As you may know, it takes me ages to read books and I have just finished reading Representing Women by Linda Nochlin. It is one of those books that I will need to read twice to take it all in. So I’m not going to do a full review but here are the key points I picked up.
In the final chapter Nochlin suggests that the female nude wasn’t always the main preoccupation of (male) artists but is only a fairly recent thing. Kenneth Clark in The Nude confirms this in which he “observed how, in the 19th century, the nude came to mean, almost exclusively, the female nude”. I don’t remember seeing if Clark explains why this is but Nochlin suggests that the rise of photography as one of the reasons.
To me this makes a lot of sense. Paintings and sculptures are not portable unlike the photographic print. And not to mention the ability to mass produce photographic prints which allowed connoisseurs to purchase the art at a fraction of the cost of commissioning a piece of work.
The lack of women having the funds to practice photography at the dawn of the technology means that the archive is based from very much a male perspective. A tradition which is sadly still very much the norm today. Model portfolio websites whose members are mainly male photographers and female models.
In another chapter of Nochlin’s book she discusses the work of Mary Cassatt, an artist that I wasn’t aware of before now. Trying to find a decent book about Mary Cassatt has not been easy. A lot of the books are out of print or not in stock at Waterstones. I am hopeful that I will be able to find something soon.
I’m not sure how I came across Nudes: The Art of the Soviet Union. But what interested me about the book was the curiosity to see if there was a difference between art created in a communist society versus a capitalist system. Can you tell if people are from from behind the iron curtain once they are stripped bare?
Selling goods and services by using images of women is a casual thought in the West. So much so that an air conditioning company had no problem with using an image with the phrase “your wife is hot“.
So, is it true that art created in the Soviet Union was more egalitarian than what was being created over here?
Turning the pages of the book shows how wrong that assumption would be. There are plenty of women in this collection of works that show women in very submissive, seductive poses. Having said that, there are also pieces which depict women exercising. Men too are shown exercising. I don’t know enough about the history to say for sure that the imagery of the physically fit men and women are part of the propaganda during that time.
Having one book on the subject doesn’t make me an expert and drawing firm conclusions from this single source would be very foolish indeed.
I saw on an online forum a question asking if there is the female equivalent of the Male Gaze.
There is no question when you look around in photography and wider popular culture the phenomenon of the Male Gaze. Scantily clad young women adorn pages of magazines, newspapers and in advertising. Movies are told from the male point of view. Take The Graduate, the story is about the coming of age of a young man and what his future holds. How different and more interesting it would have been if it was told from the perspective of Ann Bancroft’s character Mrs Robinson and her attempt to break free from an unhappy life.
So is the Female Gaze the exact opposite of the Male Gaze? Is it male strip shows and “Playgirl” images? To me, it doesn’t feel like a definition created by women but rather created by men assuming what women think. There might be some women who see the Female Gaze as this but if you started with a blank sheet of paper or canvas would this be what it really looks like?
Western art has been developed through men’s eyes. It hasn’t until recently that the influence of women been able to break through the centuries of male domination. Giving women a voice is what the Female Gaze should be all about.
So how easy is it for women to achieve this? Well not that easy. Social media has a habit of censoring real images of women.
What I have found that it is so much easier discovering work by men than women. There is the attitude of some (male) photographers discouraging women photographers to the point which you could class as bullying and harassment. If you ask me the male bias is still alive and well.
So what can I do about it? It isn’t a direct battle for me to fight. All I can do is to try to support as many women artists as possible by buying their books, art or visiting their exhibitions and telling other people about it.