Where “paintbrush” and “penis” converge…

… is an etymological juncture whose comprehension might just subject our understanding of art history to instant fluctuation as we learn these words not quite surprisingly boast a common provenance attested by erudite Cicero himself in a personal letter:

The ancients called a tail a penis; whence comes the word penicillus (“paint-brush”), from its similarity in appearance. (F IX, 22)

And to think of it, cynicism aside, there could be inferred some substantial consequences ensuing, on an unconscious level,  this rather jocular derivation which a certain professor Arasse back at the Sorbonne holds to unfold another dimension of an artist’s proclivity for painting. What does one’s choice of instrument disclose, after all? What leaks from, say, Velasquez’s large brushstrokes or Turner’s minute rigger? their virile or tempestuous character?

Perhaps a tad ludicrous to answer but nevertheless intriguing to query.

I personally had my mind instantly conjure up “Dali Atomicus” as I pondered over it. The Catalan wacko was the sort who would’ve definitely savoured Cicero’s account -with its intrinsic profusion of abstract implications- given how imagery drawn from sexual organs maintained a key role in his work, both written and visual – vide the photo above.

Does this prompt anything else you’d care to share?


Patricia Beykrat – the Roving Aesthete


11 responses to “Where “paintbrush” and “penis” converge…

    • I’ve just recently stumbled upon a source which reports that Renoir once said “I paint with my penis”. It was a response to someone who, in the later period of the master’s life, made observations on the decrepit state of Renoir’s hands. But I think it’s interesting to see in the context of this post also.

  1. Pingback: Where “paintbrush” and “penis” converge… | 4t4m4t4·

  2. This certainly adds new complexion to my own art. Far out. There is also “pencil” I suppose, with the same etymological roots? Never thought about these tools in this way until right now. But my interpretation of it all is that great art is creative. A birth of ideas and inspirations. A truly creative act. So we have a sexual analogy. And a male penis is only one half of that equation, so I think your “juncture” needs a mate, the paintboard or the canvass as the femiine? I don’t know what the completion is, but would be amused to read what others think. (No baudy stuff. Just the beauty of the creative analogy.)

    • indeed, I pondered over this analogy in search of its female component as you said you’ve been inclined to with the sexual reference in the equation. and there are several answers between which I cannot chose – perhaps the canvas, yes, but what about the muses, that don’t translate into material stuff yet contribute, allegedly, to the act of creation. makes one think about a lot of things

      • Hmmm, dunno about a muse, isn’t a muse a bit more wonderful? (Human being as opposed to paintbrush,… but then, maybe men are a bit like that in comparison to women… haha!) But yeah, there are many ways to extend the analogy. If you think of procreation and sex, then Cicero’s female element might by the paint. But in my own mind the feminine is much more all around, everything that isn’t the paintbrush or pencil. (I’m too much a romantic to get into heavy philosophical discussion here I think. But I still love all the questions you pose Patricia :-)) They’ve been my muse for a few weeks since coming across your blog.

      • I rather more think of the paint as euphemistic of sperm. Quite fits the analogy. But then there are a hundred implications it’d take a lot of time to expand. Maybe in a future post, though 😊

  3. “Rodin, it seems, had a huge penis, unlimited appetite, started his day by fucking a female model and disliked fucking in the dark.” I like that quote. Also “Rodin would pin a note on his studio door when he was with some of his models saying ‘I’m worshipping at the altar.'”

    • That’s purely delicious! It’s so illustrative of Rodin, even though, as a sculptor, he used no said ‘paintbrush’… I recall Irving Stone comparing the process of carving with making love, though. In ‘agony and ecstasy’

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