Femininity And The Arts English Literature Essay

When one thinks about the function of adult females in humanistic disciplines, the first reply that comes to mind is that after all the Muses are adult females, and you must be a adult male to possess them[ 1 ], therefore puting the adult females in the place of a inactive object, an inspiration for the active, male creative person. The Victorian civilization, from which the modernism sprung in the twentieth century, associated adult females with place and tradition, with what is private: with the household. Womans were considered biologically unable of making art[ 2 ], indentifying them with domestic trade and reproduction[ 3 ], while work forces were associated with cultural creative activity. Trying to track down the beginning of the female passiveness through the ages one encounters an obstruction in the signifier of modern unfavorable judgments, which although frequently claims to be radical, is still the bequest of the Victorian political orientation. For illustration, Gombrich ‘s celebrated Narrative of Art references no adult females artist at all[ 4 ]. Following this unsound image of art, Linda Nochlin, in her essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists states that art is an elitist societal concept unfastened merely to white, middle-class males and hence perfectly excepting adult females from the artistic discourse[ 5 ]. However the premise of the elitist quality of art is likely right, Nochlin erasure of female creative persons is a condemnable error: names of adult females creative persons have been recorded from antiquity[ 6 ], one old-timer myth even provinces that art was invented by a adult female named Kora[ 7 ]. The being of female creative persons was acknowledged and appreciated in the sixteenth century with Giorgio Vasari ‘s Le vite de ‘ piu eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani, district attorney Cimabue insino a ‘ pacing nostri, where he included profiles of such outstanding adult females as Properzia de Rossi and Sofonsiba Anguisolla, and it has been turning till the eighteenth century, with female pupils go toing the Paris Academie and even being among the laminitis members of the English Royal Academy[ 8 ]. It has been the nineteenth century that locked adult females in places and brought the ignorance of the being of female creative persons throughout centuries. Although at the same clip it was the epoch of adult females ‘s societal emancipation, their originative attempts were universally considered derivative and undistinguished, taking the feminine position from the artistic discourse, exteriorizing adult females and striping them of their voice. After over a century of martyrdom in the 2nd half of the twentieth century adult females eventually decided to interrupt free from the woman hater subjugation[ 9 ], disputing the unequal representations of gender and claiming the power to take part in the creative activity of civilization. This essay shall concentrate on how this feminine battle is performed by the agencies of photographic self- portrayal.

Chapter I

The topographic point of adult females in the traditional artistic canon and its effects

When composing about the function of adult females in humanistic disciplines one should get down with inquiring the inquiry: what is a adult female? What constitutes muliebrity? Where was, and where is now, the topographic point of muliebrity in art? Why have there been no great adult females creative persons? Throughout the centuries, male creative persons created contact, beautiful images of adult females, but was what they depicted the existent image of muliebrity, or was it merely the male vision of it? When we take a closer expression at the plants created both by Medieval Masterss and by nineteenth century Pre-raphaelites, we arrive at the decision that adult females were either domestic angels, in the manner of Virgin Mary, or unsafe sexual marauders, posterities of the likes of Salome and Lilith[ 10 ]. It is difficult to believe that for over a thousand old ages all adult females could be classified merely into these two groups. Therefore, in this chapter, I shall track down the beginning of such misogynist representations and specify what is the topographic point of adult females in the traditional artistic canon.

For centuries, adult females were universally indentified with nature, while work forces were associated with civilization and its merchandises.[ 11 ]The beginning of this designation lies in biological science: adult female ‘s organic structure is capable of natural creative activity as for nine months it serves as an brooder for a new life. Man ‘s organic structure is non capable of such reproduction, therefore work forces are obliged to make unnaturally: to make art. While female creative activity of new life will ever be an nonsubjective one, male reproductions of life will ever be subjective, presented from the fixed creative person ‘s position. This exclusion of adult females from the artistic discourse led to the deficiency of nonsubjective images of muliebrity: females were ever represented from the male position. Such discourse favoritism is still present in contemporary universe: these are largely work forces who are publishing houses, editors, movie manufacturers and other generators of public images. This means that they are still responsible for the production of most images that define adult females.[ 12 ]These definitions normally depict adult females in resistance to work forces, specifying the adult females as The Other, opposed to the male Self[ 13 ].

The class of The Other is every bit ancient as consciousness itself, but chiefly it was non wholly attached to the division of sexes. It would look natural for one group of people, for illustration a folk, to specify themselves as One in resistance to The Other, while the really same The Other would still specify themselves as The Self, and set the first group as The Other. With adult females, this state of affairs looks otherwise: they define themselves as The Other. They lack separate history or natural solidarity that would let them to comprehend themselves as an independent group. For illustration, a white adult female and a black adult female would ne’er specify themselves as The Self, they would instead belong with their work forces, set uping The Self non in gender, but in their race. Agring to be perceived as The Other, adult females allowed to be seen as inferior to work forces, which led to their objectification in humanistic disciplines. As The Other, adult females were denied the right to show themselves, this silence go a portion of the fundamental law of female identity- subjectiveness[ 14 ].

This subjectiveness, the nucleus of gender inequality, entered the universe of art by reproducing false representations of muliebrity. Women ‘s societal value was, and still is, crucially created by visual aspect. Therefore adult females are constructed by the regard of others, which in consequence deprives their ain image of independency[ 15 ]. Bing invariably cognizant of being looked at, of being the object of the regard, a adult female is shifted to the place of the object, a relation which one can detect in many portraitures of adult females, where the male Godhead of art is the topic and the female theoretical account: the object. It is easy to foretell that what is expected from the object is non a great head, but great expressions, hence adult females were depicted as beautiful but unvoiced animals. While portrayals picturing work forces could, apart from the theoretical account himself, besides represent some abstract human qualities like virtuousness or bravery and they could besides talk about status of humanity in general, adult females were ne’er able to talk for world[ 16 ]( the noun itself being woman hater ) . All that could be represented by the female organic structure were its established societal properties such as modestness, pregnancy, attention, servitude, artlessness and, on the other manus sexual desirableness.[ 17 ]

These representations were non merely addressed to the male spectator as images of something that he could posses and hold power over. They were besides a signifier of direction for other adult females, an ideal to mensurate against, a reminder of what a adult female is and what are her functions in the society ( from the male point of position ) . The designation of the real-life adult female with an abstract theoretical account, the usage of the portrayal as a mirror non merely of the Sitter but besides of the gender in general, is important to the development of gender. Because, as Simone de Beauvoir argues, gender is non a biological, but a societal concept. One is non born, but instead becomes a adult female, it is the civilisation as a whole that produces this animal[ 18 ]. If work forces are the 1s who have the merely right to make art and therefore civilisation, so the impression of muliebrity besides becomes a male creative activity, an unreal innovation striping adult females of their right to move, doing them a mere completion to the adult male. Using pictures, sculpture and picture taking, adult male accordingly instituted the patriarchal political orientation, transforming humanistic disciplines into an ideological setup.

The cultural construction of gender is one of the chief grounds for the absence of female creative persons in the history of art. Are adult females truly biologically unable to make great art? There are no female Old Masters, no female Lautrec, even no female Warhol, although the artistically active old ages of the last one are the really same old ages when feminist art boomed. One can reason that this province of things is non connected to gender favoritism: if adult females were capable of bring forthing outstanding plants they would merely make so. If for over a thousand old ages none female managed to go forth a permanent grade in the history of art than what other ground is at that place for that than artistic incapableness? The reply to this inquiries lies non in the sex difference ( a biological concept ) but in the gender difference ( societal concept ) . Equally shortly as we are born, we enter a universe of meaningful symbols, marks, and signals[ 19 ]which create our gender consciousness. And this is the gender, non the anatomical difference, that keeps adult females off from art. To be allowed to make art normally meant to be born as a middle-class, white male[ 20 ]. Not being given the entree to the artistic universe, adult females were unable to turn out their creational abilities. Therefore, art-making is non a liberated, independent activity of a gifted person but instead a societal state of affairs[ 21 ], a societal event instructed and guided by cultural presuppositions and norms[ 22 ]. The release brought by the twentieth century opened the Gatess to the Western artistic universe for those who were antecedently excluded from it, including adult females[ 23 ]. Women ‘s battle to happen their topographic point in this male-dominated terra incognita is discussed in Chapter II.

Chapter II

From object to subject: repossessing the female organic structure

After old ages of being treated as lesser and inferior, on the bend of the nineteenth century, adult females eventually started to publically set up their egos and oppose the unreal, male-created images of muliebrity with their ain plants exhibiting their liberty. The first measure that had to be made was the exchange of functions. Position of adult female in humanistic disciplines had to be shifted from the Muse, the object, the spectrum into the creative person, the topic, the operator. These footings themselves already show the difference between what is supposed to be feminine and what is perceived as masculine: the first group of nouns indicates passiveness and dependance, the 2nd: activity and liberty. Therefore, to accomplish gender freedom, adult females had to prosecute themselves straight in art.

What the adult females creative persons are fighting to accomplish is the representation of female life as it truly is, to demo the complete society with a whole scope of adult females, their assorted functions, experiences, age, gender, to stand for them as independent existences and non through the prism of functions they perform ( girl, lover, married woman, female parent )[ 24 ]. Womans should no longer be associated with nature and work forces with civilization: they should both be perceived as go-betweens between these two[ 25 ], both capable of artistic creative activity. In order to make so, the women’s rightist creative persons had to dispute the woman hater illustrations of adult females as sexual objects and supply alternate images of muliebrity[ 26 ]. They had to imagine the female ego outside the constituted conventions and artistic canon. But how does one constitutes herself in a male dominated universe?

Harmonizing to Lacan, the designation of oneself in the mirror is the important minute in the development of Ego. De Beauvoir extends this thesis even further, reasoning that even in the grownup life the mirror is what helps adult females to set up their individuality: as they are deprived of individuality in the outer universe, they seek their individualism in their contemplation[ 27 ]. This mirror escape was likely the beginning of male premise that all adult females are conceited and therefore their value should be established by their expressions ( an issue that was antecedently discussed in Chapter I ) . If the mirror is the beginning of female consciousness, how can it be translated into humanistic disciplines? The reply is obvious: by the agencies of self- portrayal.

By puting herself behind the camera, the adult female was able to asseverate herself as a female creative person and besides to put herself among the male artists hence infixing herself into the canon. Bing both the topic and the object of her art, the operator and the spectrum, she gained the ability of commanding the spectator ‘s regard and besides made a claim for acknowledgment and domination.[ 28 ]The usage of her ain organic structure, now a organic structure of the topic, as the object allowed the creative person to take control over the representation of adult females. By making so it was possible to repossess the female organic structure, to partly command the viewing audiences response and as a consequence: to render the muliebrity free from this beautiful voiceless coop judged by male witnesss[ 29 ]. Prosecuting their organic structures in picture taking and public presentation, adult females explored and reclaimed their pent-up gender[ 30 ]disputing the misogynist discourse.

One must non bury that self- portrayal is non merely about ego, it can utilize an person ( a theoretical account ) to talk for, or represent, a larger group. And so, female self- portrayals represent non merely their writers and their claims, but besides muliebrity in general. Confronting an single adult female with herself and with conventions of word picture of adult females in prevalent civilization challenges the bases of building of gender individuality and hence leads to general averment of female individualities and experiences ensuing in adult females claiming themselves back[ 31 ]. And so, an image stand foring a ego starts stand foring a coevals, a ‘race ‘ of different egos, what was subjective becomes universal. This can be really good illustrated with Cindy Sherman ‘s Untitled Film Stills, where the spectator focuses non on the artist/model but instead on the message behind the images: the functions adult females are prescribed in modern society ( Sherman ‘s work shall be discussed in greater item in Chapter III ) .

By the agencies of self- portrayal adult females respond to the camera otherwise than when being photographed by person else. The male regard is ever a projective one, characterized by its force, pin downing the object in a set discourse. The ‘victim ‘ of this regard may react to it by either passivisation or mask[ 32 ]. By accommodating a inactive place in forepart of the camera lens adult females stresses her distinctness and lower status. The mask on the other manus unmaskings and exaggerates her gender, altering her into a fetish. The lone feminist manner of reacting to the projective oculus is throwing the regard back to the spectator or replacing the oculus itself. The camera ever instrumentalizes the construct of subjectiveness[ 33 ], it stands for the old ages of human advancement and civilisation. The one keeping the camera is the dominant 1 who holds the power, suppressing the distinctness through vision[ 34 ].

One can inquire why did the women’s rightist creative persons choose to make their self-portraits utilizing the camera instead than a coppice. One really good ground for that is that picture taking enters the universe of planetary media more easy, is easier to reproduce and therefore makes the procedure of replacing the ‘negative ‘ images of muliebrity with ‘positive ‘ 1s faster. The 2nd, more complex ground lies in the history of picture taking, which is one of the youngest humanistic disciplines, being merely about 200 old ages old. Due to its comparatively immature age, picture taking, unlike picture, did non acquire to be a male-dominated signifier of art. The thought of some genres of art being excessively male dominated to appeal to adult females evolved from Virginia Woolf ‘s extended essay A Room Of One ‘s Own. In her work, Woolf argued that adult females should non compose poesy as for centuries it was created largely by work forces and therefore became a patriarchal ideological setup. She suggested that female authors should concentrate on novel, as this genre merely started to develop 200 old ages prior to Woolf ‘s essay. If this premise can be made harmonizing to literary history, one can besides use it to ocular humanistic disciplines, particularly that in Woolf ‘s times novel was about every bit old as picture taking is today. What makes this parallel even more interesting, is the fact that Virginia Woolf was a expansive niece of Julia Margaret Cameron, the early female lensman herself.

When comparing picture taking with fiction, one can detect that both genres, as a comparatively new mediums of showing oneself, did non acquire to be as dominated by work forces as the other humanistic disciplines. Great painters have been making expansive chef-d’oeuvres for centuries, and there are really few female painters known until mid nineteenth century. But picture taking, raising to popularity at the really same clip as the first suffragette motions were born, was from the really get downing more unfastened for adult females. Julia Margaret Cameron, for illustration, is now referred to as one of the innovators of picture taking, and evidently, she was a adult female. How many female innovators of picture can one recite? Probably none. Photography hence, alongside with video recordings and installings, seems to be the most convenient medium for conveying feminist claims.

Merely as, harmonizing to Virginia Woolf, a female author needs a room of her ain to be able to make, the ocular creative person needs a organic structure of her ain[ 35 ]. By individualising and picturing their organic structures, adult females were able to interrupt the enchantment of Narcissus[ 36 ], and represent in their self- portrayals non their outside ( which was immortalized by male painters ) , but their interior, doing their artistic contemplation a key to self cognition. By being at the same clip the object and the topic, adult females lensmans broke down the voyeuristic quality of picture taking[ 37 ], disputing the body- individuality relation, desexualising the subjective male frame and get awaying the phallic projective oculus[ 38 ]. But what art needs to be femininized is non merely the interpolation of female creative persons into the traditional art canon but instead rewriting the whole history of art, as in its current signifier it presents itself a series of false representations of adult females[ 39 ].

Chapter III

The Study Of Two Feminine Self- Portrayals: Cindy Sherman and Rineke Dijkstra

So far, this essay focused on theoretical facets of feminine self- portrayal. Now it is clip to present concrete illustrations of using these techniques in photographic art. The concluding chapter of my work will be centered around Rineke Dijkstra ‘s Self- Portrait, Marinxbad, Amsterdam, 1991 and Cindy Sherman ‘s Untitled Film Still # 14.

Dijkstra ‘s self- portrayal presents the creative person right after an wash uping swimming exercise standing on a bare and wet pool deck. Navy, bluish colors and cold lightening create an eldritch ambiance, the swimming pool evokes in the spectator the feeling of the Freudian unheimlich: something familiar and foreign at the same clip. Dressed in her bathing suit and a swimming cap, Dijkstra is about bare, exposing her defencelessness and anxiousness ; it seems as if a self-aware, nervous miss was trapped in a organic structure of an grownup adult females, ashamed and unaware of her characteristics. Dijkstra states that this child-like airs was non a planned construct: she decided to take the image at the minute when she was excessively tired to believe about which pose to strike, in a topographic point where witting sitting falls off[ 40 ]. This desire to capture a figurative neutrality opens her image to Platonic province of cosmopolitan understanding[ 41 ], where her organic structure, vulnerable and strong at the same clip, does non stand for any peculiar construct: it stands at that place for itself. But merely because of being a mature, female organic structure, it is already heavy with cultural intensions and can non be separated from its gender prescribed qualities. What would be expected from a adult female in a swimming suit is likely a cover girl, coquettish expression, a intimation of gender ; following the old statement about the duality of female representation in art, a bathing image should fall into the juicy class, but it does non. The image ‘s beastly plainness confronts the spectator ‘s regard. This is non a voyeuristic shoot, the object/ topic is cognizant of being photographed and decides to confront the camera oculus with unease angst. The deficiency of fixed, bogus facial look like a frozen smiling or sulking lips deprives the image of it presupposed gender. Dijkstra is non a fetishized object, nor is she a domestic angle or a delicate female. She challenges the hitherto exposed images of muliebrity. She is at the same clip delicate and tough, her weaponries covering her face suggest fright but her legs strongly stand on the land. She is a natural adult female, an single standing for a soundless mass of undepicted adult females.

Sherman ‘s black and white self- portrayal is a more depersonalized image: being merely one from the series of 69 images, the exposure draws attending non to the repeated image of woman/ creative person but of her topographic point in the society. Once once more, the scene of the image evokes the unheimlich feeling: the scene seems familiar, yet it is non ; the spectator may seek to turn up the still in a peculiar film, but he will ever neglect to make so: Sherman ‘s self-portraits do non capture minutes from peculiar films but expose cinematographic cliches of stand foring adult females. The creative person, dressed in black frock and a twine of white pearls is the kernel of the impression of elegance. Raising her arm to her cervix she seems to be surprised to see the lensman or the voyeuristic witness. The jacket and a glass visible in the mirror foreshadow a male presence, a company that a adult female needs to experience secured and a company that she can decorate. Sherman plays with the thought of mask, dressing up and presenting in an overdone, feminine mode she embodies the societal outlooks of muliebrity. By making so, she proves that the conventional building of gender is merely a surface, a mask that influences our individuality. Her ocular entreaty activates the emasculation anxiousness in the male spectator, and to neutralize it Sherman places an oblong, phallic form in her manus counterbalancing her deficiency of a phallus[ 42 ]. This sham, unnatural, aggressive muliebrity attacks the spectator, exchanging the traditional class of personal businesss, where the male regard was the violent one, and the female object- the victim.

Both images make us oppugn the image of muliebrity as we know it. Femininity, pushed into stereotypes, has lost its significance and can merely be retrieved by farther copying of the really stereotypes that trapped it in the first topographic point. These two female creative persons ( I intentionally avoid the usage of the ‘feminist ‘ word, as none of the lensmans openly admits to be a women’s rightist ) regain the control of their muliebrity by multiplying the image of themselves, hence one time once more puting the adult females as the addressees of the regard, the objects of desire. But at the same clip, these are non merely post cards with images of misss on them, these are gender statements, unfastened for assorted readings but nevertheless ever talking about adult females.

Are these two readings objectively picturing what we see in the images? Is non our perceptual experience of the exposure biased by our cognition of the lensman ‘s sex? A spectator who is incognizant of who the writer is, could construe the Sherman ‘s image as a personification of a male phantasy, a word picture of a perfect adult female, an illustration for all the others to follow. Is the depicted muliebrity of the writer truly overdone or is it the writer ‘s sex that works as a women’s rightist filter, doing us believe that the exposure is a pronunciamento against male domination? Similar inquiries are raised by the analysis of Dijkstra ‘s self- portrayal. Does the image state us anything about females ‘ place in the society and existent muliebrity? Assuming that the exposure is a adult male ‘s work, one would likely construe it as a yet another word picture of female breakability, a life cogent evidence that adult females can non be on their ain and need a male comrade for their being to be fulfilled. What is obvious for every western spectator is the fact that the two images represent adult females in a instead stereotyped manner, raising certain inquiries about muliebrity. For some, these may be inquiries of female freedom and artistic capableness, for others it may be nil more than ‘Would you like your girlfriend to look like this? ‘ or ‘Nice legs, huh? ‘ , depending on the viewing audiences perspective and civilization, the readings of these images will differ greatly. Of class, every reading raises the inquiry of dependability and objectivity and the feminist reading of the two images is certainly non the lone one acceptable, but, as this is the position I chose to compose the essay from, and the sex of the writers, every bit good as their worldview, speaks in my advantage, I shall presume that these two exposures should be read as a women’s rightist pronunciamento and an effort of recovering the control over one ‘s ain gender.


In general, this essay tried to partly happen the reply to the inquiry of what really muliebrity is, and how should it be represented. Unfortunately, there is no obvious and straightforward reply to this inquiry, even the women’s rightist critics and artists themselves can non bring forth a consistent and consistent image of muliebrity, a positive representation of adult females is non an nonsubjective phrase but a complex cyberspace of assorted word pictures and thoughts.

Throughout the ages, adult females went through a long journey of embodiments, devolving from the place of goddess in heathen civilization, through the domesticated angel to the juicy enchantress. The perceptual experience of female organic structure changed along with its images, arousing reactions from esteem to abhorrence, normally without the active female engagement within the artistic procedure. Women, marginalized from the universe of the religious creative activity, were for ages considered ( and frequently still are ) as inferior and lesser to work forces. Even the women’s rightists of today tend to comprehend the yesteryear in male footings, merely as Nochlin does in her essay: alternatively of acknowledging that adult females do hold great artistic potency, she agrees with the male art critics who can non happen any mastermind in the plants of female painters.

What truly is needed in the universe of art, is non merely the originative engagement of adult females, but besides the revising of the whole history of humanistic disciplines that has been for ages dominated by the male spectator. Female self- portrayal is of class a good topographic point to get down the artistic revolution that would eventually set the adult females back on the artistic map, but it is non plenty to agitate this fossilised universe.

What is more, the exclusive differentiation of male and female attacks to art is a male chauvinist, unjust and limitative 1. By stating that work forces and adult females should make things otherwise brings along the distinctness of one of the genders and their rating, intensifying the sexual differences and raising more and more gender barriers and aggression.

Harmonizing to Virginia Woolf, the artistic head should be an androgynous one and artistic creative activity should be independent from the sex of the creative person. This idea was likely drawn from Carl Jung ‘s thought that a mind in order to be a healthy one needs to be a combination of the two sexes[ 43 ]. This is the lone way taking to the creative activity of pure plants, that would stand for deeper inquiries of humanity instead than being merely an aggressive scream shouting for attending.

So far, females in the twenty-first century managed to partly repossess the organic structure, and the usage of photographic self- portrayals was a really of import portion of this procedure. Unfortunately one expression at the planetary media, particularly the manner and advertisement industries, is adequate to see that there is still a long manner to travel.

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