artistic themes I: defined by gender

Female roles, gender socialization, cultural expectations, and concepts of femininity have a continual affect on my work. Despite repeatedly finding myself wandering in the extensive labyrinth of female iconography and social commentary, I’ve rarely taken the time to even touch on some of the thematic concepts and elements used. While the following is a brief explanation of how some ideas apply to specific works. I highly encourage (and prefer) people viewing my work to find their own unique interpretations. This allows them the freedom to identify with each piece on their own terms based on their own ideologies and experiences.

Figure 2.61: Inferiority—In this piece I’m playing with female expectations, images of idealized roles and appearances of women. The art historical references include Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, and Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife. These classically European female forms were combined with Asian geisha imagery, and contemporary American versions of idealized femininity to exemplify the levels of recognizable cultural expectations set on women throughout various cultures and eras.

As an artist, this concept isn’t new.  I realize drawing attention to the unfair gender expectations set about women by society, while still often culturally perceiving the gender as lesser, isn’t earth-shattering. However, it still feels very relevant.  For me, it’s a concept I need to work with visually.  I can’t specifically explain why–and perhaps that is part of it.  When words fail me, I use artistic expression.

In a depressing way, it’s somewhat fascinating that women are still held to unachievable (and in some instances even diametrically opposed) expectations.  As women, we seem to be inevitable socialized to adhere to certain social expectations—intriguingly-sexy, virginal, self-sacrificing mothers, intelligent career women, submissive wives, etc. Inevitably, we are all bound to fall terribly short of such unrealistic expectations—leaving our gender with subtle or perhaps blatant feelings of inferiority whether put upon each of us by both men and women, our families, cultural media, society, religion, and ourselves.

Figure 2.61 Inferiority, 24″x24″ mixed media pages on canvas, 2009
Figure 2.61 Inferiority (detail image)
Figure 2.61 Inferiority (detail image)

Figure 5.67: Unachievable Expectations– This piece works off a similar concept through a different visual form. The text is based on various derogatory (or passively aggressive) statements I’ve heard women say about other women. Sadly I think we are all guilty of such sentiments, however, I’m sure the intended level of malice varies greatly.

The insulting and cutting handwritten statements are intended to fade into the background lines and patterns. Their role in the work is as a subtle contrast with the vibrant collaged photos of models’ legs in the foreground. I associate this style of perfected female legs as infinitely feminine while also exemplifying strict beauty standards in a manner that isn’t as blatant as makeup or blatantly sexual as breasts. Ideally formed legs have an admittedly striking aesthetic with an underlying sensuality, but without the cliché and hype of breasts.

Figure 5.67: Unachievable Expectations, 16.5″x12″ visual journal pages mounted on wood 2009

Figure 6.7: Intentional Instability–Stilettos have the same type of implications of femininity and sexuality as legs, while also maintaining a bizarre duality. Stilettos are an everyday object like hair ties, handbags, chapstick, or cell phones. Yet as almost any woman (and some men) know, wearing a striking pair of heels can make you feel gorgeous, powerful, and sexy. That clicking noise they make on tile floors is fantastic. Most men (and some women) would agree with their appeal.

However, it’s suggested that stilettos have a subconscious appeal to men as they also make women appear (perhaps even subconsciously) more weak and fragile, since they are literally less balanced. Culturally, we embrace footwear that, by it’s very nature, makes routine movement more difficult. It’s an interestingly subtle paradox that something can make a woman powerful, yet frail at the same time. With the imagery of stilettos I have also included dominos, continuing to play with the instability theme.

Figure 6.7: Intentional Instability, 6.5″x12″ visual journal pages mounted on wood 2009
Figure 6.7: Intentional Instability (detail image)

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