Men: Beautiful Objects, or Humans With Feelings?

"What a piece of work is man!  how noble in reason!  how infinite in faculty!  in form and moving how express and admirable! ...the beauty of the world!"  (Hamlet, Act II, scene 2)

"Design" by Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807)

For centuries, in Western Art, women have completely dominated the field of painting.  Men, for the most part, have been models, often nude, and almost always desirable.  They have been completely unwilling, or unable, to stand up from their supine positions and join their place beside women as Artists. Of course, there have been a few notable exceptions, whose genius and skill we can't help but recognize.

"Bacchus" by Caravaggio (1595)

But men like Caravaggio are a rarity; we are much more likely (and we prefer) to find our men, sensual and semi-nude, reclining amidst piles of ripe fruit, lying about on unmade beds, or sprawled in submissive repose upon deflowered stream banks.  

detail from "Echo and Narcissus" by Poussin (1628-30)

It's only been since the second half of the twentieth century that proponents of men's civil rights have started taking a stand, asking for men to be seen as Artists and Equals, or, at the very least, Humans with Feelings.  They complain about being objectified by women, and with good reason.  Open any art history book and you will find the age-old story of a woman artist using her hapless male model to father a child, and then callously discarding them both to the whims of Fate.


Detail from "The Barque of Dante" by Delacroix (1822)

Of course we would be heartless not to feel a little sympathetic towards the Plight of Men.  But, despite any personal sympathies we might harbor, it would be incorrect to adopt the current, trendy, politically correct attitude that men are more than just beautiful objects.  Most educated people have to admit that, not only are men biologically inferior to women (as artists), but they are just too beautiful to be taken seriously.  

"The Gardeners" by Robin F. Williams (2013)

Still, idealists can't stop dreaming.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if Beauty permeated everything, and everyone?  Rather than being a cage, what if Beauty flowed freely, from artist, to canvas, to model, to the world, and back again?  And maybe then, in that future reality, we might be able to regard men as equals, even as we ask them to lie back and be painted...