Sexy SexismPosted: February 10, 2011
Never one to avoid attempting to ride on the coat tails of what appears to be a sure thing, I decided to try and throw my own bloggy hat into the ‘lets try to talk about sexism in RPG art’ discussion. Full disclosure: I’m a hertero male, married, white and probably lead a pretty boring life by most standards. I like to draw and paint and do other stuff and do some illustration work for OSR publishers. I’m not really good at drawing sexy women posing in chainmail bikinis and similar stuff. I sometimes think that I would have better luck getting work if I was better at drawing those ‘cheesecake’ type pictures (or even ‘beefcake’ pictures), but somehow, either because I can’t or don’t want to, I just don’t draw those kinds of things. I also suspect that there are a lot of other people already hoeing that particular row, so, instead of competeing with all of the aspiring Larry Elmores of the world, it might be best just to pursue that which I’m good at (or, at least “better at” than some).
I don’t think I’m a prude, but much of what the mainstream identifies as ‘good fantasy art’ really bores me. Of course, people like Larry Elmore have had long and successful careers and I’m just a work-a-day amateur, so what do I know? But I know what I like. Take the painting by Elmore at left. It’s certainly very competently painted. The anatomy and skin has a more realistic look than anything I could do. Every hair in her yak-skin boots and fur loincloth is lovingly rendered. So why don’t I like it?
If you had asked me to describe a good painting when I was 12, I might have described a painting like Elmore’s. All the detail and the almost photographic rendering of every blade of grass looks hard to do (much like a 15 minute guitar solo sounds hard to do) and I would have just admired Elmore’s illustrator chops and his obvious discipline. And the woman is sexy and she’s looking right at me — the prospect of having a sexy woman without a shirt on look at me would have been pretty appealing at age 12. I remember being in an art class and we were taking a tour of the museum and there was one sculpture that was a series of red metal sticks welded together on the floor and then a painting by some lesser known old Dutch painter on a wall and the teacher asked me which one I liked better… and of course I said the Dutch painting. When she asked me why, I pointed at the metal sticks and said, “I could have done that. This (me pointing at the painting) looks hard to do.”
At the age of 12, however, it might of been hard for me to understand why some women wouldn’t like the Elmore picture that much. These days I would understand that view a little better; although I don’t think it’s just the ‘tits and ass’ content that pushes a painting like this into a somewhat condescending view of a woman heroine (at least not for me). It is maybe not just the nudity or even the sexuality; maybe the general sense that the woman here is just someone for us men to look at and saw, “woah, what a hot ass,” and for women to look at and say, “I wish someone would look at my ass the way people are looking at her ass.” I guess it approaches what (someone else) might have been talking about in his blog when he said that he thought that women were attracted to men that seemed competent (OK, now I can’t find it… so maybe I imagined it, or maybe someone else said it, or maybe I just can’t find it). The thing that kind of annoys me about so many of Elmore’s pictures is that the women are just standing there to be gawked at. Smarter and better read people would talk about ‘the implied male gaze’ or ‘the female body as an object of delication.’ I’m not well versed in those arguments/ideas, so I won’t do more than mention that they exist, but even with my somewhat rudimentary understanding, the ‘stupid pictures’ in rpg/genre fantasy art are currently at a kind of a “I know it when I see it” standard. Others (especially those to whom this matters a good deal more than me) probably have better informed thoughts.
The probablem I have with Elmore’s picture is that it is so utterly unimaginative and unambitious. She doesn’t look like she has a thought in her head, and, looking at the picture, all I can think of is, “Well, I’d tap that.” For a lot of people, the discussion of sexuality in genre art seems to one of taste. Perhaps the Elmore might be found ‘tasteless’ by some because the subject is (mostly) naked. I don’t like it just because I feel like all the thinking has already been done for me when I look at the picture. Elmore is saying, “Here’s a picture of a girl’s ass!” Bang. We are done.
The picture from the cover of the ‘Rogues Gallery’ by Erol Otus evokes a different feeling in me. Although it is hardly as ‘photographic’ or polished as Elmore’s airbrushed lady, the characters and the linework are quirky (in a good way). The wizard-guy in the horned hat appears to be sticking his hand down the front of the lady warrior’s shirt, so this picture is not absent ‘sexual content,’ but I don’t feel like the picture is as cheesey or brainless or as trite as Elmore’s. Perhaps because the illustration itself does not seem to take itself as seriously just on the basis of “how it was done.” Everything from the half-orc’s grass skirt and orthopaedic-looking shoes to the wizard guy copping a feel is more cartoonish and wierd/fun. Although sword-lady is sexy, I don’t feel like Otus was trying to inspire me to take the picture to the bathroom and rub one off. The “hand down her shirt” seems more of an ‘easter egg’ than anything else since unless you were looking for it, you might not notice it.
I don’t really have clear ‘rules’ for what is or is not ‘exploitative’ genre or RPG illustration art; and I don’t know if such rules would be helpful. But I think there are qualities to some illustrations that interest me more than others, and that is the aesthetic I would like to pursue. If I may express some hopes for the OSR, I hope that is the aesthetic that more of us will pursue. I tend to like some pretty strong stuff, and I love older pulp magazines (including many with S&M scenes), classical art, underground comics and the like. I’ve drawn some stuff that other people have told me is disgusting and/or disturbing… like this and this and this. I amuse myself by drawing pictures of people getting castrated or violated or their eyes gouged out. I’m not setting myself up as a beacon of decency and good taste (and I would hope you wouldn’t trust me if I tried to do that). But I do think that if fantasy art wants to be something beyond just “cheesecake,” the artists have to get more interested in things other than just drawing nice asses and tits… and the viewers have to get more ambitious in their viewing habits. I suppose you can have those things and a lot of people will beat a path to your door, but, if that’s all there is, then I am probably going to get bored. To me, given that the OSR is supposed to be all about ‘creating our own’ and ‘going crazy with it,’ boring is unforgiveable.
Speaking of which, why hasn’t anyone hired this guy to do any OSR work?
OK, when I started this I thought I had a point. Now I’m no longer sure if I did.
(edited to remove references to another blogger who said he was getting tired of being misquoted on this issue on another blog)