I’m debating whether or not to frame the life-size artistic rendering of my erect penis that’s just arrived in the mail. I commissioned it a couple months ago from a group of designers in Gothenburg, Sweden, to whom I sent the basic specs of my dick (i.e., length, girth, grower v. shower, intact vs. circumcised, etc.); desired state (erect vs. flaccid); and preferred design (watercolor, line art or sketch). As I’m a huge fan of both M.C. Escher and my own boner, I opt for a circumcised pencil sketch of what a Swedish stranger imagines my hard-on looks like.
One such stranger — Eric Calderon with the Swedish design firm ODD Company, and the brainchild of the Penis Poster — tells me via Skype that the main objective of this project is to raise awareness of the scourge of unsolicited dick pics, the thinking being that if men are provided an outlet to demonstrate their penis pride, they’ll cease doing so in women’s inboxes without invitation.
The Penis Poster — like György Szűcs’ Dick Code before it, which I’ve written about on a couple of different occasions — was inspired by the #MeToo movement, Calderon explains. “I didn’t realize so many women had received unwanted pictures of penises,” he admits. “I thought, If you’re so proud of it, why don’t you frame it and put it on a wall?” (His proposition for men, while admittedly dubious, is essentially to hang their willies on the wall instead of texting them, willy-nilly.)
It’s sorta worked. To date, 2,560 Penis Posters have been sold (at $49 each plus $15 international shipping), the proceeds of which are donated to the U.N. gender equality initiative HeForShe. “The more we sell, the better,” Calderon adds, since his primary goal is to start conversations, raise awareness and change problematic behavior. Case in point: The final step of the Penis Poster buying process requires checking a box and agreeing you “won’t be a douche and send unsolicited dick pics.”
That’s all well and good — I left the dick pic game behind long ago — but what am I to do with this life-sized sketch of my erection? What’s the etiquette on hanging something like that in my living room? For answers, I asked my Facebook friends how they’d react if they were greeted by a life-sized sketch of my dong in my living room. “That’s a hard one to call,” chimes my pal Stuart, an acerbic Brit, plucking some low-hanging pun fruit. “I’d ask for proof it’s yours and then never leave,” admits Shannon, my male gay friend from college. In fact, “Request for corroborating proof,” was a common refrain among my gay brethren.
On the other end of the equation, my brother’s business school classmate Chip says without hesitation: “I’d stop bringing my children to your house.” This opinion — that framed genitalia must come down (again, pun intended) in the presence of minors — was generally agreed upon. For example, my former writing colleague Jenn, hardly a prude, rightly notes that in this day and age “it’s not a great idea to frame a picture of your cock, artist’s rendering or otherwise, in an area where children, women, family members, co-workers and others could possibly be caught off-guard.”
Still, hers was far from a universal reaction. “Why on earth would people be offended?” wonders Joy, a veteran film producer who came of age during the sexual revolution. “Certainly every museum in the world depicts nudity.” “Do we not go to Italy to see Michelangelo’s David,” agrees Sionainn, an old friend from Connecticut, “or covet any other historic nude paintings as collectors do?”
So good in fact that it sent me down a historical wormhole of the phallic art that led to my penis poster.
The Ancient Dick
In 2016, a team of archeologists stumbled upon some penis drawings on a remote Greek island in the Aegean Sea, thought to be some of the oldest on Earth, dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. The “triumphant inscriptions” were “tantalisingly clear” and “monumental in scale” according to Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology.
Like the Penis Poster, the ancient appendage was accompanied by an inscription of the owner, in this case a guy was named “Dion.” Nearby, an equally steamy bit of graffiti from the mid-sixth century B.C. reads. “Nικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα,” or “Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona.” The Greeks presumably got off on posting dick pics (upon granite pillars); the Temple of Dionysus, for example, features giant stone penises carved in the third century B.C.
And a typical boundary marker was the “herm,” originally a representation of the god Hermes, consisting of a head on top of a square pillar, unadorned except for an erect penis and scrotum.
The Middle-Aged Dick
Penises show up in several medieval manuscripts, from flying green penis monsters to sun-ripened penises dangling from penis-laden tree branches. When Sarah Peverley, a senior lecturer in the University of Liverpool’s School of English, tweeted an image from a French manuscript showing nuns picking “fruit” from “a medieval penis tree,” a male follower aptly noted the penises “look pretty much like those I drew on my high school math book, c.1995.” Peverley noted the penis tree was from a 14th-century manuscript of the Romance of the Rose, a popular medieval French-language poem — and the image was drawn by a woman.
The Renaissance Dick
Like the MEL art team, when Renaissance-era painters sought to depict the D, they often resorted to symbolism using fruit and vegetables. Renaissance painter Raphael, for instance, sexualized his depiction of Mercury in his Villa Farnesina fresco with the help of a turgid gourd by Mercury’s left hand and swollen figs erupting with juice.
Similarly, wander aimlessly around the Erdene Zuu Monastery, the oldest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia (est. 1585), and you might stumble upon a giant decapitated dong. As the legend goes, a monk who had vowed to be celibate turned out to be a womanizer and was castrated to remind him of his vows of celibacy. As a warning to other monks at the monastery, a rock in the shape of a penis was prominently engraved as a stone phallus called “Kharkhorin Rock.”
Sixteenth century phallic art also featured ceramic dicks. Or rather a ceramic dish emblazoned with a human head composed of dicks. The earring and hairband denote femininity and the inscription, written in Italian, translates to, “Every man looks at me as if I were a head of dicks.”
The Modern and Post-Modern Dick
Also satirically, in 1920, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi was asked by French Princess Marie Bonaparte to carve a sculpture of her. “She had a beautiful bust,” Brancusi noted, “but ugly legs and was terribly vain. She was looking in the mirror all the time, even during lunch, discreetly placing the mirror on the table, looking furtive.” His creation, “Princess X,” depicted just that, featuring a slightly inclined ovoid head and a long neck terminating in a set of giant tits. But when Picasso saw Princess X on display in Paris he exclaimed, “Here it is: the phallus!”
The most notable mid-century modern penis art belongs to Dutch sculptor Herman Makkink. The “Rocking Machine,” featured in A Clockwork Orange, combines a phallus with a round female bottom. “Pop Art was in full swing and so was the sexual revolution,” Makkink explained, “so I combined a penis with a beautifully shaped female rear in fiberglass. I thought this would be really shocking.”
The Contemporary Dick
Following the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, artwork inspired by the male genitalia was everywhere, from Louise Bourgeois’ Fillette to Robert Mapplethorpe’s Cock and Gun to Tracey Emin’s penis bracelet to Andy Warhol’s penis on the moon.
On the softer side, both Australian knitwear designer Kristen Fredericks and California crochet artist Jack Davis knit penises, some completely intact, others embellished with buttons.
All of which, inevitably, led to millennials filtering, styling and art directingtheir dick pics.
With all this in mind, I’ve decided it’s wholly appropriate to frame my Penis Poster. After all, it’s fine(ish) art that stands up (!) nicely in the long, uncut lineup of historically artistic cocks presented above.