One of the great things about the Internet is that it can (almost) instantly take us across national borders, across vast oceans, and indeed, clear around the world, letting us sample the incredible cultural diversity this planet has to offer. This is nowhere more true or valuable that in our exploration of art. The World Wide Web broadens our horizons, often exposing us to art and artists we would NEVER come to know in any other way. It brings us great art, mediocre art, bad art, horrible art, and disgusting art with the same fidelity and nonjudgmental clarity that it affords our OWN art. It brings us art we love, art we hate, art we love to hate, and art that merely makes us uncomfortable. It brings us art like that of German artist, Otto Lohmuller. Lohmuller is first of all a portrait artist in the classic sense of the word, sensitive, realistic, dedicated, accomplished, and respected in his native land. And like very many artists, he's found a niche, something he loves to do, something he does well. He paints portraits of boys. Most are traditional in nature, head and shoulders compositions, lovingly lit, technically agile, insightful, and always quite beautiful. Some are full-length...and nude.
In discussing Lohmuller, it's as important to mention what he DOESN'T do as what he does. First of all, though the nude, preadolescent images are sensual they are not sexual. To American eyes red flags fly high as one visits his Web site. His pubescent figures are not child pornography, even though the ghastly phrase, "naked young boys" comes immediately to mind. They are that, but (especially as painted art) that doesn't NECESSARILY equal pornography in any court of law in the Western world. Lohmuller and his work exists in a German culture at ease with nudity not unlike Margaret Mead's Samoa, or central Africa, or the Amazon basin in South America. But there is a difference. Samoa, Africa, and South America are all primitive equatorial cultures. Lohmuller's Germany is not. The faces, the nude bodies of the boys he paints could be those of our own sons, and it is THIS that makes us nervous. Once out of diapers, child nudity in our present North American culture, especially as that child nears puberty, skips cute, skips sensual, and goes straight to sexual. And unfortunately, as our dominating American culture so often views things, this makes Lohmuller, in our eyes, a pedophile.
Down through the history of Western art, the nude figure has gradually gained a sort of sanitized acceptance, provided some thin veil of respectability can be imposed upon the images such as making them mythological figures, bathers, or athletes. But this is a sham. The main reason the nude figure has been such an ever-present element in nearly ALL art is the God-given SEXUAL beauty of the human body. I dare say NO artist ever painted a nude figure (of either sex, of any age) without being conscious of this fact. Lohmuller is no exception. Does that make him some kind of vile pervert or pedophile? Webster defines the term as "...an adult having an abnormal sexual desire for children." If this is the case with Lohmuller, nowhere in the work he exhibits is it evident, GIVEN HIS NATIVE CULTURE. Does he feel such an attraction? Probably, but the fact is, he's not in jail, parents pay (no doubt sizable sums) to have their sons painted in the nude, they trust him as a role model for their boys, and the boys themselves seem naturally at ease, even proud of their portraits. Any sexual feelings for his subjects, the man, as an artist, has dared to channel in a culturally acceptable direction, bringing to our eyes the unfamiliar beauty of the incredibly transient moment in time when a young boy stands poised to become a man. If, instead, WE see obscenity, then like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.