The Female Gaze

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stlukesguild

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I posit this question some time ago on WC, but the discussion got highjacked and dissolved... so I thought I'd try it again. Most of us have probably heard of the "Male Gaze" which proposes not only that men look at art... and the world around them differently than women... but that men are obsessed with "objectifying women"... focusing purely upon their visual appearances... and we see this in art when we look at the sheer number of paintings and sculpture of women. My question then becomes: "Why do so many female artists also predominantly paint female figures... nude or otherwise?"

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-Suzy Smith

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-Kelly Beeman

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-Jenny Morgan

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-Kaethe Butcher

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-Lisa Yuskavage

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-Mary Jane Ansell

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-Jenny Seville

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-Natalia Fabia

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-Patricia Watwood

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-Marina Marina

continued...
 
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-Margaret Bowland

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-Soey Milk

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-Francine van Hove

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-Nadia Waheed

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-Allison Reimold

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-Hiba Schahbaz

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-Marthe Erlebacher

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-Nikole Setkulovic

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-Handiedan

These are not examples of work by obscure artists. Every woman here is successful... some among the most successful in the art market (Jenny Saville, Lisa Yuskavage...). Nor are these the rare example of female figures/nudes/portraits by these artists. In almost every instance, the female figure is the dominant subject matter employed by these artists. So if male artists get taken to task for obsessing over the female figure... what do we make of these female artists? Why not paintings of the male nude/figure? Just some thoughts/questions. :unsure:
 
because… the beauty is with women

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-Praxiteles

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-Michelangelo

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-Cabanel

Some might disagree... including the sculptor of your Egyptian pharaoh. But then... these are all by male artists. (Of course, to be fair, there were few women afforded the needed training to paint the figure at that time.)
 
I suppose I paint males as well… non objectively

Mightiest Mortal Artist John Emmett.jpg

Mightiest Mortal, Artist John Emmett
 
I had a friend in art school who went on to attend Hunter College (City University of New York) while I was living in Jersey City. I ran into him at a party in JC and he was very depressed. Hunter was a hotbed of leftist politics and in spite of painting geometric abstractions which he felt were safe from any political attacks, he was derided by a good number of female students for painting large "patriarchal" paintings employing phallic forms that suggested the preference for the male geometry (Artific) as opposed to female Nature. o_O He kept trying to get me to join him at Hunter. He pointed out that I would have such a huge target on my back painting female nudes that he would slip completely out of view.😄
 
According to some feminist theory, it's because women tend to internalize male gaze. I think we should also be careful not to presume that any female nude per se is intended for the male gaze, that would be a misunderstanding of the theory. The Seville drawing and painting by van Hove are less oriented toward male gaze (though you could probably argue don't entirely break free of it).

I recommend reading Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," which is really focused on narrative film techniques that can't quite be applied to static visual art. In particular, she's focusing on the role of the camera and film editing. It's where the term derives and might at least clarify the meaning of the term: https://www.asu.edu/courses/fms504/total-readings/mulvey-visualpleasure.pdf

The 2nd episode of Berger's Ways of Seeing does essentially cover the idea of male gaze in painting w/o labeling it as such (offhand, I believe his thesis here was developed separate from Mulvey a few years prior and is grounded on a somewhat different theoretical premise).

The thing to ask with the male nudes in relation to male gaze is whether they are targeting an audience with the same implicitly erotic intent. I'm not entirely sure that the works in question are doing that. I mean, Michelangelo's "Dying Slave" strikes me as much more gaze-y than his David. 👀

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We should probably also consider that male gaze tend to assume heteronormativity. But it's plausible that at least one of the women whose work you post is sexually attracted to women. The reverse could be true of the men (e.g. Greeks by default were way more interested in male beauty and romantic/sexual relationships between men were relatively normalized, and it's very likely Michelangelo was gay).
 
I think we should also be careful not to presume that any female nude per se is intended for the male gaze, that would be a misunderstanding of the theory. The Seville drawing and painting by van Hove are less oriented toward male gaze...

I think that most artists create for themselves and imagine an audience (although perhaps not consciously) not unlike themselves. I don't believe any work of art has a universal appeal... although certainly, a work of art created with one audience in mind can appeal to different audiences. If we are to argue that a female nude... or even a male nude... painted by a woman is not to be imagined as being intended for a male audience, then the reverse is equally true. And yet I love Praxiteles' Hermes and Michelangelo's David ... and this Freud as well:

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It seems to me that art should convey the artist's thoughts and perceptions without any thought to what is acceptable to a given audience according to the fashion or socio-political norms of the moment. One of the values of music, painting, literature, etc... is that these works of art allow us some inkling of the experiences and thoughts of others. I don't look to works of art to reinforce my own points of view, experiences, beliefs, biases, etc... I can find a work of art disturbing, unsettling, or disagree with what is being communicated... and yet still greatly appreciate it as a work of art.

The thing to ask with the male nudes in relation to male gaze is whether they are targeting an audience with the same implicitly erotic intent. I'm not entirely sure that the works in question are doing that.

I feel that Praxiteles Hermes is clearly quite erotic. The sensuous and feminine flow of the figure give some real idea of what his Aphrodite must have been like:

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Most of the extant Roman copies are variations on the "modest Venus"... clearly aware that she is naked and of the presence of an audience/voyeurs... yet the original Aphrodite by Praxiteles was described as being closer to these copies:

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... unashamed of her nudity and making no attempt to cover herself. Not long after Praxiteles, we get the Aphrodite Kallipygos or "Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks" in which she is portrayed admiring her reflection in a pool of water... but also, presumably, posing for a male audience.

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There are certainly quite a few male nudes in art that have a rather definite erotic content:

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Surely, that's true of Donatello's David more than of Michelangelo's... although the Bacchus seems to have a real erotic charge.

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We should probably also consider that male gaze tend to assume heteronormativity. But it's plausible that at least one of the women whose work you post is sexually attracted to women.

That is true of several of the artists I posted... and possibly true of several that I am unaware of. Picasso, Klimt, Renoir, Rilke, Rodin, Marlene Dumas, Yeats, Adolf Loos, Baudelaire, and any number of others have admitted to the link between the erotic and art. I suspect that we wouldn't have as much condemnation of paintings/sculpture/etc... of the female nude by male artists if we didn't have art historians and critics putting forth so much effort in denying the erotic aspect/intention of such art.
 
I think that most artists create for themselves and imagine an audience (although perhaps not consciously) not unlike themselves. I don't believe any work of art has a universal appeal... although certainly, a work of art created with one audience in mind can appeal to different audiences. If we are to argue that a female nude... or even a male nude... painted by a woman is not to be imagined as being intended for a male audience, then the reverse is equally true.

Well, then by your own logic, we should presume that women are also among the intended audience for these paintings, so why describe what we're seeing as male gaze specifically?

This is why I referenced Mulvey and Berger, because they make a bit clearer that what we're really talking about here is the culture/society in which the presumed gaze is being contextualized. Berger's thesis is worth a look, because he makes a distinction between nakedness and the nude, with the latter defined more around gaze (I don't believe he even uses the term "male gaze" explicitly, but that is what his thesis amounts to).

It seems to me that art should convey the artist's thoughts and perceptions without any thought to what is acceptable to a given audience according to the fashion or socio-political norms of the moment. One of the values of music, painting, literature, etc... is that these works of art allow us some inkling of the experiences and thoughts of others. I don't look to works of art to reinforce my own points of view, experiences, beliefs, biases, etc... I can find a work of art disturbing, unsettling, or disagree with what is being communicated... and yet still greatly appreciate it as a work of art.

No artist exists entirely outside their own social/cultural context. And if you're going to include art from the Renaissance in this discussion, tastes and norms absolutely had an impact on what work got produced. I don't necessarily disagree with your overall view on appreciation here. Nowhere did I say art shouldn't disturb, unsettle, etc. or that it can only be appreciated according to the context of its time. But when you raise the subject of gaze, the context does matter.

That is true of several of the artists I posted... and possibly true of several that I am unaware of. Picasso, Klimt, Renoir, Rilke, Rodin, Marlene Dumas, Yeats, Adolf Loos, Baudelaire, and any number of others have admitted to the link between the erotic and art. I suspect that we wouldn't have as much condemnation of paintings/sculpture/etc... of the female nude by male artists if we didn't have art historians and critics putting forth so much effort in denying the erotic aspect/intention of such art.

Well, I'm not sure Berger was condemning the paintings in question or denying the eroticism. Mulvey's thesis builds off Freud, so denial is like the opposite of what she was arguing!

I'll just conclude this by noting that in school we had about an equal proportion of male and female nude models. I've drawn plenty of men, but usually w/o an explicitly erotic component. The same could be said of my female nudes. I've thought about gaze probably more in context of fiction/poetry, where focalization serves a function similar to the camera in film.
 
"According to some feminist theory, it's because women tend to internalize male gaze."

Pardon my ignorance, xie, but exactly what does this mean?
 
Berger puts it more succinctly in Ways of Seeing, highly recommend watching that series (or reading the book). "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at."
 
I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. I literally do not understand any of this. I don't see what the big deal is. I don't understand how anybody cannot get that yes, straight men enjoy looking at pictures of scantily clad or entirely nude women they don't even know. Not that I make a habit of it, generally preferring the real thing, but I'm not gonna avert my eyes. I don't understand why anyone would get bent out of shape if female artists enjoy depicting male nudes, which apparently happened to several women who posted in the old WC thread. I don't understand how anybody can't see that straight women objectify men just as much as the other way around-- when you play in bars you see it all the time, women ogling handsome guys they don't even know, talking about it in low voices, and making the occasional obscene gesture. A big advance in women's liberation if you ask me.
 
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I'm going to derail this slightly. Pocket recommended this article to me this morning. I was curious enough to read it.

What's It Like to Be a Man?

I don't know where this guy is at. Maybe that's what it's like to be him, but it sure ain't what it's like to be me, and I'm as straight a male as ever was. Where does all this self-laceration over masculine stereotypes come from? Who decides what is masculine and what isn't?
 
Maybe there's some misunderstanding, because I'm not seeing how any of that connects to women internalizing male gaze through work that seems to reproduce it. Like I said in my original response, the issue isn't necessarily nudity or eroticism.

I'm not getting bent out of shape about anyone drawing nudes, personally.
 
I know you aren't getting bent out of shape, but like I said, several women in the original WC thread took a lot of flak for it.

And I still don't understand what is meant (I'm not addressing you directly) by "women internalizing male gaze through work that seems to reproduce it." Why is this such a big deal? What, women are all Sweet Polly Purehearts who don't get off on, sorry, female gaze? That runs contrary to my actual experience of being friends with women, which is extensive.

Heaven save us from theorizing.

As for the article, like I said, a derailment. That being said, if we're gonna talk about male gaze, some definition of masculinity is required. Who are these guys, and what makes their gaze male?
 
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Well, then by your own logic, we should presume that women are also among the intended audience for these paintings, so why describe what we're seeing as male gaze specifically?

It's always difficult to know who the intended audience for a work of art is... even if the artist tells us, artists have been known to lie. Until the Enlightenment most art was "intended" for a specific audience who commissioned the would. Botticelli's Primavera which I wrote on here the other day is one of the most well-known and admired works of art... but at the time of its creation, it is thought that it was painted as a wedding gift from Lorenzo d'Medici. 20+ years after its completion an inventory show it was housed in the private collection of Lorenzo's cousin where very few would have ever been able to see it. We might argue that the audience intended for a work of art today is much different... but is it? Most works of art my leading artists are sold to very wealthy collectors and disappear rarely to be seen in real life for years. Outside of making art with a specific audience in mind, I still suspect that the best we can say is that most artists create with an audience in mind that shares the artist's likes.

No artist exists entirely outside their own social/cultural context. And if you're going to include art from the Renaissance in this discussion, tastes and norms absolutely had an impact on what work got produced. I don't necessarily disagree with your overall view on appreciation here. Nowhere did I say art shouldn't disturb, unsettle, etc. or that it can only be appreciated according to the context of its time. But when you raise the subject of gaze, the context does matter.

Well certainly every artist exists within the context of their time and place and these things impact their art... but even during a time such as the Renaissance we see artists stepping outside the boundaries of what was expected of them: Donatello, Michelangelo, Bosch, Breugel, Veronese, etc... I would rather an artist honestly convey ideas or perceptions that I disagree with than that he or she pander to what is expected.

Well, I'm not sure Berger was condemning the paintings in question or denying the eroticism. Mulvey's thesis builds off Freud, so denial is like the opposite of what she was arguing!

I'd need to read (or watch) Berger again. My school... and my persona reading preferences (Baudelaire, Huysmans, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Mallarme, Roger Fry, etc...) leaned far more toward art pour l'art and/or Formalism.

I'll just conclude this by noting that in school we had about an equal proportion of male and female nude models. I've drawn plenty of men, but usually w/o an explicitly erotic component. The same could be said of my female nudes. I've thought about gaze probably more in context of fiction/poetry, where focalization serves a function similar to the camera in film.

My experience was much the same. Our models were male, female, old, young, black, white, etc... The favorite model of my freshman drawing teacher was a tall and very "ripped" black man who was perfect for discerning the muscular structures. I can't say that the models never inspired any sexual thoughts... but once I started drawing I was far more focused upon other issues.
 
Oy.

I personally see the OP, while being an interesting subject, almost comes from a place where there must be an argument against the theory that women make art for any gaze at all, or men for that matter. Not everyone is completely heterosexual, gay, bi, or whatever. And what does sex or sexualization have to do with art, every time a naked body shows up? It probably usually has absolutely nothing to do with it. When an artist is rendering just about every painting or drawing, they are rarely having an erotic experience about their subject matter (I'm guessing). I mean, usually I said.

Furthermore, sexual (gender or orientation-wise) gaze is not (but perhaps sometimes--maybe?) the purpose of every artwork ever produced that includes nudity. I see paintings of nakedness or otherwise as figurative, but I'm not a sexually motivated artist. Maybe I'm weird! I don't give a rat's ass what another artist's intent was because the artwork no longer belongs to said artist anymore. It belongs to each individual viewer in the context of time and space. Period.

Now, what's the word I'm looking for? Loaded? The OP feels loaded, like it's ready and set for debate or an argument between genders. WTF? It's asking why is it okay when women paint naked women and men get shit for it when they do it? Who on earth has given men shit for anything they have done? They have been the predominate winners, so far.

That's my view of all this. And I'm not getting "bent out of shape" either. Honestly, I'm neither male nor female, but I suppose since I was born a female, I'm automatically getting my panties in a tizzy, or whatever some people say/start up with when they want to get a rise out of people. Call anyone any number of female-derogatory names (male or female) and they will get very defensive, some will even get violent. Try it sometime. It's considered much worse than calling someone an "asshole." That is one example of internalizing what it means to be "female."

As far as Xie talking about women internalizing the male gaze, I'm sorry if you don't "get it," Musket. Just because some women are ogling at men in bars or whatever women do to objectify men, doesn't mean women haven't had thousands of years of their experiences in society. Men have a right to also feel objectified. That's fine. It's not a contest. If you don't see it, that's fine too.

I do resent when anyone points out how "far" women's liberation has come, how "far" gay and transgender rights have come. How many strides society has made since the Civil War...Jesus, how many years will it take for everyone to have the same autonomy and acceptance as everyone else? Why should there be any kind of resistance in the first place? I guess it's because there's no stopping hate. Some people will laways think other people are less than. There will always be racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc. Anyone who says that is non-existent these days is fooling themselves. How far have we come really? Look around.
 
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