Ode to a Prostitute: 10 Famed Tarts in Art

Prostitutes have occupied the role of muse for innumerable artists. Writers, painters, musicians, filmmakers, and poets have alternately identified with, idealized and demonized working girls in an obsessive fixation spanning generations. From Paris’ 19th Century avant-garde to the streets of New York City in the 1970s, the disgust and awe that surrounds the working girl (and boy) continues to consume the pages and palettes of creative minds.

The Internet, alongside changing sexual and social mores, may have begun to transform the way we perceive sex workers — making the world’s oldest profession less of a clandestine operation and more of a business transaction (see: Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience). However, there will always be an artistic refuge — and planet Hollywood, of course — for the romanticization of crooked pimps and saucy streetwalkers. For every sordid, seamy expose, there’s a Pretty Woman waiting in the wings to silver-line the mythos. After the jump, check out some of our favorite “love letters” — and less flattering missives — to the women and men of the night. Which ones have always fascinated you?

Charles Bukowski’s “To the Whore Who Took My Poems”

It’s no secret that Bukowski had a fondness for the darker side of life. His highly autobiographical Women confesses, “Basically I craved prostitutes, base women, because they were deadly and hard and made no personal demands. Nothing was lost when they left.” The boozy poet laureate did lose something, however, prompting him to write To the Whore Who Took My Poems. The work seems to be a tribute to Catullus, a 1st Century BC Latin poet who wrote a similar verse, Adeste, hendecasyllabi, quot estis, demanding similar from a Republican period floozy.