THE BEAUTIFUL BOY by noted writer, critic and feminist Germaine Greer is one of the more refreshing art volumes to grace the shelves in the past decade. Yes, this is a lavishly illustrated portfolio of paintings, drawings and photographs of boys before they become men, but the point of departure here is that Greer is examining a perception process among women paralleling the historic depiction of the beautiful boy. This, then, is an historic survey, but it is also a psychosocial treatise written with careful attention to detail, wry humor, and joyful discovery. This book deserves a very wide audience.
Setting the mood for her lovely thought process, Greer opens her introduction with these words: "Part of the purpose of this book is to advance women's reclamation of their capacity for and right to visual pleasure. The nineteenth century denied women any active interest in sex, which was only to be found in degenerate types. By the end of the twentieth century female appetite for sexual stimulus had been recognized and platoons of male strippers mobilized to take commercial advantage of it. That health appetite should now be refined by taste. If we but lift our eyes to the beautiful images of young men that stand all about us, there is a world of complex and civilized pleasure to be had. Delight in the boy can only be sharpened by the pathos and irony of his condition of becomingness. What we see in life is gone before we have had time to appreciate it. It is only in art that the compelling evanescent charm of boyhood can be preserved against the ravages of time."
Greer then proceeds to present her illustrated point of view of the prominence of the boy nude as the epitome of beauty, drawn from life long before the idealized female nudes were depicted from artists' imagination. She studies the sculpture and paintings of the Greeks, the paintings of the Baroque and Renaissance, the Romantic period, and the Contemporary art which now includes photography. In each period she manages to suffuse the images with her inimitable thoughts of the slow development of Feminisim in a way that every reader at last can understand. No preaching here, just a gradual unveiling of opportunites for women (and men alike) to really SEE the male body in that transient period between chubby child and muscular postpubescent man. She summarizes: "If, as I have argued, art is fundamentally narcissitic and elegiac, the female artist could only celebrate herself when young by painting and photographing younger women......When the body a woman artist is contemplating is so obviously not and never hers, because it is male, her approach is necessarily conflicted, even confrontational. Simple sensuality is able to function as a medium through which to see and celebrate the child but not, it seems, the man. The boy is the forgotten middle term. The boy Eros would bring the sexes to a reconciliation, if we would only acknowledge him."
Couple these words of wisdom with first class color reproduction and printing of art both familiar and unfamiliar and we have a book that should appeal to the entire art loving community - feminists, gay men, scholars, and students at all stages in creating art. THE BEAYTIFUL BOY is a beautiful book!