Intimacy

In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, our requirement for intimacy is so important it ranks just above shelter. Across centuries, artists have drawn upon a shifting lexicon for how to depict this important part of human existence, whether it be romantic love, companionship or friendship forged through deep knowledge of the other.

In the ancient world, depictions of intimacy in art were often rendered as a kind of wound delivered by the afflicting arrow of Eros. But contrary to the contemporary understanding, Platonic love was perceived as more valuable than sexual or marriage-based intimacy. The paintings of the Boston-based Genevieve Cohn depict physical and symbolic ties that speak to the strength of Platonic female intimacy and camaraderie. Painted from a lower vantage point, the figures form a circle that also suggests political solidarity. Likewise, in We Woke Up Surrounded by Trees, the New York-based artist Emilie Gossiaux extends Platonic intimacy to the realm of animal companionship, depicting herself sleeping alongside her ever-constant guide dog in a forest of tall trees.

With the improved standards of living in the 19th century and the development of so-called "companionate marriages," loving life partnerships would become a desirable and idealized part of the human experience. In Constantin Brâncuși's The Kiss, the Romanian modernist carved a pair of lovers from the same piece of rough stone. A pair of lovers also feature in the E'Wao Kagoshima mixed-media work Xulf. The artist's use of a flattened plane evokes Japanese Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo era, which were novel at the time for depicting fleeting and intimate moments of everyday life. Such snapshots of sexual intimacy are a hallmark of Nan Goldin's photographs, whose heartbreaking pictures are marked by the vulnerability and loss of self in intimate relationships.

Both innate and culturally determined, our understandings of intimacy and love continue to expand, and so too do the ways they are captured by artists.