Debrief Staff | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 22 October 2015

Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

What Happened When We Asked Women To Draw Their Orgasms

The Debrief: ...and then we asked an art historian to interpret them...

Imagine if you had to explain to a tiny little alien, freshly landed in the UK,  who hadn’t had a chance to go out and get a shag yet, what an orgasm was. How would you explain The Big O?

Or maybe the alien doesn’t speak amazing English? After all, he’s only just arrived on earth, it’s unreasonable to expect him to speak the language just like that. So instead, you draw a picture of an orgasm. How would that go? 

For even more spurious reasons than the ones outlined above, we asked some women (and a token man) to draw a visual depiction of their orgasms. We then asked a 24-year-old art historian (who'd rather not be named), to interpret them.

Oh, and we neglected to tell her exactly what the pictures were supposed to be. The results were pretty revealing...   


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

With her skyward trajectory and dress with wide sleeves evoking wings, the figure in this picture recalls early Renaissance depictions of angels in flight. They often pop up in religious scenes, perhaps to deliver a message, or to flock around central characters, drawing the viewer’s attention to them. Take a look at the various angels in The Nativity with the Annunciation at Night, part of a 14th-century altarpiece.

This figure, however, is all alone, and closes her eyes to anything outside her personal journey. Her feelings are expressed through emoji-style smiley faces.

Maybe the artist is offering a reflection on today’s rather more self-centred world, and the simplistic ways in which we now communicate our feelings to others. 

The Nativity with the Annunciation to the Shepherds 1370-1, Jacopo di Cione and workshop


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

Here, the artist has created a psychedelic world, blurring the boundaries between the mundane and the imaginary. A cat rides a unicorn; a globe wears a crown.

This imaginative and somewhat bizarre drawing belongs within a tradition of fantastical pictures created by artists such as the Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, who painted humans emerging from enormous shells, and the 20th-century surrealist Salvador Dalì, who painted a ship’s sail made from butterflies.

The eyes floating within hearts recall the emblematic eyes and ears that were painted upon the costume of Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Rainbow Portrait to suggest her all-seeing, all-knowing powers.

Yet the contrast here between the open and closed eyes suggests that the artist drew upon the world around them and established traditions, but also their subconscious, when creating this image. 

The Rainbow Portrait, 1600-1602


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

The seemingly unlimited colour palette and apparent randomness of the composition within this drawing belies its underlying structural organisation and place within an established art-historical tradition.

In fact, looking closely, one can see each colour utilised evenly across the page, and that certain colours are employed to create particular shapes. For example, heart shapes are pink, and wavy lines are done in blue (yep, like the sea), conforming to longstanding associations that exist in our mind between symbols and colours.

This picture arguably draws upon the abstract expressionist tradition in 20th-century art, and its inspiration may derive from some of the paintings of Jackson Pollock, such as Enchanted Forest.

Enchanted Forest, 1947, Jackson Pollock


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

With its burning colour palette, limited to reds, golds and purples, this drawing seems to show a blazing fire, surrounded by flashes of light and stars that the artist has used to illustrate its power and heat.

Many artists have been captivated by fire and used it as their inspiration: from Turner’s earthy-hued watercolour Ship on Fire to Whistler’s Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel, which shows sparks emanating from a burning Catherine wheel.

But is this picture purely influenced by high art? The lightning shapes that surround the flames recall a well-known symbol within popular culture: Harry Potter’s scar. Who knows, perhaps the artist is offering an alternative, symbolic representation of the Goblet of Fire, which emits Harry’s name.

Ship on Fire, 1834, Joseph Mallord William Turner 


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

This drawing at first appears simple: a starburst of colour seems to radiate light and energy. But the drawing raises more questions than it answers. Does it depict a big bang, or an explosion: an act of creation, or destruction?

At the outer levels, the gradations of colour conform to the rhythms of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and an indigo/violet, yet the inner layers show the more random juxtaposition of yellow and blue.

This drawing confounds us: does it have an inner logic? Aesthetically, it calls to mind Sol LeWitt’s 2002 series Untitled from Stars. For LeWitt, art did not have to have a meaning to be considered art; perhaps the same could be said for this drawing. Good news, then, for those doodles we all do when on the phone.

Stars, 2002, Sol LeWitt


Art Historian Interprets Drawings Of What Orgasms Look Like

This compelling drawing is dominated by a central mass of shapes, created by colouring in the intersections between free-flowing lines. Colouring books may be in right now, but the treatment of line and colour here goes back to the Cubist tradition and the works of Picasso, such as Dish of Pears, although it’s unclear what these component shapes are intended to depict.

The indecipherable mass punctuates a scene where, to the left, an abstracted figure walks across grass, and, to the right, the same figure hovers above the grass with an expression of happiness. The drawing perhaps represents the figure undergoing a process of change or metamorphosis, moving from the everyday to the sublime, or from one stage of life to another.

Dish of Pears, 1936, Pablo Picasso


What Happened When We Asked Women To Draw Their Orgasms

This drawing seems to represent that most elusive and sought-after item, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The stacks of gold coins and others spinning crazily around suggest the frenzy money can whip us into.

One artist who took money as his subject matter was Andy Warhol, whose Dollar Sign series similarly used primary colours and the medium of crayon to allude clearly and unambiguously to cash. This drawing also makes us consider the relationship between art and money, and whether there is any value in amateur art.

Do you have to be highly skilled or trained in order to make money from art? Who knows, but keep doodling: maybe finding that pot of cash at the end of the rainbow isn’t so hard after all. 

Dollar Sign, Warhol, 1981

Liked this? You might also be interested in: 

What Does Your Orgasm Face Say About You? 

Male Ego Vs Female Orgasm: What Men Are Really Thinking When You Come

Why Does Popular Culture Still Pretend All Women Orgasm At The Drop Of A Hat? 

Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock