On Being A Masochistic Artist

Updated: Apr 15


Robert Mapplethorpe

Portfolio X , Lou, N.Y.C.

1978


Robert Mapplethorpe made me realize the kind of artist I wanted to be. Channeling his alternative sexuality, he created images that we both brutal and beautiful. Having himself passed away from HIV, he must have known that the likelihood of being ostracised was great indeed. That kind of bravery and honesty in the face of disapproval is what I have been working towards eversince.


My recent residency was set in a small town in Germany called Geldern. Through it, I had resolved to explore something of that masochistic inclination. Although they were lovely people, most of my acquaintances there were senior, upper-class citizens. Having already felt alienated in the Netherlands, I expected this would take a toll.


On the contrary, my work flourished hysterically in the face of often candid dismissal. In Geldern, I learned the lesson of tough skin. It's hard to describe the level and manner of disapproval. However, the more of an abomination I seemed to be, the more explicitly I presented my case, thus humiliating myself even more.


I asked myself whether it was approval that I wanted or whether it was the rejection I enjoyed. I still haven't answered that question. Of course, rejection always hurts, but I began blatantly presenting my entire self with the expectation of disapproval. Part of my drive was in the fantasy that my perversions would be rejected.


English philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do”. I had never even given this idea a second thought until I came across the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe who essentially taught me what kind of artist I wanted to be through his images which are a combination of the beautiful and pleasant, and the painful and grotesque.


I will surely get into the masochistic debate in later posts, but briefly, human history is riddled with examples of people undergoing painful experiences for an affirmative ambition. All over the world painful rites have either been used to mark major life stages or as a vehicle towards beauty, love, or the divine. Such is the case in mortification in Roman Catholic theology.


Common as painful behaviors and cultures are in human history, the admission of a proclivity for pain is rare. It is the self-identified masochist who openly seeks pleasure through pain. For the masochist, pleasure IS pain. Not only does the masochist reject socially accepted notions of pleasure, they quietly yearn for displeasure because they understand that the two are inseparable.


The socially accepted forms of masochism humans pass on from generation to generation are as good a source of inspiration as any other. If our two masters are pain and pleasure, then mankind is biased towards the latter while unwittingly serving the former. Let it be said that these masters are married. One leads to the other and so forth, making it so that in pain, providing one endures it, even if one enjoys it, one is eventually condemned to pleasure.


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