Thursday, April 24, 2008

Naked Women


Sometimes art of the Olden Days looks like a Gentleman’s Sport. Lately I’ve been finding old issues of Art Digest, which had very archaic covers. Yet they are not ancient, giving me just another reason why women artists had a tough time making headway. As the Guerilla Girls liked to remind us, the best way to get into the museum was to get naked.

These rags are for cutting up, but instead I’ve limped through the passages and articles, mind blown at the images and what they say.



Sure, they do get to the modern masters, as they call them - Picasso and Matisse and so on - which then reminded me of the “great paintings” poll around the blogosphere via Newsweek awhile back. The question was: what are the greatest paintings of the 20th century? I smiled at one blog, which pitched White on White by Malevich.

Naked women by Picasso seemed the favorite. Tyler Green added a nude by Matisse into the mix. I fell asleep at these choices, regardless of history – which hey, can be rewritten. Mostly I am just bored, bored, bored of naked babes, especially as any kind of pitch for the best of the 20th century.

And especially in light of what we read of how women functioned in Picasso’s life – the ones he painted. A whole army was in place to keep his shit together. I also recently read a disgusting and fascinating account by Kennedy Frazier on the women of Matisse and how he fed off whores for a long time after he decided his wife (Woman in the Hat, etc) was too old to paint.

Ah, the way the critics argue that Picasso needed Matisse and Matisse needed Picasso and so on, as regards the making of a painting of a woman. No, what they really needed was a lot of naked women! And a system compliant in rounding them up.

I remember a certain art history Prof from the University of Oregon who wanted to take pictures of me. I thought gee whiz, Okay. Once there in his studio, he asked me to get naked. Yeah, my professor. I won’t tell you which area was his expertise. I was all confused and probably too stupid to not have seen this coming, but thank God not stupid enough to comply.

Art history is filled with back-stories which define why things are important. These paintings of naked women are no longer just, well, “great paintings” to me. The equipment pictured is actually very familiar – no surprises there – and the audience (and dialogue created from) is no longer just comprised by those who don’t have it but want to look.

13 comments:

Brack's Photo A Day said...

Your professor asked you to get naked for pictures?! That's pretty creepy. I hope at least he guaranteed you a "A".

Eva said...

I know. It was totally creepy and I never took another class from him, although if I had stayed at U of O, I might have had to. What is really bad is how much this is all pitched "in the name of art" or because someone is supposedly a genius. When in fact they are really just a sleazy guy.

Calvin Ross Carl said...

Men use nude women in their artwork, because men are too self-conscious about their dick size to use nude men.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, CRC. Though you may have meant this for a laugh, there is truth to it too.

The man as the muse was discussed here a bit when I read Spending by Mary Gordon, a novel which talks about how things change when it's the woman painting a naked man.

My friend who sits through the slide reviews at Blue Sky says men are very uncomfortable looking at pictures of naked men, but are still very happy to look at pictures of naked women (all in the name of art of course). She says there's underlying homophobia. But your remark could also be to the point. Is the equipment big enough, small enough, blah blah.

What was interesting in Spending was this idea of the person who paints being the one in power, stealing from and using the model, having the power to render or project as they wish.

Eva

Anonymous said...

I remember a photography class where one of the participants, a man my age(50's) always brought in female nude photographs each week he made with a professional model or models. The pictures were boring, repetitive, stuck in the middle between pornography and art. So much white bread. I couldn't stand the guy or his pictures. At the conclusion of the class he hosted a potluck at his home and after dinner and drinks he brought out yet another nude photograph but this time instead of some cliche with a professional model in professional pose he had photographed a woman he had known and cared about. The woman was no model and she just stood there awkwardly self concious but not ashamed expressing with a poignancy that was heartbreaking what it was to be naked and exposed. It was a portrait of Eve in the garden after she took the bite of the apple. I told him I thought it was a remarkable photograph and he thanked me for the compliment but I could tell he could care less about what I thought of his work. I really thought it was a great picture but it wasn't the kind of picture he cared to make.

Calvin Ross Carl said...

Even though I stated it in a very joking manner, I was being wholeheartedly serious. And I have a feeling that the line between homophobia and "dick envy" is a very thin line.

Brack's Photo A Day said...

You might be onto something Calvin. But don't most people, male or female, check out dick size first when looking at a male nude?
Anyway, that teacher crossed a line in a big way. When I was in school there always seemed to be at least one prof who had a thing going with one of his students- usually some "cool" English prof who wrote poetry or some "hip" guy in the film department. And by cool and hip I mean creepy.

Anonymous said...

I guess Mapplethorp brought this all out in the open when it comes to the dicks... but did everyone look for the size of the penis with all those Michaelangelos? I don't know that I did.....

You know what is weird, Brack, is that this prof was not a hip guy - though those guys are much worse (because you want to please them). He was as stodgy and academic as they come. But I think he interpreted my colorful exterior (pre-punk, 1976) and lack of family ties as "open" to anything.
Eva

Brack's Photo A Day said...

Yuck Eva. That makes it that much creepier. LOL! Good thing you had the self confidence to tell him it's not gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to be able to say that I refuted the situation is some brave and articulate way but I barely said "no," sort of in an embarrassed daze and then promptly forgot about it for years.
My mom was skinny-dipping with (and screwing) my high school friends, so I had uneven and confused ideas about what was appropriate and felt out of it for not participating. So I knew how to say no already but not how to feel good about it.
Thanks for the visits Brack.
Eva

Brack's Photo A Day said...

"My mom was skinny-dipping with (and screwing) my high school friends"
Oh wow Eva, we've all got baggage to deal with but I'm not sure how I would handle that one. Hope you've been able to deal with it and move on. I wonder if your professor sensed some sort of emotional vulnerability he thought he could exploit? I remember reading how a lot of the priests who molested children tended to target kids who had a messed up situation at home. Of course I'm not saying that what this professor did is anywhere near as disgusting as molesting a child. I still think it took a great deal of self confidence on your part to say no. You're at his place, he's older, he's your teacher. Oh well, best of luck and I love the pic of your dog!

Anonymous said...

Well, now Brack, don't give me too much credit here! Was it truly self confidence ....or the fact that he was an old, oily, crusty geezer who was clearly an OK art historian but not much of a photographer?
Sorry to say but if he had been a great photographer, I might have gone down the road of so many womenn who will help a genius.

:)
Eva

Anonymous said...

Art and sleaze have long been bedfellows, but I'm no more exasperated by the mediocre talents who try to dignify a visual encounter with a nude young woman with the 'it's art' excuse than I am by the predictable agitprop that shoots them down.

The artist 'the one with all the power', the model the 'victim of patriarchal oppression'? Yawn. These are grade school assumptions, and I'm amazed that feminist professors are spouting this facile minded nonsense and actually being hailed for their insight. Any guy who doesn't want to stare at a penis is a 'homophobe'? Oh please. I know plenty of gay guys who baulk at the sight of breasts. But of course we mustn't denigrate them as 'misogynist' (which many gay men in fact are) as that would break the unspoken rule of keeping our enemies heterosexual, white and male.

And CLC, envying another man's penis hardly equates to a fear of homosexuality, and it certainly doesn't explain why surgical procedures to increase penis size are unusually popular among gay men, not straights. There was once a time when artists cared about the execution of the artwork, imperceptible qualities, rather than coded socio-political messages which may only exist in the eyes of the observer, not in the creator's intent. Get into politics if you're only capable of viewing the world in political terms.