Sunday, March 22, 2009

"She's Hot"

Do sexually provocative images make a painting more powerful?

Is it possible to paint a woman we find attractive without objectifying her?


  1. Is it possible to look at a person we find attractive and not objectify them?

    I'm not sure.

  2. That term confuses me. Does it mean the removal of the specific person from the image of the form? Is something attractive also objective, that is: is it generalized and singled out for attention? Is being objectified automatically a bad thing?

    I don't know what the answer is, just musing. :-)

  3. I don't know either... but somehow, I don't think that if a painting is sexually charged, that THAT automatically makes it powerful. There definetly are some that fit that, but not all sex driven images are powerful.

    I love the idea of a painting have a sex drive... heee heee.

    Sadie, is there a way to label the images, if they were refered to you, and if so by whom? Just a thought.

  4. I have a lot more questions than answers, it's hard to tease everything apart. But I just wonder how much all artists including women artist are constrained by depicting an aesthetic for women driven by how the subject has been defined art history, which has been driven by a male way of seeing women (which has often, but not always, treated women as archetypal figures instead of as specific people). I'm not sure we are able to separate the image of a woman from the history of the images of women. Even an attempt to defy art history becomes part of the story, too. A problem for artists of all genders of course, the art history problem, but I think there's another layer to contend with as women, since we are only recently the painter as often as the painted.

    Alia you mean label the posts according to who suggested the painting to me? I'm happy to make a list of contributors in the right column, that's a good idea, but I'd like to keep the posts themselves pretty simple (and keep them easy for me to manage).

  5. I think the more you capture individuality in the image - the more personality comes across, the less objectifying it is - I think it's that individuality that makes the painting powerful.

  6. yes Sadie, when I post an image on my blog, I'm given the option to add a label at the bottom (anything of my choosing), which then adds a list of 'labels' to the right hand column. I'm not sure if this is a widgit that I added or common to all blogs. Just a thought, no need to make this too busy either visually or work load wise.

  7. Alia that's a good idea, my blog does do labels and I use it on my other site to organize the posts by subject. Not sure I want to keep track of who recommended what to me, but I'll keep it in mind :)

    Jill I totally agree! Also interesting way to think about it because of the way the flow of art history swings between the classical/general to the realist/specific.

  8. I don't quite agree, it seems to me it's not the image itself that is objectifying. It's how we learn to relate to them, the culture around it..

  9. Sometimes I think about pornography and how un-erotic and un-hot I find most of it. The reason is both the attitude towards sexuality, womanhood etc. and the sheer awfulness of how it's made.

    One aspect I find curious about pornography vs. actual sexiness is that pornography/soft porn/magazine covers and those kinds of images are things that are Made To Be Sexy. They invoke signage that is supposed to be arousing just by virtue of being there, like stockings, high heels, certain pose and circumference of breast or breast-like tissue. But the more these images broadcast their intent to Be Sexy, the less sexy I find them.

    On the other hand, I have seen some works and photos that are incredibly powerful, that truly arouse and electrify, and yet they don't focus on the trappings of An Officially Erotic Image. A good example is work done by the two photographers called tetheredto on Flickr. They are a young couple who often photograph each other in all manner of ways, some deliberately provocative but often gangly, or awkward, or in an image that is quotidian and unrefined and not particlarly coded as sexual. And yet those latter works *end up* being powerfully erotic.

    I think the reason is that those images focus on the woman herself, on the moment, on her as an individual at a point in time. The point of view is not on sexuality itself, and how it's being expressed by a female body #468465B. Instead, it's just... absorbed by this person and her... thusness, which happens to be infused with a liveliness and a beauty that can't help but make you *feel*, feel something...

    I think in a way it's similar to how if the artist is concerned with making a good painting, and is looking at the painting, they will actually make a worse painting than if they focused on the subject and studied it in depth - stuff you talk about often on your work blog, Sadie. If the artist is looking at a woman and valuing her for herself, and expressing things about her as an individual, if he or she is painting her with real interest, love, lust, admiration, pleasure in her as a human being and not just a stack of limbs with particular characteristics, the image will have energy and truth, and will not objectify her - it will *sing* her. She won't be an object because she will be the subject.

    I think.

    I was watching Dollhouse, a new TV series by the creator of Buffy. The lead is a standardly, codedly sexy young actress, Eliza Dushku, and in the first 5 episodes, her sexuality was on display in such a dull, porn-like way - they had her in short skirts, stilettos, leather but it was also so stilted, so depressingly devoid of energy and life. It was a painful and boring allure. If I were a heterosexual man looking at her, I would probably be aroused in a way that would sicken me because the animal part of me would be responding to stimuli while the rest of me was so totally dissatisfied and BORED.

    Then in ep 6, they had her infiltrate a religious cult, and the actress spend the whole episode wearing no make-up, weird layered hippie rags and a skirt that touched the floor. And she had moments of such beauty, such vulnerability and humanity, that I couldn't help but fall for the character and find THAT portrayal of her suffused with erotic energy. And that current had power. The other stuff was like a cake made of plastic.

    So that's my thesis - when an image sets out to be Dang Sexy, and not much thought or feeling goes into that other than evoking the standard trappings of what's thought of as sexy at the time, it ends up being dehumanizing, dead and dull. But when an image sets out to connect to the person it's portraying, and to express a true and felt response to them, and to express the person's individuality and their unique brand of energy, strength... Then if all goes well, we're cooking.

  10. I think art is the connection between 3 participants: the image-maker, the subject, and the viewer.

    Exploitation makes the experience of the image-maker and of the subject completely invisible so all that is left is the experience of the viewer.

    The viewer is overwhelmed by either horror or titillation, and no longer has a sense of the experience of the image maker or the subject.

    If a painter is truly connected -paying attention- to the subject, it's really difficult for the viewer to forget the connection. Which diminishes the animal charge.

    But should a painting be completely devoid of any animal charge? We are part animal of course. Can we have it without diminishing the higher goal of connection?

    Can our base animal brain function at the same time as the higher levels of reasoning and empathy?

    Is base animal brain function required for the "thrill" that gets us to look at a picture in the first place?

  11. We're not just part animal, we're mostly animal. I don't think I agree with the idea that the connection and the animal charge are apart from or opposed to each other, or that "higher" brain function is sexless.