looking at reality are imaginative. When we see soul as the background of all phenomena, we become aware of the animating principle.

The soul in depth psychology is an empirical manifestation of imagination, fantasy, and creativity which is always in the process of becoming--images forming, and dissolving, and forming anew. Imagination is the essence of the life forces, both physical and psychic. It is the hidden ground behind symbol, archetype, metaphor, image. These fantasies always permeate our beliefs, ideas, emotions, and physical nature.

Our imagination is not something possessed by our minds, but the fundamental conscious/unconscious field of our psyche, our soul. The imaginal field is not derivative, but the very ground of our existence, conditioning all of our experience. It is where the personal encounters the transpersonal and finds “I AM That”. Imagination is the primary irreducible activity of the soul.

The image-making psyche or soul is the primary creative capacity, not only in art. Yet, perhaps, this is what is meant when it is said an artist has ‘soul,’ the capacity to draw on the inspirational mythopoetic taproot to Source, the creative field. Imagination is the basis of soul. In fact, to live the artistic life is to live immersed consciously in that aesthetically-nuanced Reality, to find it virtually inescapable.

Imaginal Ground as Aesthetic Paradigm

The intrapersonal process of art and the products of art have different cultural meanings. However, the primary purpose of art as a culture is to externalize and concretize for some time that ephemeral ever-morphing field of the image-scape. It merges subjective and objective through an affective, aesthetic experience. Our cultivation of the soul restores the human dimension to experience, destigmatizing imagination as merely fantasy, illusion, dream, or delusory perception.

It is the mind that is perhaps a distorting lens, structured by beliefs, myths, and philosophies, even those of so-called rational science. This is so because the mind is in the Imagination, the Anima Mundi, rather than the reverse. We can’t think without images. Multisensory images constantly condition our meaningful perception of the world, inner and outer. They organize our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behavior, our responses.

Our images condition our perception and perspective, the way we see. As artists, it isn’t what we see and depict, but how we see it. Traditional art promotes conformity. Interesting art, as distinct from what we could call “sofa art”, has something to say, a unique perspective or point of view that speaks to the observer or participant.

Art as a culture is a traditional means of confronting the imagination. Art as a process is not confined by rules of academic art. The digital revolution challenged the traditional world of painting, but computer-assisted art is no less human because the tool has changed from a brush to a program. In fact, it is the human dimension of this art that keeps it interesting, over-riding the sterility of mere technical perfection.

People turn to film and art to help them contextualize experience, personal and collective. The “art world” as a biased cultural force cannot predetermine how any generation will meet the imagination. Dogmatic expression of fantasy is an oxymoron. It discourages the genuinely novel, demoting it to novelty.

Thus, there is no “artform” today, because even “The Present” barely qualifies as such. Thus, “fame” has become a pseudo-artform superceding the importance of one’s ouvre in the public domain. The “artist”, a role-playing put on, becomes a mere novelty or element of the media spectacle, there to provide entertainment.

The more we attune to the imaginal field, the closer we come to the semantic idea of “inspiration”, as a lived and breathed reality, renewed in each instant. That ‘present’ can remake our past and forge our future. Why should inspiration or creativity be “unusual” when, in fact, it goes on all the time? It quickens, exercises, elevates and stimulates the intellect and emotions with passion, purpose, meaning.

Make friends of The Muses. Inspiration is simply the loving expression of a heightened and churning impulse toward creativity. What we believe conditions what we perceive, feel, and express. The prime expression of beliefs is through spontaneous imagery. We never experience directly, but interpret our experience of our perceptions through imagery. All our input comes through multi-sensory channels.

If you want to be inspired, live a life undergird and informed by that inherent capacity. Quit fantasizing that you do not! Inspiration comes from the imaginal field, the zero-point of soul -- even if we are as unaware of it as the quantum field.

The soul generates images unceasingly. The soul lives on images and metaphor. These images form the basis for our consciousness. Embrace the image. Soul mediates between mind and body, personality and world. Believe in the truth of images. Don’t institutionalize your imagination or experiences.

We “make soul” by living life, by irrepressibly imagining possibilities. Soul is rooted firmly in the mundane world. We cannot be in the physical world without demonstrating the archetypal or the imaginal. We might conclude that imaginative behaviour and physical behaviour exist in a symbiotic relationship

Quit falsely imagining that you are uninspired, that you are separate at all from the heartfelt Source of inspiration, the communication of Truth. Cultivate your soul, giving it a voice. Challenge your accepted, institutionalized way of perceiving, habitual forms, with an imaginative aesthetic response.

Beauty is the manifestation of the soul, reflecting the ways we are touched, psychically and sensually. We connect with objects through imagination and feeling, our heartfelt response to our senses. Imaging is an aesthetic activity that evokes human feeling. The value of images is their ability to evoke feeling, elaboration, speculation, and transformation. Engage process and inspiration flows. You become artist, not as a role but a vocation, when you return that heart and soul to the world.

Phoenix Show, Ice House, Electronica

Fun with Fetish,
September 22, 2007
Laurence Gartel, the godfather of digital fine art, breaks new ground in this voyeur's delight, an overview of the global fetish scene. Using the lighthearted and glamorous Miami fetish community as his base, Gartel has taken a unique artistic look behind the green doors of international expressions of fetish, from London to Hollyweird. Subcultures are a fleeting phenomena that evolve in their expression over time. Gartel has done what no simple fetish photographer can do, raising the subject from low- to highbrow art. He covers the gamut from hardcore fetish devotees, to vanilla fetish in the club scene, to punk and industrial fetish, ritualized sex, body piercing and modification, and more. A really fun companion book to his DVD, likewise named "The Art of Fetish". A sort of bizarre Kama Sutra for the 21st century, it makes a great gift for lovers. Spiced up with quotes from participants, sex experts and sex entrepeneurs, its a lively romp in candy-coated color. Take a walk on the wildside, beyond your wildest imagination. Try it, you'll like it. See my epilogue.

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Artistic Vitality in Sexually Potent Art
Iona Miller, 4-2004

“New art is always shocking,
because you don’t know what you’re looking at. . .
It’s about boundaries being permeated and transgressed. It makes people nervous when there aren’t any boundaries.”
~Lisa Phillips, Director, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC

“...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed
... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art.”
~Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1985
“With male nudes in full display, pornography a common source material, and explicit imagery the norm in galleries and museums, sex in art has become fun, disturbing, raunchy, even cerebral.” ~Linda Yablonsky, Art News, January 2004

Nakedness and Vulnerability

Many art forms over the centuries have centered around celebrating the body. both male and female, animalistic and spiritualized, and imaginative forms in-between. Like undertows along the shore, deep currents of eroticism have always pervaded the creative edge of the cultural ocean of art. To remain vital, art must stay in contact with the erotic element, the ground of our very psychophysical being. To deny it, is to deny life and the vulnerability of our naked awareness.

Art gives form to the apparitions of our imaginations, and one of the most imaginative is the erotic form, expression of the erotic impulse, or raw libido. Both art and eroticism are forms of the epitome of human life, expressions of insight and deep feeling. Sexuality is one way of inducing ecstatic states that alter perception dramatically. It is simultaneously and paradoxically ordinary yet extraordinary. It embodies the very essence of dramatic tension, a finite act with infinite repercussions.

Art is the spearhead of human development, both collective and individual. It was the seminal force and vanguard of cultural advance in Egypt, Greece, Europe, Africa, and Asia; all these cultures produced some extraordinarily erotic art. While the vulgarization of art is considered a sure sign of ethnic decline (Langer), erotic or vulgar art itself appears in all eras heralding new perceptions of our erotic drive, our sexual self-images. Even if perceived as an affront, art values rather than devalues the sexual image.

More than the difference between the naked and the nude, erotic art transgresses the boundaries of outdated eras and mores, including fashionable nudity. All that is erotic is not necessarily pornographic, and what some might call pornographic is often not perceived as lacking artistic merit, even prescience, in following eras. Artists test our social and psychic boundaries, making them more explicit. Sexual art can emulate the psychic and emotional forces at play in arousal, active engagement, and afterglow. Sexual tension has been a perennial theme in art through the ages.

What begins as shocking becomes familiar once emotional merger is consummated through suggestive penetration. Art expresses an essentially inward experience. Though for some the distinction between art and porn is not easy, explicit or compelling artistic depiction of the fringes of human sexuality is not the same as perversion or obscenity. It brings images back from the extreme edge of society to the mainstream for consideration at all levels, shamelessly chronicling the unvarnished human condition.

Shock, Shame and Disgust

Art, unlike pornography, contains an essential emotional content. It aims at stimulating the largest sex organ, the mind -- rather than just the genitals. Erotic art is always more than merely aesthetic. The function of the artist has always been to look unflinchingly into the dark heart of humanity and describe the living, breathing processes of human life as frankly as possible. The artist’s mandate is to look at everything.

Erotic art serves the same purpose as all art: objectifying self-knowledge as it springs forth from artistic imagination. Every generation has its own style of feeling, determined by forces including artists who shape that vision. Erotic art’s purpose is more than to shock, to confront, even to transgress. It explores the threshold of sanity and insanity, narrowing the definition of obscenity and expanding the definition of art as a legitimate context for sexual expression.

Each flowering of the arts, each new formulation leads to a cultural advance that signals a new way of feeling. It reeducates our vision beyond hostility to the explicit into mirroring the foresight of the artist’s eye. It transforms the worldly and mundane into a piece of imagination -- an imaginative inward vision.

Total nudity is more than nakedness; it is an imaginative state where barriers between lovers, between artwork and viewer, dissolve in a lingering encounter. Truth stands revealed, unadorned, transparent.

Fertility, Fear and Awe

Cross-cultural and transtemporal visions of sexuality have maintained persistent themes of power, beauty, and spirituality in the grossest and most carnal of human acts. The cultural trinity centers around sex, death and religion. In the Paleolithic era art was visceral shamanic fetishism, talisman creating and ritual drama.

In the Neolithic era, fetish continued as taboo. The first fully modern humans were characterized by art and symbolic thought. Then cult worship of the chubby pudenda of the Great Mother goddesses developed. Her mystery embodied the magical invisible workings of divinity through the sexual organs.

Sexuality had an important place in Egyptian myths, creation tales, and the afterlife that was not ignored in their art, symbolic and explicit. The so-called Turin Erotic Papyrus (O’Connor) demonstrates both reverence and irony in a variety of positions emphasizing the delightful fertility generating energy of the blue lotus.

In the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman pagan worlds, the wildness and soulfulness of the psyche were equally celebrated in the ithyphallic form and availability of the hetaera or sacred prostitutes, along with heroic versions of the human form. Nudity was perhaps the most important contribution of classical Greek art. The repressive early Christian era brought sublimation and transmutation of the instinctual spirit’s yearning for union.

After the near total religious suppression of Eros in the Dark Ages, the Renaissance brought a resurgence of pagan imagery and renewed interest in the vitality of the physical and psychic image. Meanwhile, Asian sexual art explored the spiritual dimension of Lingam and Yoni, jade-warrior and fleshy blossom, while African art maintained its blunt primal vitality.

Modern art began a systematic exploration of the distortions and perversions of sexuality, including impressionistic, surrealist, and abstract fetishization. Avant garde breakthroughs and revelations were conceptually daring and novel in both graphic design and ritualistic physical performance art. Now we are jaded by these socially assimilated cliches and neo-tribalism. It is a fact of post Postmodern life that all these currents still flow strongly, endlessly recycling through the depths of our collective psyches depending on where we find ourselves on the sexual evolutionary spectrum.

Power and Helplessness

The artist’s actual medium is the psyches of the public, which are massaged, aroused to curiosity, piqued, fascinated, infatuated, and sometimes emotionally terrorized by this pseudo-intimacy. The artist mounts more than his image: the viewer is intellectually and emotionally ridden at his or her pleasure. Curiously, it is not a substitute for sex, but arguably its very creative evolution. Reflective observation is more than passive voyeurism. One is changed by the experience, seeded within the dark virtuality of the unseen dimension.

Our culture’s preoccupation with sex is undeniable as expressed in advertising media, so why shouldn’t it continue appearing in our galleries, museums, music venues, and screening rooms in ever-renewing forms? Surrealism bent and stretched our notions of physical embodiment with a bizarre, dreamlike qualities. Low brow art has proven that all that implies beauty and truth is not necessarily beautiful to look at in its stark reality, but worthwhile to consciously examine, nevertheless.

Today’s “Know Brow” art fearlessly stares at it all, if not in the face, where it clearly counts. Perhaps the Third Eye really lies below the waist. Why not realize that “many of the masterpieces of modern art depend on perversion to make their dramatic point”? (Kuspit) Robert Bak suggests, “Fetishism is the model for all perversions.” Still, the seductiveness of the bodies is subsumed in the seductiveness of the overall image or scene. In this context, one’s oeuvre means more than one’s fleshy meat.

Contemporary sexual identity is in flux, creating new sexual types and titillations by actively changing our psychology and sexuality. The future of reconfigured sex is pangendered pandrogynous (P-Orridge) -- a liquification not only of the organs, but also of all the formerly presumed limitations of our biology. Visual, theatrical and biological experimentation in this area has been happening at the fringes and in the dungeons of contemporary society at least for a few decades, as people play imaginatively with their bodies and sexual personae.


‘Normal sex’ has become all too familiar and boring outside of the bedroom. More than narcissistic indulgence, for today’s artist, the formerly pornographic image is just part of the artistic palette, something to be morphed and remolded in the contemporary context, sometimes hiding the explicit in plain sight. Visions of new ways of connecting are already emerging in the art world, as they always have.

“Put an artist at a drawing board and he may design new types of genitals that attach like replaceable parts, or at least move them around a bit (clitoral relocation) so that they are better positioned, or not so vulnerable (internal testicles). Genitalia could resemble the unfolding designs of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, or an element that rises indefinitely like M.C.Escher’s staircases. Genitals could be advanced prosthetics that barely resemble the parts that we have today. We could have several genitals, or none. Add an extra one for more stimulation, have none when you really want to focus without distractions.” (More, 1997)

For art to remain vital, not merely decorative and safe, it must follow the currents of the libidinous urge as it flows stronger than ever through our cultural landscape beyond simple physical sensation and somatic gender. We will always be motivated to maintain and feed our greedy sexual appetites. We will also continue craving strong cerebral and aesthetic responses, as well as somatic experiences.

So why not praise and celebrate both penis and vagina before technology and imagination make them potentially obsolete? Rather than supplanting the sexual aim, sexual art is vital -- it is preparatory, the seed of “coming attractions.” It is merciless and unrestrained cultural foreplay, designed to rouse us from our indolence, from ambivalence. Why not let it ravish us?


Bonfante, Larissa (2003). “The Naked and the Nude: Erotic Images in the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman Worlds.” Archaeology Odyssey. Jan-Feb 2003, p. 44-53.
Duca, Lo (1966). A History of Eroticism. Covina, California: Collectors Publications. Adapted from the French by Kenneth Anger.
Evola, Julius (1983). The Metaphysics of Sex. New York: Inner Traditions International.
Kuspit, Daniel. “Perversion In Art.” Online at
Langer, Susan (1962). “The Cultural Importance of Art”. Philosophical Sketches.
More, Natasha Vita (1997). “The Future of Sexuality” Online at . Accessed 4-4-04.
O’Connor, David (2001). “Eros In Egypt” Archaeology Odyssey, Sept-Oct 2001, p.42-9.
Paglia, Camille. Sex, Art, and American Culture.
Paglia, Camille (1990). Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickenson.
P-Orridge, Genesis (2003). Painful But Fabulous. Soft Skull Press.
Prose, Francine (2004). “What Has This Woman Just Been Doing?” Art News, Jan. 2004, p.122-3.
Tannahill, Reay (1980). Sex In History. New York: Stein and Day.
Yablonsky, Linda (2004). “How Far Can You Go?” Art News, January 2004,
p. 104-9.