A big shout-out to opera star Renée Fleming, a woman after my heart.
In The New York Times’ T magazine column “Take Two,” which juxtaposes comments from unlikely duos on unusual products, she has this to say about “Sir” (Taschen, 700 smackeroos), photographer Mario Testino’s ode to men:
“I had a lot of fun looking at this. It has more six-packs than a 7-Eleven. I like that men are now being scrutinized in the way that women have been for so long.”
Her mighty opposite here – Arnold Schwarzenegger, who knows a thing or two about sculpted male bodies – added: “What I discovered in here was an extraordinary celebration of men. It’s the ideal Christmas present. If I’d spend $700 on a pair of shoes, why not on a book?”
Why indeed? Certainly, Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth – one of the subjects, along with George Clooney, Jude Law, Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and others – would alone be worth the price of the book.
“The way men are seen in photography, in fashion and the way that men look at pictures of themselves has changed in recent years,” Testino says on the Taschen website. “It is a subject that has come into focus: The masculine image, a man’s personal style, changing attitudes to the male face and body.”
Yes and no. I think there has always been an appreciation of male beauty in art history along with female beauty. The difference is that male beauty is usually couched in action, going back to the ancient Greeks. An Achilles or an Alexander was always about something, usually war. Even the figure of Jesus, who became an excuse for the Greco-Roman male nude in the Renaissance, was about his Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection.
It’s true that art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau shook things up in the early 1990s by suggesting in her book “Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation” (John Wiley & Sons) that men had always been the No. 1 sex symbol in art history, reaching an apotheosis with the languid, languorous, almost feminine male nudes of turn-of-the-19th-century Paris. But by and large, that languor belongs to the female nude. In the words of feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir, author of “The Second Sex,” “Men do. Women are.” (Of course, as any woman will tell you, there’s a lot of doing in a woman’s being.)
But de Beauvoir’s point is well-taken. If men are beautiful, it’s not the first thing they’re known for. And when attention is drawn to their beauty – as in the case of Colin Kaepernick’s photo shoots – the web is abuzz with disgruntled comments (no doubt from straight men) who say he isn’t practicing enough as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.
Yes, the sexy, beautiful man is coming more sharply into focus. But the Kaepernicks of the world have a long way to go to catch up to their Kardashian counterparts.