Much like the endless brushstrokes of paint that make up Monet’s famous water lilies, the beauty of a relationship lies in the detail. Indeed, the amazing thing about a work of art, which can leave you scratching you head in bewildered wonderment long after you have left the museum, is surely that it has the potential to be interpreted and appreciated a thousand different ways- just like (you guessed it) your significant other. It should therefore come as no surprise that love has remained the single most central and commonly explored theme in the realm of art. Centuries of friendship, affection, sex and heartbreak have been immortalized on canvas, in stone and onscreen by some of the world’s most impressive artistic minds. And, as this intricate history of ‘love-in-art’ has grown over time, artists have repeatedly relayed to us the following undeniable truth: when it comes to relationships, it’s always best to color outside of the lines.
One of the most coveted works of art in the Louvre Museum is undoubtedly Antonio Canova’s statue Pysche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1787), a heart-wrenching portrayal of Cupid embracing his beloved Psyche moments after she awoke from a lifeless sleep. Viewers and museumgoers alike are quick to appreciate Canova’s statue as a lively depiction of love and devotion and the work has appeared in postcard, paperweight, calendar and poster form as a veritable symbol of ‘love-as-art’. Although it is commonly viewed as a story about the triumphs of love, there is much more than meets the eye in this seemingly flawless representation of Godly affection. The Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche is a saga of parental disapproval, betrayal, heartbreak, compromise and unrequited love. While some viewers will argue that these hardships detract from the sculpture’s significance as a symbol of love and devotion, I am inclined to believe that they are, in fact, what make Canova’s sculpture so moving. A careful viewer will perceive the strained urgency that seems to grip both Cupid and Psyche’s bodies as they gaze longingly into each other’s troubled eyes. The trials and tribulations that they have undergone for the sake of their relationship are subtly conveyed in their body language and allow us humans to relate to their struggle to…well, make things work. If a pair of masterfully crafted mythic characters appear to be in the thick of love’s hardships, then viewers can rest assured that their own relationship hiccups are not as far from Godliness as they would have thought.
Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt is similarly known for having created one of the most iconic representations of love in the history of art. In his painting The Kiss(1907), a man and a woman lovingly embrace each other as their bodies meld together in a single entity of color, line and desire. Klimt’s widely acknowledged fascination with sex and eroticism can be detected in The Kiss, both through the man and the woman’s oneness and through the phallic shape of their bodies. The fact that the woman’s face is visible while the man’s is not is also significant, for Klimt seems to place the woman as the heroine of his painting. In this, he deconstructs marital gender stereotypes by emphasizing a feminine—rather than a masculine—erotic experience. Klimt’s avant-garde way of representing gender and sexuality, which were extremely alternative for an artist of the early twentieth century, foreshadowed the rise of gender equality and reversed gender roles that have now been normalized in contemporary society. Why shouldn’t a woman be allowed to bask in unabashed erotic pleasure? Why shouldn’t a man indulge in a little sentimentalism instead of being confined to overly macho social expectations? In The Kiss, Klimt endorses a relationship that reaches far beyond the societally imagined parameters of what a “normal relationship” should be like and encourages viewers to think outside of the canvas.
Film has become one of the most cherished artistic mediums of the twenty first century. As such, the canon of film-art is rich in representations of love and the complexities of romantic relationships. Works like Carolee Schneemann’s silent film Fuses (1965) portray love and sex in extremely forward-thinking and controversial ways and embrace—to the dismay of traditionalistic artists and art historians—the candid and messy nature of relationships. Fuses consists of a stained and painted collage of filmed sex scenes between Schneemann and her significant other. Although several art critics have criticized her work for its pornographic connotations, the artist explains: “I wanted to see if the experience of what I saw would have any correspondence to what I felt—the intimacy of the lovemaking… and I wanted to put into that materiality of film the energies of the body, so that the film itself dissolves and recombines and is transparent and dense—as one feels during lovemaking”. Her attempt to give an honest and artistically rendered account of sex is electrifying in its rawness and seems to embrace a sexuality that is not ashamed or objectified, but that is rather comfortable in its freeness.
Tokii’s ‘Arts and Culture’ DiscoveryGames are a great way to bridge the gap separating the centuries of relationships that artworks have immortalized and the intricacies of your own personal life and relationships. Games such as ‘Life in Art’ will allow you to explore how you reflect on life while you view art, while ‘Art Impressionists’ will encourage you to discover the ways in which the contemplation of art can have restorative effects on your temperament and your state of being. All the while, you and your partner will learn about and appreciate the uniqueness of each other’s creative and artistic impulses, which will help you transform your relationship into its own masterpiece.
The global popularity of love-inspired artworks such as Robert Indiana’s appropriately named Love—which was designed as a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art in 1964 and has since been reprinted and reproduced worldwide in thousands of ways—stresses the important relationship between love and art that has existed throughout the ages. Indeed, its wide-reaching popularity seems to prove that when it comes to relationships, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
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