Ice Cream is a painting by Evelyne Axell, evidently an exemplary of her style, featuring psychodelic erotic female nudes in the Pop style. As my art-appreciation knowledge is limited, I’ll assume that Wikipedia speaks the truth. This piece was also featured as the album art for the debut release of the indie pop band Lucius, called Wildewoman which might have assisted how Ice Cream made recent news, which is getting banned from Facebook for being too suggestive when it was posted as part of a Philadelphia art exhibit
There are a lot of thoughts being batted around the blogosphere:
~ The girl in Ice Cream is just enjoying ice cream…
~ …But I can’t stop thinking of her fellating someone…
~ …fellating [me] preferably.
~ That was Evelyne Axell’s point when she painted this.
~ And that is sexual objectification.
~ Also it’s crazy (or speaks ill of a society) that we can’t look at a woman eating ice cream and not think about sex.
Let me start at the bottom.
~ No. It’s not. As a human male, when I look at any woman, I assess how much I want to have sex with her. (The woman in the painting is pretty cute, so in this case, a lot.) This is is not because I’m crazy or even especially promiscuous. In fact, my tendency to assess other human beings for mating potential is indicative that I am fairly healthy. Libido is a strong drive in most of the population because that has been a necessity for species survival since long before we walked upright. In fact, strong libidos are a trait that we share with all of our zoological cousins. There is a modest difference in that other animals have estrus only once in a while, yet for us every season is mating season. It’s a feature that helps us adapt to different climes.
It’s not sad that Ice Cream is suggestive. It’s sad our civilization is embarrassed that Ice Cream might be suggestive. It’s sad that our civilization cringes at human sexuality in general. It’s sad that there’s more distate and disregard and censorship over human beings fucking than human beings getting shot or stabbed or exploded into gooey bits. It’s sad that our civilization frets over whether or not a sexy painting is acceptable Facebook material all the while while the continuing US run drone strike massacre of Pakistani and Afghani civilians continues without cares or questions. The ass-backward priorities of my society offends me far more than any debatably-risqué art possibly could.
~ And no, it’s not. Sexual objectification is when I think of someone only in sexual terms, which is to say I deny her humanity or decide that her value is only for sexual pleasure, and / or breeding. Indeed, our society does like to do this a lot to girls and women in general: To this day some of our public schools teach little girls that they only have value to the larger society so long as they retain their virginity. To this day we put immense restrictions on abortion and contraception access. To this day churches and the State try to retain control via licensing regarding who can or cannot engage each other sexually. But these things happen regardless of whether or not I think about wanting the woman in the painting, or I’m thinking about whether or not I want a cone of delicious ice cream for my very own.
I definitely am objectifying the ice cream. The ice cream cannot say no. The ice cream has no rights in my relationship to it.*
But I recognize the woman in Ice Cream is not merely a thing to be sexually desired. I see her has a human being, one to whom an extensive set of rights is to be afforded by me,** and (I would expect) enforced by our mutual society. That includes agency, her right to to make choices of her own, such as whether or not to eat ice cream (obviously she’s already ridden that train); such as whether or not to have sex with me; such as whether or not to have sex with someone else. Countless other choices await this woman, though they are out of the context of the painting.
Were I to actually meet the Ice Cream woman, depending on appropriate circumstances, I might, say, invite her to ice cream. A no at any time, rude, polite or otherwise, would terminate the interaction. But if she and I were to agree, the interaction may continue through the course of an ice cream cone. Maybe even longer. We may (mutually) decide to interrelate long enough to establish trust, to exchange emotional intimacy and even then physical intimacy. (That is, have sex.) But that’s a process. And my recognition of that process, my recognition that she has the right to govern the extent to which she relates to me, even to discontinue relating to me at any time, is exactly the opposite of my sexually objectifying her. Even if I’m imagining sexual scenarios with her while she eats her ice cream.
Maybe if I was imagining she was a sexbot that I could re-program to love me…that would be objectifying her.
~ Evelyne Axell was very into painting erotic images of women in bright psychedelic colors. From this I determine that she was trying to state that she enjoys paintings of women in bright psychedelic colors or wants to paint psychedelic, erotic images of women. There may be some place, an interview perhaps, or a discussion, in which she expresses the sociopolitical statement she was trying to make. I haven’t seen it.
~ ~ ~ Now I want ice cream.
* I’m assuming in this case, my relationship is to a different serving of ice cream seperate from the woman’s. The woman has clear possession of her ice cream and I respect her property rights. I also will not defend her ice cream against her assault upon it.
** Rights are a weird thing. In natural law, you only have a right that you can keep by force (fight) or evasion (flight). Mice have few rights when there’s a cat around. I, however, am civilized. Our society sustains certain rights by force of law (that is, if I violate someone’s rights, the justice system will allegedly detect, find, arrest and punish me), but I will meet and even exceed those protected rights, just because I’m polite and cooperative. In fact, most of us human beings are, as it keeps down the necessary number of police officers and open-carriers.