In my previous post I was saying how similar the David Lynch Nudes and Ralph Gibson Nude books were. When I wrote the post, I didn’t question why this would be. Looking around, it is not just these books that the “language” used in them is near identical but you can also be easily find similar elsewhere.

Near the shelf where the David Lynch book was sitting was this tutorial book.

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Photographing Models: 1000 poses by Eliot Siegel

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The book is page after page of young (white) women in passive, some may argue, sexually provocative poses.

I don’t have a problem with photographers choosing to create this style of work. It is their prerogative after all, but what is new or fresh about producing such work? Is it a real lack of imagination. Maybe, but it does give an insight into the heads of these photographers. Or their fantasies.

So what is this art saying? Is it just a pretty picture? Art, to me, is meant to give intellectual stimulation and not just visual stimulation. Just because it is aesthetically pleasing doesn’t make it great art. Great advertising yes, but great art, no. I just can’t figure out why this type of imagery is so prevalent.

Like I said, I have no problem with people choosing to express their creativity in this way. There must be a different way of doing things as this isn’t what I am about.

Venus Figurines

Through a viral tweet I discovered a research paper by Catherine Hodge McCoid and Leroy D. McDermott from the University of Central Missouri in which they argue that the earliest sculptures of the female nude commonly known as the Venus figurines may well have been created by women.

The paper Toward Decolonizing Gender: Female Vision in the Upper Palaeolithic (published in the American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 98, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 319-326) compares images taken looking down the body to how they match closely to the top down view of the sculptures. In a way they are self portraits before the invention of the mirror.

The authors ask the question why it has taken so long to consider that a female point of view was involved in the creation of these pieces. And twenty two years later it is still a surprise to many (me included) that the very first depictions of the female nude could have been created by women.

In what is considered the “bible” of the human body in art, The Nude by Kenneth Clark, describes the Venus figurines as

the bulging statuettes from palaeolithic caves, which emphasise the female attributes till they are little more than symbols of fertility

There is no suggestion from the text that the creators of the sculptures could have been women. Instead, from my reading of his book, suggests that it is the beginning of an evolution of female nudes created by men. To me this is a big omission.

Having investigated this a bit more, the British Museum in 2013 did have an exhibition called Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind in which it featured these sculptures of the female form.

They too argue that they were “made by women for women”.

I am not ashamed to say that I learnt something new today. Which is more than I can say when I was in a Waterstones bookshop the other day.

On the shelves was a copy of Nudes by David Lynch and it struck me how similar this book was to Nude by Ralph Gibson. The style and posing are virtually the same and so to are the ages and ethnicity of the (young) women.

I reviewed Gibson’s book back in 2013 and it did make me a bit sad that one of the creative forces behind the original and outlandish Twin Peaks TV series and Blue Velvet film, just did a recreation rather than trying something different. To be fair David Lynch may never have heard of Ralph Gibson. But it does question why two men produced very similar styles of work years apart from one another.

Judging by these two books, it seems the evolution of the art nude has got stuck with the same tune.

Women Who Read Are Dangerous

When I first saw Women Who Read Are Dangerous by Stefan Bollman in Waterstones I quickly realised that it was part of the same series as Women Walking. Having a flick through in the shop it struck me how different the two books are.

In my review of Women Walking I wrote about how refreshing not to see women depicted as passive objects. And you would think that the artworks in Women Who Read would show women actively furthering their knowledge. But what you find is that artists over the years have reinforced the idea that leisure not academic achievement is the only reason why women read.

You have to question why some artists have created works in which the women are nude or in a boudoir scenario while reading a book. To be fair, the other scenario is depicting with children in a nurturing situation.

The final image in Women Who Read is the Eve Arnold photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses which the accompanying text questions if she actually read the book or if it was just a prop. An attractive woman also being clever can not possibly be right?

What is this underlying message? Women have no place in the intellectual world.

But is this all historical? I wish it was. Hysterical Literature is a set of YouTube videos with millions of views in which women read from books while getting a “happy ending”. The project creator says:

It explores feminism, mind/body dualism, distraction portraiture, and the contrast between culture and sexuality. (It’s also just really fun to watch.)

In my view his work is just a reminder to all women that their place is back in the bedroom not in the library. There is still such a long way to go. The saying knowledge is power is so true.