Alienation, Cultural Change, Culture, Internet, Memes, Miscellaneous, Nudes, Quality of Life, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Sex, Sexualization, Society, Values

You Can Tell a Lot About Someone from the Nudes They Email You

(About a 4 minute read)

I can still recall how surprised most of us were back in 1974 when someone pinned a semi-nude Polaroid photograph of Vicki on the high school announcements board in the hallway by the principal’s office.

Of course, it was only up for a few minutes before one of the teachers noticed it. Up just long enough for me to pass by, glance at it, and — this may surprise you — fail to realize it was a photo of a semi-nude girl!

Continue reading “You Can Tell a Lot About Someone from the Nudes They Email You”

Art, Nudes, Paintings, Visual Arts

The Dancer

The Dancer Winter 2019 350x703
The Dancer. 8 x 16 Acrylic on canvas (2019)

The is the first nude I’ve painted.  I did a lot of figure drawing some years ago, but I’ve had no interest in painting nudes until now.  For some reason, I found it was hard for me to figure out how I wanted to paint her.  There are about seven trial coats of paint on her — beneath what you see!

Like so many young women these days, the model told me she has serious issues with the appearance of her body.  Consequently, I think it was a bit brave of her to suggest I do a nude of her.

That also made it especially gratifying when she saw the painting and told me she thought it was attractive enough to help her with body-image issues.  In fact, I was so happy to hear her say that, I totally forgot to seize the opportunity in order to suggest she pay me a fee for having painted her.  What a horrid mistake!

I thought while I was painting this it might not only be my first, but also my last nude — given how hard it was for me to get what I wanted.  But since completing it, two more people — one man, one woman — have suggested I paint nudes of them, so now I’m beginning to wonder if this might be my new profession.

What makes it so odd to me is I typically do portraits and I practically have to beg people to pose for me.  But — and this is counter-intuitive to me — it seems at first glance that it’s easier these days to get volunteers for nudes than for portraits. What on earth?  I feel so old now!  So outdated!

Art, Friends, Literature, Nudes, Paintings, People, Relationships, Twinka Thiebaud, Visual Arts, Writing

An Interview with Twinka Thiebaud

(About a 5 minute read)

Note to Readers from Paul Sunstone:  This is a re-post from a now defunct blog of mine that will soon be deleted.  It was originally posted in December of 2011.  I think it still might be of general interest to people, so I’m re-posting it here to save it.

I was recently offered an opportunity to submit a few questions to Twinka Thiebaud in connection with reviewing her new book, What Doncha Know? About Henry Miller. Her answers to my questions struck me as quite interesting and I have included them in this post.  For those of you who are not familiar with Twinka, this is from the publicist’s biography of her:

Twinka Thiebaud is a former artist’s model who collaborated with many notable photographers of the 20th century.

“Imogen and Twinka,” created by Judy Dater in Yosemite National Park became one of the most recognizable and iconic images captured by an American photographer. In it, 92- year-old Imogen Cunningham, a groundbreaking photographer in her own right, confronts and locks gaze with Twinka, who appears as a wood nymph frozen before the camera’s lens. The image can been seen in private and major museum collections around the world.

For three years Twinka lived with the aging novelist Henry Miller in his Pacific Palisades home acting as his cook and caretaker while working as an artist’s model, posing for art students and other noted photographers Mary Ellen Mark, Arnold Newman, Lucien Clergue, Eikoh Hosoe, Ralph Gibson and her father American painter Wayne Thiebaud, among others. At home with Miller, Twinka was captivated and delighted along with other dinnertime guests and celebrities by the revered author’s nightly tales of his past exploits. Listening, she began to keep a notebook of her version of what he said each evening. Eventually showing him her notes, he expressed immense enthusiasm, encouraging her to write a book. The result is a compilation entitled What Doncha Know? About Henry Miller which includes both Miller’s intimate conversations and Twinka’s memoirs about the years she spent living under his roof and his lasting effect on her.

Twinka lives in Portland, Oregon and is working on a memoir entitled Twinka From Six to Sixty: Collected Images From the Life of an Artist’s Model.

And now, on to the questions and answers:

PAUL:  I recently reviewed your book, “What Doncha Know?” Do you have any comment on the review — anything to correct or add?

TWINKA: Thanks for the review of What Doncha Know? About Henry Miller. I was pleased to see you have a clear picture of what interests and intrigues me most of all: PEOPLE, with a capital P! Henry Miller was one of my greatest subjects of observation along with becoming a great friend and mentor. I think you summed up the book very well and I’m glad it left you wanting more. I would have liked to keep going but circumstances beyond my control created a sudden deadline I needed to honor. Your review captures, beautifully, the spirit in which I penned the book. Thanks again.

PAUL: How would you characterize Henry Miller’s sense of humor? Did the two of you laugh at the same things? Did you frequently get on a roll bouncing jokes off each other?

TWINKA: I’d like to report I had as great a sense of humor as Henry had at that time but that would be a lie. I was an anxious and uncertain young woman; full of drama and angst, usually looking on the darker side of things and not the humorous aspects of life. Aging has helped me gain a more finely tuned sense of the ridiculous and I laugh and make others laugh quite often.

Henry’s sense of humor was usually based on the stories he’d tell about his failed exploits and adventures and those of his friends. He could make fun of himself brilliantly and his characterizations of the quirky souls he’d run into along the road were positively hilarious.

PAUL: Henry Miller’s influence on you was remarkably positive. Based on that, what advice would you offer to people who find themselves in Henry’s position of mentoring a much younger person?

TWINKA: The first thing would be to remain positive in one’s approach. Henry was always incredibly supportive and caring in the way he spoke to me and others when things weren’t going so well.

Focus on the other person entirely; make them feel they matter, that their feelings matter, that they have everything within them needed to find the right answers, the right path.

Don’t tell stories about yourself unless the story relates directly, and in a positive way, to the other person’s struggle or dilemma.

Henry built me up again and again and when I left him I was changed forever. I had no real confidence in myself when I arrived at his doorstep and I was full of ego and false bravado. Henry helped me to feel strong and capable and urged me to believe in myself and my creative endeavors; to live a more genuine life and to let go of the superficial.

PAUL: What advice would you offer a much younger person who was being mentored?

TWINKA: 1) Open yourself up to the wisdom and experience of the person whose taken you on as your mentor and show gratitude for the time they’re making for you.

2) Be unendingly curious and ask a lot of questions.

3)Hang out with your mentor; go to the theater, watch a film, listen to music together and take long walks (with your cell phone turned off).

PAUL: Please tell me a bit about the direction you’re headed with your painting? What do you feel you’ve accomplished and what more do you hope to accomplish in the immediate future? I’m quite fascinated by what little I’ve heard of your work, so please feel free to go into any amount of detail you wish.

TWINKA: This is the hardest question for me to answer. My painting is all about learning to “see”. I’m searching, learning and feeling my way along quite slowly.

I don’t show my work publicly and, perhaps, I never will. It’s all about the process and the joy of not having to make a career or produce paintings for anyone but myself.

I have been in a bit of a rut for a few years with my painting so I turned to interior design projects to give myself some new challenges which I find incredibly rewarding.

Still, I love being alone in my studio with oil paint loaded on my brush, listening to great music and feeling connected to all the artists in the world throughout time…. all of us searching… and all of us learning how to see.


Readers interested in the famous Imogen and Twinka photo by Judy Dater can find a post on it here.  The comments section contains a response to the post by Twinka.

Aesthetics, Art, Beauty, Memes, Nudes, People, Photography, Twinka Thiebaud, Visual Arts, Writing

Book Review: “What Doncha Know? About Henry Miller” by Twinka Thiebaud

(About a 6 minute read)

Note to Readers from Paul Sunstone:  This is a re-post from a now defunct blog of mine that will soon be deleted.  It was originally posted in December of 2011.  I think it still might be of general interest to people, so I’m re-posting it here to save it.

Henry Miller was seventy-one years old when the teenage Twinka Thiebaud met him.  Of course, Miller had not only long been famous as one of the Century’s greatest novelists: He had also long been famous as one of the Century’s greatest pornographers and dirty old men.

The labels of “pornographer” and “dirty old man” came courtesy of the American press, which had (inevitably) discovered itself scandalized by the raw sex scenes in Miller’s novels (Naturally, we Americans are not actually happy about raw sex scenes unless we feel scandalized by them — and the more scandalized, the happier).

Miller’s novels had been at first banned in the US, which caused them to be smuggled into the country as contraband.  The bans were eventually overturned in an historic 1964 Supreme Court decision.  Yet, though the Court ruled Miller’s books “literature”, that did not stop the press from casting Miller as a lecherous old man. And Thiebaud was quite aware of Miller’s nasty reputation the day she met him.

Thiebaud describes herself on that day as an “seventeen year-old virgin” swamped by “intense anxiety” at the prospect of meeting the “salacious beast” Henry Miller. The very last thing she expected to find was a charming old grandfatherly man who showed no signs of wanting to seduce her, and who instead took simple delight in her company. But that is exactly what she found.

A few years after their first meeting Thiebaud moved into Miller’s home as his cook and housekeeper.  She describes her rapport with Miller (pp. 17):

Henry was one of the most open people I have ever known.  I knew what was going on in his head as well as his heart nearly all the time.  He did not keep many secrets and, like me, his emotions were written all over his face.

I get the impression that when Thiebaud walks into a room, the first things she notices are the people.  After that, she notices the art on the wall, then the furnishings, and then the diamond sparking on the table.

Moreover, I could be wrong about this, but I get the impression her interest in people often dominates and restrains her natural human inclination to judge people. That is, she simply takes folks as they are without trying to change them because she is so gawd awful interested in them.

If any of that is true, then it seems significant to me because Thiebaud has written a book.  A book that demands and requires its author to be a keen observer of people.  And namely, a keen observer of Henry Miller.  As well as of herself.

Miller had a gift of gab and loved to entertain his household and his guests over supper.  At some point, Thiebaud took to keeping a journal in which she would write down her recollection of the evening’s conversation before bed.  What Doncha Know ? About Henry Miller  is the product of that effort.

The book mostly focuses on Miller’s recollections of, and reflections on, the people and events in his life. But it does touch a little bit on Twinka herself.  An especially revealing passage about Twinka concerns her relationship with Warren Beatty — whom she met through Miller.

Imogen and Twinka (1974)
Imogen and Twinka (1974)

Warren courted Twinka in 1975, after seeing the famous photograph of her with Imogen Cunningham. He won her over, and the affair lasted until Twinka tired of Warren’s sleeping with women too numerous.

Of course, when such things occur — when a woman discovers there is a long line of other women beyond the door to her lover’s bedroom — the moment is a delicate one.  Anything can happen.  It is common enough for the woman to denounce her lover as a jerk.

Twinka reveals herself to possess thoughts and feelings that are just as graceful as her pose in the photo with Imogen. She broke off her sexual relationship with Beatty, but did not discard her appreciation for him as a superb lover (pp.34):

He was always graceful, mannered, relaxed and confident, never mussed or awkward and never out of line. Even though I was one of many, when we were together, Warren knew exactly how to make me feel absolutely extraordinary.  Now that’s a great gift!

For that and many other reasons, the passages in this book that deal with Twinka herself are just as engaging as the passages that deal with Henry Miller.

Apparently, Miller himself was not a great lover of women in Warren Beatty’s sense.  For one thing, most of Miller’s loves were never consummated.  And it seems he did not always leave his lovers much better off for having known him. But Miller knew several great truths about love, and he practiced them.

For one thing, Miller knew sex was not a necessary ingredient in great loves — the kind of loves that inspire, affirm, and renew us.   To love and to be loved in that way is to be reborn.  And I suspect that such loves are especially valuable to artists and other creatives, for they seem to be associated with great bursts of creativity.

That was one kind of love Miller had experience and insight into.  Another, and perhaps for Miller, a more important kind of love, was the one-sided affair — the love that longs, yearns for an impossible to obtain lover.

Unrequited love is also associated with great bursts of creativity.  But it is a darker creativity, born more from the suffering and angst associated with thwarted desire than from the love itself.

  • Miller (pp. 169): “Love is the most important theme in my life because it has provided me with almost all my creative fuel.  I could’ve written volumes on the subject of unrequited love.”
  • Miller again (pp.170):  “I was in love with many women, but I haven’t really written about love with a capital L.  I wrote about sex!”
  • And later on (ibid): “I’ll sacrifice everything, anything — money, jobs, wives, children — all for love! And always for the love of an unattainable woman, an elusive woman.”

From those and various other things said in Twinka’s book, I get the impression Miller was more at home with a one-sided love than with a mutual love, although he experienced both in his life.  But regardless of what kind of love he was at home with, Twinka’s book makes it clear love was, in Miller’s eyes, a — or even the — motivating factor behind his writing.

As I was reading her book, I hoped for more details of her relationship with Miller. There wasn’t quite the dept of description I wanted, and too few anecdotes, so I was a bit disappointed. But that’s probably just me.

Twinka’s book is fun.  In it, Miller tells a charming/sad/funny/revealing story about the revolutionary, Emma Goldman, that I thought taken alone was probably worth a third of the book’s $15 price.  There are several other precious little stories like that one, too.  Overall, the book is a quick, easy read, and you will probably not drink yourself to death out of regret if you read it.

By the way, I have emailed Twinka a few questions, and I will be posting her answers soon.


Readers interested in the famous Imogen and Twinka photo by Judy Dater can find a post on it here.  The comments section contains a response to the post by Twinka.

Abuse, Aesthetics, Art, Artist, Beauty, Culture, Dance, Erotic Dance, Ethics, Morality, Morals, Nudes, Performance Arts, Sexuality, Values

Some Suggestions on How to View Erotic Dancers

A good friend of mine, an engineer who works in management, tells me of the time she went to a strip club with a group of her co-workers, all men except for her.  “I thought I knew these men and that they respected women, Paul.  And I should say that, outside of the club, they do seem to respect women.  But almost from the moment we got in the door, that respect was gone from every last one of them.  I was alarmed and dismayed both at how they treated the dancers and in what words they spoke about them.  To say they treated them as objects would be to understate it.  I realized this was a side to my male co-workers that I had never suspected before.”

Over the years, several of my friends and acquaintances have been people who were either working as erotic dancers or had in the past worked as erotic dancers.  Perhaps a majority of them have told me — or at least hinted to me — of how disrespected they are by most of the men who show up to watch them perform. Several of them have become cynical of men as a consequence.  This is a sad state of affairs.

I think it’s safe to assume that it’s commonplace in America to disrespect erotic dancers, and that there are cultural reasons for that disrespect.  In our culture, not just dancers, but sex workers in general are disrespected, and have been for centuries.  But I do not wish to speculate here on the historical roots of that disrespect.  Nor is my purpose in this blog post to try to convert to a different view those of you who feel justified in disrespecting sex workers, or specifically, dancers.  If you feel righteously justified in disrespecting people, that’s a matter between you and your conscience, and nothing I say is likely to change you.

Instead, I am only concerned with offering for consideration some views to anyone who is not of the firm conviction that dancers should be disrespected, and who rather is open to hearing a few ideas about treating them as persons in their own right.  So with that in mind, please allow me to offer these suggestions:

First, don’t take it personally if and when the dancers themselves fail to respect you.  As I hinted above, most of the young women have gotten pretty jaded about men in general very largely as a response to being disrespected by so many of their customers.  That is, they have returned disrespect with disrespect.  And while that is a rather foolish and ineffective way to respond to disrespect, it is also a very human way to respond to it.  So, expect most of the dancers to be at least somewhat contemptuous of you — or at the very least, suspicious — and do not make the mistake of taking it personally.

Although it’s been years since I was last in a club, I used to go with a friend of mine, a sculptor, who taught me to view what the dancers were doing as an art.  I would suggest you too, view the dancers as artists, not only because it makes it easier to see them as persons in their own right, but also because it seems to significantly enhance the experience of watching them.  But if any of that is true, then how do you go about viewing the dancers as artists?

Well, something that’s helped me do that is to, first, recognize that not all of them are very good artists.  I would say that about 12% of the dancers you’ll see — about one in eight — are natural born artists.  They almost certainly have not been schooled in erotic dance, but they are the sort of people who would make an art of nearly anything they were doing — very much including erotic dance.

In addition to that 12%, the vast majority of dancers are artistically average folks, and — at the bottom of the pile — are a percentage of dancers who are poor or quite poor artists.  Now why is this important?

It’s important because, if you look at erotic dance as an art — and the dancers as artists — then it is wise to keep in mind that not all the dancers you’ll see are good artists in order to avoid becoming discouraged.  But what makes one dancer a good artist, and the next seven dancers average or poor artists?

The key to the question is to recognize that, as a rule of thumb, a good dancer will authentically express her sexuality.  An average dancer will tend to be inconsistently authentic at best, and a poor dancer will be consistently inauthentic.   Another way of expressing those differences is to say that a good dancer will not pander to you, an average dancer will pander sometimes, and a poor dancer will always pander.  If you think about it, the very same thing is true with any art or artist: The best express their own vision, most pander a bit, and the worse are always pandering.

These distinctions might sound very vague or very esoteric.  But in practice, it’s fairly easy — given some experience of different dancers — to see which are authentic, a mix of authentic and inauthentic, or downright inauthentic.  That is, in practice, it’s just about as easy to see as it as it is to know when someone is probably telling the truth, partly telling the truth, and downright lying to you.

Now, should you bring any of this art talk up with the dancers themselves?  I myself would be a little hesitant to do so.  I’ve known a few dancers who viewed what they were doing as an art, but they have been by far in the minority.  Even most of the natural born artists who end up dancing for a living don’t think of themselves as artists, or think of what they’re doing as art.  This shouldn’t surprise you:  As Plato once famously said, artists are lousy at explaining themselves and their art.  So I think with most dancers, if you were to start talking to them about the “Art of Stripping”, you’d get blank stares at best.

Then again, just about the most erotic dancer that I ever have known used to enthusiastically gush to me now and then about the occasional customer of hers who’d sit down and knowingly discuss dance as an art form with her.  The key to her heart and mind was that a guy actually knew what he was talking about. So it’s up to you whether you want to bring up the subject with any of the dancers you meet.

Of course, very little of anything I’ve said so far will make much sense to if you happen to be one of those folks who is simply not moved by art.  There’s nothing at all wrong with you, but art just doesn’t grab you at a gut level.  If so, there are still some things you might want to keep in mind when viewing dancers perform for you.

I’ve found it best not to fantasize about having sex with the dancers — no matter how erotically they dance.   That might sound counter-intuitive: After all, why go watch often beautiful women dance half-naked or naked if you don’t want to imagine yourself having sex with them, right?  But in practice, that path leads to frustration, at the very least.  Indeed, one of my friends found it so frustrating that he ended up incapable of enjoying erotic dance at all.  I can contrast his experience with that of other friends who have found erotic dance “liberating” to experience, to say the least.

Most importantly, the key thing you should try to do is to see and treat each dancer as an individual.  In my experience, this is greatly aided by viewing them as artists.  But if viewing them as artists makes no impression on you, then you can still see and treat them as individuals simply by comparing and contrasting how they dance with how others dance.  Seeing the dancers as individuals is, I believe, the first and most important step towards genuinely respecting them as persons.

Humor, Saturday's Nude

The Reason I am Justifiably Indignant This Morning…

One of the Big Questions in life, a question that seems to me to have long captured the fascinated interest of most thinking people (and even my own fascinated interest) is, of course, the nearly infinitely debatable and exciting question of whether one should match the color of one’s socks to one’s shoes, or to one’s pants?

Tragically, that’s not the question I have been asked to talk about today.   I say “tragically” because it seems to me inconceivable that anyone could be genuinely indifferent to the question.

After all, the more you allow yourself to think about how to coordinate socks, the more of an exciting mystery it becomes.  One question leads to another, and then to another.   Before you know it, you are just as wrapped up in the questions as, say, your feet are wrapped up in a pair of fine dress socks made of wool blended with a bit of spandex or elastane for stretch.

Some folks — who were, I’m saddened to say, no doubt emotionally shallow people — have listened to me go on about socks only to state, “Paul, your problem is not socks, your problem is you have no life. Let’s go catch a film, go to the bars, or at least do something!”, but how can it possibly be true that I have no life when I as a man have boldly sought the truth of “Cotton or Wool?”; bravely faced without fear the dark issue of “Black or Midnight Navy Blue”; and even courageously written to my Senator on the pressing need to combat the evils of paisley?  

Alas!  None of that matters now!  For the otherwise kind and obviously intelligent lady who emailed me yesterday morning from (I’m pretty sure) South Africa regrettably failed to even mention socks, but merely wrote instead, “I have been pouring over some of your old ‘Saturday’s Nude’ posts from years ago in which you posted amazingly beautiful art photos of nudes, and I would so enjoy hearing your opinion of whether I’m pretty when nude.  Please find attached numerous high resolution pics of me without my clothes”.

“Enjoy?”  “Enjoy!”  What a strange and peculiar word for her to use when savagely inflicting upon herself the tragedy of failing to ask my opinion of socks!  Does she even know what a thrilling discourse she’s missing?  What a life enhancing experience she’s passing by?

Abuse, Culture, Nudes, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society, Values, Village Idiots

Nation of Prudes Meet Nation that Sexualizes Nearly Everything

I don’t doubt there are more prudish societies than America.   Indeed, there is probably, somewhere, a society that is so prudish, the people do not even talk about how prudish they are for fear of unduly exciting themselves.  At least in America we discuss our prudery.

But are we Americans really prudes?

Yes, Virginia, we are really prudes.  At least our society as a whole is.  And if you will not take my word for it, consider this:

Janet Jackson once exposed her nipple for less than two seconds on national television and caused a controversy lasting several days that at its peak swept aside major news stories.  A school teacher was reprimanded then fired for taking her children to a museum that displayed nude sculptures.  A grandmother was prosecuted for photographing her two partly-clothed granddaughters bouncing on her bed.  Here in Colorado Springs, a woman threatened to sue a drug store for “trauma” after she accidentally received images of a nude man from the store’s photo lab.  And a man in another state was once convicted of sex offender charges for walking about nude in his own home without closing his drapes.

The sad thing is, one could go on for page after page merely listing incidents of public prudery in America.

Yet, at the same time that we live in a prudish culture, we live in a immensely sexualized culture.   That’s what I don’t understand:  How a nation of prudes who cannot tolerate two seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple without thinking their civilization will crash around them is also a nation of goofballs (for lack of a better word) who stick eight year old girls in thongs and fishnet stockings and then do not expect those girls to grow up with serious “issues”.  It was certainly a bright day when we came up with that one.

As near as I’ve ever come to figuring out the contradiction between our national fetish with prudery and our national lust to sexualize everything, is that it’s not the same people doing both.

But the older I get, the more I doubt that.

It’s just human nature — not even limited to uniquely American nature, but universal human nature — to dress your six year old in an inappropriately revealing swimsuit for a beauty contest  on Saturday and then write the FCC complaining about seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple on Monday.   At 30, I would have put that sort of hypocrisy past us.   At 54, I am an agnostic about whether it should be put past us.

I guess the one thing you can say about American attitudes towards sex and sexuality that is consistent across the board: American attitudes just don’t make sense.

Seriously, how do you account for the fact we are both a nation of prudes and a nation that sexualizes nearly everything?  I need some help understanding this one.