Sensuality is the essence of all art. – Kate Bush
I’ve always understood “sexy” quite literally – someone sexy is someone potentially good at sex. Thus, it baffles me when people draw up “Sexiest Man Alive” type of lists. I think “Hottest” man or woman is a more appropriate term for this kind of thing, because these lists are populated by those who are, or are professionally calculated to be, the current most popular figures in popular culture. It doesn’t have to do with any especial quality that these famous people possess.
Which is why, I agree with what Kate Bush has to say on the subject. In the interview from which the above quote is taken, Kate Bush is asked about what she thinks of her being perceived as sexy, and how she portrays sexiness in her work. She replies that she doesn’t understand what sexuality means. She believes sexuality to be something “projected,” while sensuality to be where all the interest lies, for the artist and the audience. She has a lot of conviction in this, as her album following this interview has a song and is also titled The Sensual World. She doesn’t refuse it, so as to be taken seriously as an artist in a medium which is highly dependent on sexuality for sales, but she emphasises what it should be, and could be, to make popular music interesting and important.
Sexiness is so subjective. In fact, I find it strange how people find other people sexy when they haven’t even met them. There is a whole chemical reaction that is impossible to achieve with just an image or a voice. You can have the stirrings of it, of course, but you cannot draw up the conclusion of them being eminently f***able, without experiencing their presence in its entirety.
Sensuality, as I understand it, lies somewhere between sensuousness and sexuality. An amalgamation of the two, with passion and sincerity thrown in, without any of the four needing to be on the forefront. Perhaps, that is why Kate Bush sees it as the “essence” of art, because it is where the truth of any artistic work lies.
The broad generalisations that some people make about the attitudes men have towards sex really wearies me. There is some solid science that justifies it, but it takes away the faculty that at least I, as a woman, am allowing myself to believe men possess – imagination. Similarly, there are countless women who will tell you that for women, sex is in the brain. Which, again, I do believe in, though it also takes away the opposite – if it is an opposite, for real braininess will conclude it isn’t.
Sensuousness implies a heightened awareness through the senses, something that we feel through all five of our senses, while sensuality is extending that implication to an experience of pleasure, feeling and meaning. You can get it in sex, but you can also get it from a cake. Which doesn’t mean they are different, for as one of my favourite writers, Dylan Moran, has said, “Cake is the language of love.”
All art, whether realistic, escapist or surrealistic, looks for truth. Truth about life, about the world we live in. And, it’s complicated. Which is why, anything wishing to represent the truth of it, is also complicated. I won’t blame pop music for literalising sex too much. There is also much “high art” that has taken a single element of human experience and blown it out of proportions of believability. For example, the most famous proponent of sensuousness – John Keats – preferred to meander in such ideas, though not all of them rendered true. The ones that did, which made him among the very best of his kind, were sensual ideas, that suffused passion and feeling with awareness of some particular aspect of the world. Neither him nor Kate Bush set out to be difficult, as some people more used to a literal and exclusivist appreciation of art tend to believe, but they both tried to capture human experience in all its beauty and imagination.
Though I seem to have tried to come up with my own definition of sensuality in this post, I still find it indefinable. Like love, I know what it is, but I find myself unable to explain it in words. I fear, if I did, I would explain it away and shatter all my anticipation and relish of it. I live for it. In all aspects of my life, I search for that unity. I frequently go to art, because it gives me greater access to it than some mundane activity in life. I frequently find it in people, because I don’t think you can have an appreciation of art without an appreciation of people, despite what I’ve heard many creditable people in the business of the former say. It is a sensual world we live in, and I think it is a loss to emphasise too much on one aspect at the expense of others, when we could be taking it all in.