Let’s be animals.
Gustav Kilmt’s The Kiss ins’t just about love: it’s about the human need to support and bond as well. Notice the couple are one unit, yet with distinct color patterns. Their love isn’t co dependency, then, but rather a close bonding that retains their personal characteristics.
Yet it’s the human need in this picture that drives the pathos. The man seems to be doing what he’s meant to do: he somewhat cradles her, holding her face and head and kissing her, his body enveloping hers. She, meanwhile, with a serene face, shows her true emotion by holding his hand. If her hand were flat the pathos would be destroyed.
And it’s that hand hold that tells the most. This painting is often characterized as a display of erotic love: the bright golds and merging of the patterns of their bodies representing sex. That characterization is too simple, and misses the larger theme: love simplifies humans: bond, protect, cherish, and feel. Holding his hand back is an animal instinct and perpetuates their cycle: just as he is protecting and cherishing her, she is as well protecting and cherishing him: one is incomplete without the other.
But being reduced to such evolutionary drives is hardly simple. The gold and bed of flowers do indeed mean something: love seems so simple and serene, yet it’s among the most complex and delicate of nature.
This is the painting in my parents’ bathroom. I’ve always wondered about it.