In the early 18th century, women were constantly portrayed as lifeless, passive creatures that were only recognised by whichever compelling male figure had happened to be associated with them. Till this present day, women are still being considered yielding beings, especially due to their “maternal nature of giving”. This has allowed men to believe that they have a right to take advantage of them without receiving little to no serious consequences. Women as a whole, were only given the legal right to equally vote in 1928, after years of protesting and campaigning (Parliament, 2017). Their voices were not only not recognised as actual voices, but were treated more as background noise, “a person or thing considered to be irrelevant or incidental to the main issue or situation” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Men began to realise the power that came from a woman’s mind and made history by allowing women to think and be viewed as equal rather than using them as what Saylor Academy’s (2017) research report described as “instruments for men’s happiness”. Since then, women have managed to be taken more seriously as well as excel in other areas than just the bedroom or kitchen. We now have female painters, workers and designers.
My research within this essay has been based on the opinions of women from the beginning of the enlightenment period (Wikipedia, 2017). The enlightenment period was basically what established the Eurocentric mindset that still has a hold of the world. European men had jurisdiction over everything. They would observe, catalogue and publish their ideas of the perfect world, persuading others that they too needed to live a Eurocentric way of life, instilling their opinions into everything. Indigenous practices from different cultures were considered “wrong” at this time and that the way of their living was something that shouldn’t be celebrated or revered.
“Art is a product of its time” (Santa Cruz, K. 2017) Art is created by the social, economical and political issues surrounding it’s time period. The female nude became an iconic image within the Western culture. Their concept of what a Eurocentric women should be was all that was considered normal and prevailed for a great deal of time in art.
An early example of the nude painting is Venus and the Lute Player (1565–1570) by Titian.
Wikipedia (2017) provides information claiming that Titian was a very versatile Italian painter whose work can be considered the key influencer for the future generations of Western art.
Marina Abramović is a Yugoslavia-born performance artist that loves to challenge the relationship between the audience and the performer. The video (Marina Abramovic Institute 2016), Abramovic describes ‘Rhythm 0’ (1974) as being one of her is one of her most acknowledged projects as she completely pushed her body to it’s limit. It was an interactive instillation in which she allowed herself to be passive and the audience to be in control. She decided to take a passive role because she wanted to achieve the recognition of just another object rather than another person, with thoughts and feelings. 72 other objects were set out onto a table in front of where she stood. The audience were allowed to do whatever they pleased, and could even shoot and kill her with the pistol she had put down if that is what they so desired. Abramović’s aim was to see what the public were “really about” while she stood still, lifeless like a puppet for 6 hours each day. At the beginning of the project, she recalled the crowd being very shy and sweet but as the days went on, it rapidly grew into aggressive, inhuman behaviour. They would cut her skin with the knives, pull the thorns out of the roses and pin them into her arms and rip off her clothes with no question but once she would start to move around again after her shift was over, the audience would run scarce due to the fear of confrontation and coming to terms with what they had let themselves do to her. Her work revealed the terrible side of humanity, showing how fast a person can want to hurt you under favourable circumstances. It exhibited how easy it was to dehumanise someone who would not argue or fight back and how much you can get away with when there are no repercussions.
Such questions arise after this piece was created; if she were male rather than female, would the audience have reacted in the same way? Does this suggest that they would have stopped causing her distress if she just asked? And that consequences are needed when allowing people to do what they want so they do not go “too far”. Maybe this factor is what pushed them to do such things. Such similarities can be recognised from nude paintings of women dating back to the 1800’s.
The way in which women are now anticipated has definitely changed in comparison to the 18th century. Rather than a woman being nude, she is now also naked; bare and explicit. The word nude has been defined as “a naked human figure, typically as the subject of a painting, sculpture, or photograph.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017) whereas naked has been defined as “(of a person or part of the body) without clothes.” or “(especially of feelings or behaviour) expressed openly; undisguised.” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).
John Berger, the author of the book “Ways of Seeing” (1972), highlights the hidden meanings behind the nude females look. The gaze of the female subject within paintings are often there to symbolise how women have involuntarily become objective. Their eyes meet the viewers, as they glance out of their canvas and begin to acknowledge them in the construct of their glare. But is this for the satisfaction of the audience or for the painter? Art allows you to understand the world view and reality of that particular artist.. However, when we read or view art; Berger argues that there key assumptions that influence how the work is understood. These influences include beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status and taste. Somethings have been designed so well and thought through too thoroughly that there has to be a reason behind it just like there has to be a reason as to why the nude female has been positioned this same way constantly throughout art-history? When you think about who have always commissioned and consumed the art prehistorically, it has been men. And it has always been men, only up until recently.
Looking back into the Eurocentric approach of things, the nude painting was definitely affected by this. Not only has it made the female body a much bigger deal than it needed to be but it has consistently displayed the same type of body. That constant of a carbon copy body has now manifested into becoming the optimal body. It was only until recently that artists began to challenge the way in which the female body was perceived. An example of this is Lucien Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). He worked with an obese, naked woman to create this piece because he wanted to paint people “not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be” (Lucien Freud, 1995). Work like this has helped us as people because we have come to accept various body shapes and sizes that have existed in this world the whole time.
After taking a visit to The National Portrait Gallery, you were able to distinguish the difference between the nude female and the nude male. The nude male, although he is uncovered and bare, revealing his true naked self, he still has and will be recognised as capable, athletic and brave who can typically be strong through anything. John Berger was definitely able to recognise the distinction between the two and acknowledged this with a quote; “A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence . . . defines what can and cannot be done to her.” (Berger, 1972, pg.45-46.) Although they are both naked, one almost always managed to look more captivating and hold the viewer with her stronger gaze, “hinting” that she wanted to be controlled whereas the male would assert themselves by imposing their powers over others.
Guerrilla Girls (1985) found and stated that 5% of artists within art galleries are women whereas 85% of nude paintings have female subjects. They created their most iconic coloured poster using the famous ‘Odalisque and slave’ (1842) painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and placed a gorilla’s face over the head to almost disguise her. Their aim was to highlight the sexual discrimination and sexualisation of women that exists within the art industry, asking if they had to be naked to be allowed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This suggested that their bodies were the only things that mattered about them and were most captivating when they were bare, not their talent. Since then, women in paintings are now no longer naked all the time, in fact some are even portrayed the same way a man would be, but the over sexualisation of women’s bodies from the past has affected the equality divide between men and women. Men mean business, whereas women are there for whatever you desire. When men reveal their bare chests, they are deemed as sexy, confident and cool but when women reveal their naked chests, they are seen as whores with easy-access, who are open for invitation.
The main problem with the way women have been perceived in the past is that they only had two options of what they could be in life; these choices were either whores or domesticated wives and/or mothers (Saylor Academy, 2017). This limited women in being taken seriously or even identified as in charge or leaders. Feminism has been described as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). The feminist art movement appeared within the late 1960’s. Suzanne Lacy explained the goal of feminist art being to “influence cultural attitudes and transform stereotypes”. Feminism has helped women to no longer be bound to what they do or have done but shows how they are as people, just like men. Women artists have begun to emerge by taking advantage of the nude female body, to make statements projecting how much more in control they all are of themselves now in comparison the 18th century. It creates a bigger statement because of how controversial it is for women to use their bodies as tool, the same thing that men have been doing all these years.
Rihanna Fenty has become a fashion icon through her brave and risky choices, truly showing that to be a woman, specifically a woman of colour, you can do whatever you please. She considers herself a feminist (Instagram, 2017) and plays with her vanity rather than brushing it away. She has over 53 million followers on Instagram and has built a creative platform which explores art through her.
To conclude this essay and to be brutally honest, it will take a very long time for women to be viewed as completely equal to men in any category by every single person in this world. There has been a certain type of misrepresentation of women that has been going around for centuries that we are still trying to diminish and get rid of till this day. Although we have made the progress of having different types of women in art, whether they are the artists themselves or the subject, they are no longer forced to be at the service of men unless they want to be.”Men act, women appear.” Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. (Berger, 1972, p.75). Women used to do everything in life for men because her own sense of being herself had been overthrown by a sense of being appreciated as herself by the man. We have been able to build a sense of self which doesn’t require the approval of our bodies by men. Instead our minds and thoughts will be recognised.