They're everywhere — graffitied on our bridges, decorating our subways, carved into unlucky trees and generously represented in classical and contemporary art. The minimal renderings of the male anatomy that we notice around the city appear almost exclusively circumcised, while the World Health Organization estimates that globally, only 30% of males aged 15 have undergone the surgery. Hopes&Fears asked art critics and artists to postulate the technical or historical reasons as to why this genital shorthand looks the way it does.

Paddy Johnson

Art critic, founder and editor of Art F City

On a basic level, a circumcised head is artist shorthand for "this is a penis and not a magic marker." On a more practical level, there are simply more things you can do to embellish a shape of an exposed head. For example, an artist might choose to transform the head of dick into a Darth Vader figure or give it wings. Those options are less apparent in the circumcised world.

And finally, on a more academic level, the exposed head is also a form of functionalism, meaning that because objects are better understood when the mechanics are visible, we often instinctively make those choices.

In short, communication is usually clearer when we reveal the source of the gold.


Benjamin Sutton

Art critic, Metro Editor at Hyperallergic

The most prevalent theory regarding this phenomenon, which is known in art circles as the "cap-less cock croquis quotient," is that a speedy sketch of a circumcised penis simply reads more clearly and legibly as a penis than a rushed rendering of an uncircumcised penis. If an amateur artist whose anatomical chops aren't quite Raphaelite or even Tom of Finnish were to scrawl an uncircumcised penis on a bathroom stall wall, it might be mistaken for, say, a dormant volcano, the stump of a tree that has been too heavily pruned, or a trick-or-treater dressed as a ghost who forgot to cut eye holes in his bed sheet. But with a drawing of a circumcised penis, even abstracted to the core Cubist forms of rectangles and circles, misreading the image is very hard.


Betty Tompkins

An American artist whose works include photorealistic close-up imagery of intimate acts

I had no idea if your premise was correct, so I did some research with Google. The ideal with the Greeks and the Romans was small and circumcised. Small was good!! Elegant! Big was bad. A lout! And they are also all flaccid. The big exception that I found was this group with all huge rude phalluses. A lot of them are on pots too. They are very funny. Medieval stuff is great! Very imaginative marginalia. The monks must have gotten so bored. All body functions and parts are explored. My favorites are the penis trees. The dicks look circumcised but I think they are erect. When erect, there is not much to no difference in the way they look. Here’s an example. And then there is Michaelangelo’s David. Poor guy should be circumcised and he is not. I only paint and draw erect dicks, so no foreskin is ever involved.