The Complicated Role of Women’s Bodies In Art

Women have for centuries been a muse for artists and the main character in the narrative (or often the main decoration) where works of art are concerned. They were the subjects of paintings far before it was even acknowledged that they could be painters themselves. It is honestly rare for me to ever draw men. I always figured my pull to depicting women was because as a woman, that is the voice I can most comfortably speak from. However, even male artists tend to habitually depict women when figures are included in their works. I try within my own art to create a story and psychology around each figure I create, and so do many other artists working today and so have many in the past. However, just as many if not more use female figures in their work as a passive decoration, just as one may place a waterfall or flower in their composition, including many artists whose work I still enjoy. No matter whether the woman is portrayed as a decorative object or a narrator in a piece, they also all tend to follow the traditional standards of beauty for the time in which they were created, without a lot of deviation. This is something I had even noticed happening in my own art, a mold I worked to break out of in my most recent portrait based series.

These musings and observations are not a new topic, but it is a subject that jumped to the forefront of my mind last week when I read Manchester Art Gallery removed John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognizable pre-Raphaelite paintings in their gallery, not only from the walls but from print and postcard form in their gift shop as well. The room this piece hung in was titled “The Pursuit of Beauty”, a collection depicting women mainly as passive decoration as discussed above, or else tempting sirens, all in various states of undress. Guests were given the opportunity to post comments about the removal with sticky notes in the empty space where the painting used to hang. You can read the full story here, as well as some of the reactions to the decision.

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I am a feminist myself (Though, sidenote, as feminism has gone more mainstream in recent years and grown to include a wider audience, I often compare feminism and its many schools of thought to a religion with multiple denominations – You can put two feminists in a room together and they may not agree on anything.). Given that, obviously this singular portrayal of women doesn’t fill me with joy. But, for most of history and even sometimes still today this is how women were viewed! Putting this fact on display doesn’t mean it’s a good thing – but it is a true thing. I am a big proponent of learn your history no matter how unsavory, or we are doomed to repeat it.

6-_thc3a9rc3a8se_dreaming_balthus_copy_80105371There has been a similar instance recently where there were petitions to remove a painting from the Met that New Yorkers felt sexualized a young girl, a painting by French artist Balthus titled Therese Dreaming. The biggest issue was exposure due to how she was seated, and the fact that it was known the mid 20th century artist had an inappropriate infatuation with younger girls.

I have always been against censorship at all costs, rolling my eyes at protests of books being read in school, movies being shown at theaters, art being hung in galleries… If you don’t like it, don’t view it, but you don’t need to take away others’ personal autonomy. The counter culture of American society has always been against the filtering of information to the populace, against some overreaching authority handing out declarations of what is good and evil in popular culture, but it seems now the roles have reversed. What you might call the counter culture today seems to be more for censure and removing from the culture entirely those messages or images which they deem undesirable.

My first thought after hearing about these paintings’ definite or potential removal was that we are erasing history, and where does it end? Immediately a red light went off in my brain that this was the same excuse used over this past year to air grievance about the removal of Confederate monuments, which I was all for because honestly some legacies do not deserve celebration. To me, the issues in that circumstance versus this one are apples and oranges and not at all comparable, but it did lead me to question, do I have a blind spot?

One of my favorite artists, Ray Caesar, depicts young women and girls in what many would deem sexualized poses. However, in an interview with Hi-Fructose Magazine he says he views his work as a personal exploration, something autobiographical, and the women to him are the different voices of his own mind (Caesar is affected by Disassociate Identity Disorder). In his bio from his website, Caesar also discusses his time working in the Art and Photography Department of The Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto from 1980 until 1997. He was responsible for documenting cases of severe child abuse, surgical reconstruction, and psychology and animal research. He affirms that this experience greatly affected the images in his work, and ends by saying, “I now live my dreams for those that didn’t get a chance to live theirs … to do otherwise would be a sin”. As an artist myself, injecting one’s personal experiences into the art they create, especially when those experiences have been as emotional and life altering as the ones Caesar describes, makes sense. Could it traumatize others who have actually lived those circumstances rather than someone who as Caesar was looking in as an outsider? Does it bring awareness to those circumstances or glorify them, or does it do a little bit of both? Is it that fine line that makes people’s reactions to his work so strong? Isn’t it art’s job to evoke emotional response from its viewers?

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27285_533898609974622_435312268_nThis whole debate really offers a lot more questions than answers. If you were waiting for me to come to a conclusive opinion at the end, I will admit I don’t have one. Women are undoubtedly valued from a young age based on their physical appearance above all other traits. How important is the art world’s role in this? Does it matter? Does art and entertainment have a responsibility due to the fact that it can shape our society, or is it just about the individual artist’s personal expression? What defines a sexualized image? Can depictions of women that are more sexual still be respectful? How far does talent excuse a harmful character, as in the case of Balthus, or a handful of other modern day actors and entertainers that come to mind? I have a feeling that the answer is probably somewhere in the middle of life’s complicated web.

Both women and men, the artists and non-artists out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to discuss and share what’s on your mind!

 

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Final Artprize 2017 Series: “Unlimited”

Last week I finally finished the last piece in my 12 part series for this year’s ArtPrize, titled “Unlimited”. For this series, I created 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color, one representing each month of the year. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. I was able to connect with Founder’s Brewing Co. as a venue for my series. I love art, and I love beer so I must say it is sort of a match made in heaven ;).

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May: She Is A Dreamer

I really learned a lot from working on this project. I got experience in drawing portraits of a variety of ages and ethnicity, and with that different bone structures and proportions of features. I also furthered the skill of not choosing an arbitrary medium just because “this is what I want to use”, but choosing the medium that makes the most sense both aesthetically and functionally for a given part of a piece. All 12 in order can be seen below.

In the midst of all this Artprize excitement, life has been filled with a variety of other creative endeavors such as an art trade with former student turned instructor at the arts program I run, some fun summer painting workshops I’ve been teaching, and the purchase of a home which my boyfriend and I are aiming to completely renovate in one month with a combination of hopes, dreams, and elbow-grease ;). I knew that bachelor’s in interior design would come in handy one day!

But seriously, though I adore the unexpected job I found nearly by accident, I also love design. I have assisted friends and family with projects here and there, but I’ve never done something on this large of a scale, and best of all, the project is not for a client but for ME, so I get to tailor everything exactly to my tastes (Well, mine and my partner’s. My other half is so not one of those “whatever you say, honey” kind of guys when it comes to design, and actually wants to be a part of the process. This is equal parts amazing and frustrating depending on the moment ;).).

He didn’t put up a fight about keeping this trippy metallic wallpaper in the bathroom, so I guess we’re alright <3. Now, back to ripping down all the other wallpaper that is not so rad. See you in 10 million years -_-.

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One More Series Reveal + More On Redbubble!

december she is connected to everything

Say hello to December – She Is Connected To Everything. What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately. I don’t think I’ve ever finished so many different pieces 2 days at a time in my life … Granted, I haven’t been doing much of anything else in my free time, as the pile of dishes in the sink will tell onlookers ;). Though all the pieces in my current series I’ve been working on are similar in style and use of medium, I wanted to keep them different enough that each could stand alone as well. I went a lot softer and less graphic, high contrast with this piece. I even used some leftover dried moss I had purchased for a felt floral arrangement commission earlier this year in the girl’s woodland crown. There is something I never thought in a million years I’d ever use in one of my drawings!

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I have been getting all my series posted to my Redbubble Shop as well, available for print on a variety of gorgeous items. My series also finally has a name … Unlimited. Each individual piece has it’s own title and the works cover a variety of different themes, so coming up with one title to encompass the whole was a struggle. At it’s heart though, this series is about the best of humanity, and about the strength, curiosity, compassion, and vibrancy of women across time, nationality, and ability. It is about the common ground that unites us, and when people come together, they truly become unlimited.

New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

october she is full of curiosity

For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

she is free

In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

New Work: She is Sheltered By Faith

Organized religion has always had an interesting relationship with women. While many of the ways in which various religions are practiced (notice I say practiced, because often how one chooses to express their religion and how they are kind of supposed to practice it based on the basic tenants of their religion’s teachings can be quite different) have not been too kind to the ladies, even in this day and age, women on the whole are practicing their faith in greater numbers than their male counterparts. This is especially true in Christianity, the faith I will be discussing as it is the one I practice, and the one I am most familiar with.

Interested in this dichotomy, I knew I had to do a piece on women and faith for my current series surrounding women and the various themes that intertwine their lives. Thus, this art nouveau inspired piece was born, titled “April: She Is Sheltered By Faith”. The lush flowers and vines radiate in growth around the central figure, sheltering her from the rains of darkness. She is surrounded by a metallic gold halo of light, and smiling calmly and assuredly through the storm.

april she is sheltered by faith

As one who strives for equality for all, including between different genders, I often find myself in an awkward space where it comes to my Christian faith. Though Jesus himself surely stood for equality, churches don’t always do the best job carrying this message through in our everyday life today. One need look no further than the recent trending hashtag on twitter, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, to read statements that range from laughable in their utter lunacy to those that are absolutely heart wrenching.

…And, there are many, many more. These are not made up stories or exaggerations. As thankful as I am that I grew up in the same church I attend now that I feel comfortable in for the most part, many of these messages are familiar through the stories of friends of mine and through articles and advice in Christian teen books or magazines I remember from my youth. We need to do better, and it starts with listening to others’ stories, speaking up when you do hear any of these toxic messages spoken, and knowing the truth. I used to feel so uncomfortable about being the very antithesis of what both mainstream and religious conservative media would have you believe a practicing Christian is “supposed to” be, but nowadays I kind of embrace it. I feel like I’ve finally found a lot of my purpose in life, and besides, aren’t we supposed to stay true to what’s right and not worry about “fitting in” with everyone else? Maybe, this sometimes even means not fitting in with those within our own little group.

So what draws women to faith based lives despite the challenges of organized religion? I’d say it is because the Person they follow advocated for equality way ahead of His time, and that in the stories of His teachings and examples of how He treated others, justice and love have always been at the forefront.

I didn’t want this post to turn into a theology lesson so I kept the background brief, but here are some resources concerning women and Christianity that I think are worth a read, and that definitely challenge the status quo of what Christian women are hearing from society:

On Being A Christian and Being A Feminist … and Belonging Nowhere / Sarah Bessey / (Pst! This cool lady actually started the #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear thread.)

15 Christian Women Get Real About The Role Of Women In The Church / Huffington Post

Women’s Faith and Power / ReThinkChurch / “We believe advocacy for the equality between women and men results in positive change that improves the world.” – Yeah!

Jesus and Women / Christianity Today / “In His treatment of women, as in many other areas, Jesus of Nazareth was a radical contrast to the standards of His times”

The Case For Women In Ministry / ReKnew

On Being ‘Divisive’ / Rachel Held Evans

10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up In The Church / The Junia Project

 

 

In A Black and White World, Be A Rainbow! New Work.

november she is entirely her own

I am still plugging along on my series that needs to be finished by mid-late Summer so that I can enter it into ArtPrize! 4 more pieces of 12 to go, wish me luck! This particular piece titled, “November: She Is Entirely Her Own” was a lot of fun, with lots of dramatic color and pattern – a true ode to creativity, independence, and expression. As it turns out, rainbow hair is as challenging to draw as it can be to create on an actual person’s head!

My series will eventually include 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods. Each will communicate a different theme, titled for each month of the year. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Though many of the pieces deal with difficult emotions, the overall feedback I’ve received is that viewers found the works in this series inspiring and encouraging. Over the last couple of years, I have really come into my own style as an artist. For the longest time, I thought in order for art to speak it couldn’t really be enjoyable to look at, and was so wary of my art slipping away from true art and into the category of “decoration”. However, honesty doesn’t have to mean horror and darkness, although there is certainly a time and place for that kind of art, too. You really have to just let yourself speak what naturally flows out of you as an artist, without trying to force a certain aesthetic or viewpoint just because you feel like that is what you “should” be making.

One of my all time favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, said this about creation, “In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction (or art) could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.” If this doesn’t just sum up my definite art goals, I don’t know what does.

Lastly, I will leave you with some of my recent wedding photos. Oh, you didn’t know I got married by the most highly respected robotic priest in all of Michigan on the 30th of March, my 29th birthday?

Ok, April Fool’s. I don’t think this particular marriage ceremony held at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is technically legally binding, and the flimsy aluminum rings we exchanged couldn’t even fit properly on our gigantic sausage fingers. But nevertheless, spending a day at the arcade followed by delicious Italian food was a good enough birthday adventure for me. Perks, now everyone can stop asking us when we’re getting married, because we kind of already did, fools ^_^.

Continue to be the rainbow in a black and white world, dear readers. Until later …

 

New Progress On My Current Series!

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Hello all! I recently finished another addition to my 12 part series I’ve been working on since late 2015. For new readers, here’s my blurb briefly explaining the series (If you are already in the know, feel free to skip ahead 😉 ): I am creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. The title of each piece starts with the month it represents, followed by “She Is _______”.

This piece is titled July: She Is An Earthshaker. I love mermaids, and really got into aquatic art after following the required theme for the Tall Ships curated exhibition at Studio 23 last summer. This was a fun piece to create, and perhaps my favorite in the series thus far. As a child I don’t know how many times I watched The Little Mermaid, and was absolutely transfixed by King Tritan’s trident (Which of course I later learned came from the myth of Poseidon). I became inspired to make a powerful Lady Poseidon if you will. Earthshaker is another way Poseidon has been referenced, but the name can also apply to those of us in the real world, ordinary people who create waves to change what needs to be changed. She wears a pretty seashell and floral crown, and her facial expression is not one of anger or even one that would imply intense power. Her strength is a quiet strength. If in her head, she can see herself like this, the waves and lightening crashing behind her as she stands firm, perhaps she can believe that she can do anything even if others may doubt her.

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This design is available for print on a variety of cool items in my Redbubble Shop, and art prints on matte photo paper may also be purchased from me Ebay Store.

Check out the other pieces I’ve finished so far! January February March June