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The Kiss (1896) by  William Heise
The Kiss (1896) by William Heise

"If it be ridiculous to kiss an ugly girl, it is also ridiculous to kiss a pretty one." --Kierkegaard, Stages on Life's Way

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A kiss is the pressing of one's lips against another person or an object. Cultural connotations of kissing vary widely. Depending on the culture and context, a kiss can express sentiments of love, passion, affection, respect, greeting, friendship, peace and good luck, among many others. In some situations a kiss is a ritual, formal or symbolic gesture indicating devotion, respect, or sacrament. The word came from Old English cyssan (“to kiss”), in turn from coss (“a kiss”).


Nature and history of the kiss

The origins of the kiss were studied in the early 20th century by natural historian Ernest Crawley (see Studies of Savages and Sex ). He wrote that kissing was "a universal expression in the social life of the higher civilizations of the feelings of affection, love (sexual, parental, and filial), and veneration." According to Crawley, touch is 'the mother of the senses,' and the kiss was a tactile and specialized form of intimate contact. However, he notes that the act of kissing was very rare among the "lower and semi-civilized races," but was "fully established as instinctive in the higher societies." Yet even among higher civilizations Crawley saw differences: while the kiss seems to have been unknown to ancient Egypt, it was well established in early Greece, Assyria, and India.

The kiss of lovers, according to 19th century anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, originated and evolved from the maternal kiss. Crawley supports this view by noting that Japanese society, before the 20th century, was "ignorant of the kiss except as applied by a mother to her infant," while in Africa and "other uncivilized regions," it was commonly observed that neither husbands and wives, or lovers, kissed one another. However, among the Greeks and Latins kissing was common as when parents kissed their children or lovers and married persons kissed. The kiss in Western societies was also used in various religious and ceremonial acts, as where the kiss had a sacramental value. Crawley concludes that generally, although kissing was prevalent in some form since primitive times, it "received its chief development in Western culture."

Within the natural world of animals there are numerous analogies, notes Crawley, such as "the billing of birds, the cataglottism of pigeons and the antennal play of some insects." Even among higher animals such as the dog, cat and bear, similar behavior is noted. See also Biology and evolution, below.

In art

The Kiss
  • Works entitled The Kiss were painted by both Gustav Klimt, Francesco Hayez and Edvard Munch.
  • Auguste Rodin created the sculpture The Kiss (Le Baiser).
  • Andy Warhol made an avant-garde film, Kiss, closeups of couples kissing.
  • The French photographer Robert Doisneau shot a couple kissing by the Hotel de Ville (Paris) in 1950. The photo, later called "The Kiss," is now considered a classic, a fact one couple alleging to be the subjects of the photo attempted to exploit in their unsuccessful 1990s lawsuit against the photographer.

In literature

Johannes Secundus (also Janus Secundus) (15 November 1511 – 25 September 1536) was a New Latin poet of Dutch nationality. His most famous work was the Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses, first complete edition 1541), a short collection consisting of nineteen poems in various metres, in which the poet explores the theme of the kiss.

In film

The first romantic kiss on screen was in American silent films in 1896, beginning with the film The Kiss. The kiss lasted 30 seconds and caused many to rail against decadence in the new medium of silent film. Writer Louis Black writes that "it was the United States that brought kissing out of the Dark Ages." However, it met with severe disapproval by defenders of public morality, especially in New York. One critic proclaimed that "it is absolutely disgusting. Such things call for police interference."

Young moviegoers began emulating romantic stars on the screen, such as Ronald Colman and Rudolph Valentino, the latter known for ending his passionate scenes with a kiss. Valentino also began his romantic scenes with women by kissing her hand, traveling up her arm, and then kissing her on the back of her neck. Female actress were often turned into stars based on their screen portrayals of passion. Actresses like Pola Negri and Greta Garbo, became screen idols as a result.

Eventually the film industry was forced by law to follow the dictates of the Production Code established in 1934, overseen by Will Hays and supported by the church. According to the new code, "Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown." As a result, kissing scenes were shortened, with scenes cut away, leaving the imagination of the viewer to take over. Under the code, actors kissing had to keep their feet on the ground and had to be either standing or sitting.

The heyday of romantic kissing on the screen took place in the early sound era, during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Body language began to be used to supplement romantic scenes, especially with the eyes, a talent that added to Greta Garbo's fame. Author Lana Citron writes that "men were perceived as the kissers and women the receivers. Should the roles ever be reversed, women were regarded as vamps . . ." According to Citron, Mae West and Anna May Wong were the only Hollywood actresses never to have been kissed on screen. Among the films rated for having the most romantic kisses, are Gone with the Wind, From Here to Eternity, Casablanca, and To Have and Have Not.

Sociologist Eva Illouz notes that surveys taken in 1935 showed that "love was the most important theme represented in movies. Similar surveys during the 1930s found the 95% of films had romance as one of their plot lines, what film critics called "the romantic formula."

In early Japanese films, kissing and sexual expression were controversial. In 1931, a director slipped a kissing scene past the censor (who was a friend), but when the film opened in a downtown Tokyo theater, the screening was stopped and the film confiscated. During the American Occupation of Japan, in 1946. an American censor required a film to include a kissing scene. One scholar says that the censor suggested "we believe that even Japanese do something like kissing when they love each other. Why don't you include that in your films?" Americans encouraged such scenes to force the Japanese to express publicly actions and feelings that had been considered strictly private, since ever since Pearl Harbor they had felt that Japanese were "sneaky": "if Japanese kissed in private, they should do it in public too."

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Kiss" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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