The following are notes that I have made during the course of Part 4 after reading articles and books etc. This is an interesting and extremely involved subject that needs a much more in depth study than time would permit at this point in my studies.
John Berger’s Ways of seeing (YouTube Video and book from the 1970s)
I am not sure that I agree with all of John Berger’s opinions and find his books/videos very dated. Chapter 3 which reflects upon the subject of nudity and the nude is interesting and I agree fully with his work on this subject.
Having said this there are some female artists that have clearly challenged his work, and the traditions of western painting. Those artists include Jenny Saville, Tracy Emin (after his book was published) and Paula Modersohn-Becker, Kathe Kollwitz before his book was published.
John Berger discusses the difference between the representation of the male and female in western art. In particular the representation of the female nude as an object which defines the viewers power over the model and the submission of the female object to that representation. He also offers the argument that the female is from an early age taught/encouraged to ‘survey herself‘ and to be ‘surveyed’. ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.’
Jenny Saville’s work is undoubtedly “female” – her women do not look like the idealised women models, painted by men, who have dominated the nude for almost all of the history of western art. Her work has included bloated, imperfect and scarred bodies.
Paula Modersohn-Becker and Kathe Kollwitz chose to combine two separate genres of visual representation – the figure of the mother and the figure of the nude. In doing so they brought together two poles of femininity which were traditionally held apart.
In a recent interview Kurt Kauper, a Brooklyn based artist, explained about his latest work on the nude as follows:
I wanted the viewer to be in a much more unclear, ambiguous position in relationship to the figure,” Kauper says. At first, he tried painting a woman with her hands on her hips. This decision, he feared, offered too much of a “readable narrative.” That stance, after all, often clearly signifies empowerment and assertion. In his finished paintings, the figures stand with their hands hanging at their sides. “I’ve always tried to make paintings—whether they be of men or women—where the figure in the painting is actually the one who is looking at the viewer, or at least on equal footing with the viewer themselves,” Kauper says, implying that for all his subjects, power derives from more than a simple hand position, clothing, or lack thereof.
To see his work please use the link below:
Challenging the tradition of nudes, Silvia Sleigh paints male nudes in a carefully rendered Pre- Raphaelite manner. In 1975 a justice of the New York State Supreme Court spearheaded a campaign to remove one of her works Double Image: Paul Rosano (1974) from an exhibition in the Bronx Museum of Arts. The justice took offense to a few works in particular, including this detailed portrait of a naked man. The painting in question showed the artist’s frequent model (and muse) posed before a mirror, every detail of his front and back carefully rendered with Pre-Raphaelite-like detail: soft, swirling body hair; sun-kissed skin; ruddy, hanging penis; and white buttocks. When Grace Glueck of the New York Times asked Sleigh about the backlash to the painting, the artist responded: “I wonder if the judge would object to a female nude? I don’t see why male genitals are more sacred than female.”
Her work is confrontational and challenges John Berger’s Status Quo of the male presence in a painting – that a man’s presence is dependant upon the promise of power…a power that he exercises on others – it is as if Sleigh has tamed this power and paints the man as the object. The detail however was obviously too much for the justice in 1975.
In an article about her work it is argued that “Masculine dominance cannot be displaced merely by reversing traditional motifs,”
Sleigh claimed that her intention was not to objectify her male subjects. “I wanted to paint men in a way that I appreciated them, as dignified and intelligent and nice people,”
To see her work and a recent article about her work see link below:
John Berger’s ‘Ways of seeing’ (YouTube Video and book from the 1970s)
The Intimate Distance by Rosemary Betterton