In the Beginning…
Early roots via the Greeks with their idealised body forms but where the male figure is nearly always heroic and often the female denoting victim hood (Sanders 1989). However the Greeks thought nakedness mainly attached to nobility whereas by the time Christianity took hold this was attributed to shame or sin – via the biblical story of Adam and Eve. “With the coming of Christianity, bodily suffering acquired a new spiritual value”. (Sennett p 124) He goes onto discuss how the development of Western civilisation and in particular its cities has been hugely influenced through historical eras and their response to the human body – in particular male and female. “This legacy contains deep internal contradictions and strains…the master image of male nakedness could not fully control or define the clothed bodies of women”. ( p373) Via the rise of Christianity and the creation of the Venice Ghetto, through the French Revolution he concludes:- “Lurking in the civic problems of a multi-cultural city is the moral difficulty of arousing sympathy for those who are Other .” (p376 ) He could be describing the UK today with Brexit looming, migrants at our gates and the masses (Grenfell Tower) making their voices heard.
Quoted by Sanders (1989) Aristotle claimed:-
“Man is active, full of movement, creative in politics, business and culture. The male shapes and moulds society and the world. Woman, on the other hand is passive. She stays at home as is her nature. She is matter waiting to be formed and moulded by the active male principle.”
In the modern sense “men act and women appear” (Berger 1972)
Throughout the classical period and up until the 19th century the female nude; “may avert her gaze or hide her eyes, or turn away from the viewer…..Sometimes the head may be covered, or perhaps unfinished , even cut off from the edge of the picture – all these devices render their subject anonymous, denying individuality and status, and reducing the body to a stereotype”. (Sanders p24)
She further argues that “Women are caught between two conflicting ideologies both founded on male control and definition of female sexuality. On the one hand there is the pressure to conform to the male ideal of display and availability in order to function in society, and at the same time society expresses its fear of women’s sexuality by teaching women to be ashamed of their bodies, to regard them as both sinful and imprefect”. (Sanders p 132)
Little has changed since 1989 when Sanders were writing. Now we see much more of women’s bodies but they have become more and more idealised through advertising, social media, and general availability though mass media culture. A few photographs collected from recent Daily Mail (May 2017) online images.
An idealised posterior? Or a subject of debate?
or fashion…. how much to expose or not…
Boticelli (1445 – 1510)
Raphael (1483 – 1520)
Courbet – The Origin of the World (1866)
From the idealised Renaissance to the realism of the “market” via Courbet. So over the centuries through the lens that is beauty, gender and power via the cultural experiences of identity, sexuality, politics and history itself women continue to struggle to realise their own reality. More recently the feminist literature has sought to define “lived experience” as the axiom with which to describe womens’ state (Young 2005).
Trying personally to move forward I was struck by the fly sheet of a book I recently bought:-
…to be continued (Carson & Pajaczkowska 2000) (See current sketchbook for further discussion)
Understanding the Body
From the time of Leonardo da Vinci when dissecting cadavers was a criminal act but one that he and many of his Renaissance fellow artists pursued in order to further understand the workings of the human body.
Rembrandt – Madrid
I was lucky enough last year to visit Madrid for the first time and to see the lesser know partial Rembrandt of the lost Anatomy Lesson. With the foreshortened body similar to Magnata (????) the surgeon is dissecting the skull.
Part of the lost Anatomy Lesson
Bologna Istituto di Anatomia Umana Normale
One of the ways that knowledge of the body was learned and shown to the medical profession was via the use of wax models which reached its zenith of creativity in the 18th century. A little know but wonderful museum in Bologna, now attached to the university is available for viewing as we did about a year ago. These exquisite sculptures whilst being macabre in a way are very beautiful and worthy of artistic admiration.
Edward Muybridge (1830 – 1904)
And then came the camera. Muybridge’s iconic work allowed artists and the public to see for the first time how movement actually happened in his extensive studies of the human body. Whilst I say in movement, actually the men were very active whilst the women photographed were mainly just passively changing position with very demure downcast eyes.
The Fetishised Female
The Fetishised Female a phrase used by Sanders in The nude a new perspective (1989) looks particularly at the way women’s bodies were truncated, denied heads, arms, legs, certainly faces at times. This has become something of the norm in media images particularly for advertising. Recently a bodyform ad has been banned because it concentrates on women’s crutch areas and never shows a whole person.
Bill Brandt (1904 – 1983)
Regain Our Bodies
Writing as a female I am aware that some artists have worked at moving away from the idealised “painted lady”
Whilst for others you could say that a woman’s body is a prop in an artistic landscape.
Story so far….
At this stage I am not clear what post-feminism is saying to us about the body. I will continue with my reading of Feminist Visual Culture – although the “signs” are that it is already out of date…..