Art and Sexism
April 20, 2018 10:37 AM   Subscribe

"While feminist art critics have for decades pointed out the shortcomings of the 'male gaze,' the post-#MeToo reckoning with the art world’s systemic sexism, its finger-on-the-scale preference for male genius, has given that critique a newly powerful force. And the question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?" Images at the link show painted or sculpted nudity and may be nsfw.

From the same issue:
When a Feminist Artist's work is censored by a Feminist Gallery. Discusses Natalie Frank's recent series of paintings based on The Story of O. Ms. Frank's recent piece in ARTNews ("For Women Artists, the Art World Can Be a Minefield") disclosed her experiences as a professional artist with sexual harassment.
More from Natalie Frank at ARTNews:
- Natalie Frank at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
- Into the Woods: Natalie Frank’s Fairy Tales
- Habitat: Natalie Frank
posted by zarq (98 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

Should a woman have the agency to decide for herself whether to pose nude?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2018 [19 favorites]


I guess what always strikes me is that most artists, especially male artists, rarely paint old, disabled, non-feminine, fat or non-normatively beautiful women, and that makes me think that a substantial percentage of the motivation is "ooooh, look, hot young women". Which, I mean, one might as well put some porn through those art filters on photoshop, basically.

So I guess the question to me isn't, "should male artists paint naked ladies" but "why can't most male artists admit that when they say they're interested in women as artistic subjects, they're really only interested in some women, eg women they'd like to bone"?

There are counterexamples, of course, but the general trend is pretty clear.

I get tired of people asserting that it's important to depict "women" for some kind of moral/equity reasons when they are so patently uninterested in about 90% of the women who actually exist.
posted by Frowner at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2018 [131 favorites]


Of course, everyone should have agency. It's a strawman to suggest that anyone is arguing against that.

However, having a choice is not the same as having agency; it is necessary but not sufficient for agency.

Being given a choice (in the form of an offer that one can ostensibly decline) does not mean that the person given the choice has agency.
posted by oddman at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


Should a woman have the agency to decide for herself whether to pose nude?

Yes. That is relevant to the question, "Is it morally justifiable for a man to paint a naked woman?"

But it could be morally justifiable without having any artistic merit. The article is about what the artistic merit of such works might be today.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:22 AM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


As for reasons to think that such works are expressions of sexual titillation without much in the way of artistic merit, there are some nice examples in the article:
In its “Here Are the Absolute Worst Artworks We Saw Around the World in 2017” roundup, ArtNet’s Rachel Corbett singled out Richard Kern’s photos of waiflike girls bent over stairs and/or smoking joints — subject matter he’s been exploring for the better part of three decades.
Shrug. Why bother?
posted by voltairemodern at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2018


But most of them — including Currin, Carroll Dunham, Jeff Koons, and the young Mexican-American painter Alex Becerra (some of whose nudes are drawn from escort ads) — declined to talk about their work’s relationship to the current social climate.

When I was in art school, 25 years ago, it was a commonly held opinion of my classmates and my professors (and me) that if you were a man painting female nudes, that work would inescapably be about the male gaze and feminism regardless of anything else you might be trying to say. I think that has only become more true since then. It strikes me as a little strange that an artist would be shy about commenting on that, because that is surely what the work is about, as much as anything.

It might also be worth talking about nude figure drawing for basic drawing skills purposes, which isn't particularly political, and I think is totally justifiable for anyone to do. Except that in my experience the models tend to be mostly thin young women, to the point that it's a relief and a delight to get someone who is old, fat or a man (I have literally never had a model that was all three of those). That probably has some bearing on artists who go on to do "serious" work.

(Also, there are figure drawing groups were the guy running it makes a point of *only* getting hawt young women, which is it's own brand of skeevy, IMO, particularly when it's not advertised that way. Like, draw what you want bro, but don't advertise it as a generic figure drawing...not that I'm bitter or anything.)
posted by surlyben at 11:28 AM on April 20, 2018 [24 favorites]


I think more women should paint hot men.
posted by fnerg at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


my art education included drawing bodies of all shapes and genders and my least favorite bodies to draw in terms of holding my interest were the people who were super fit.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:41 AM on April 20, 2018 [16 favorites]


surlyben: FWIW, I am a life model in Connecticut. White male, 55, 6'2", 195 lbs. I'm currently posing for nine different drawing groups and classes, two of which are "long pose" sessions spanning multiple nights. I've heard numerous times from monitors and instructors that they're constantly seeking male models for their sessions, but have a hard time finding them.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:42 AM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


My drawing instructor agrees, it is difficult to find male models. We have one regular one. He is older, but quite fit, so a pleasure to draw because well defined muscles. But we also lament the lack of variety.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 11:48 AM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


While I'm not going to wade into the reality of sexism and harassment in the professional art world which is totally a huge problem - I want to make a note about modeling for art and life drawing as it still exists.

Because I've done modeling for life drawing classes, and they definitely tend to prefer unique and non-traditional models because of the challenges involved in trying to draw and render difficult textures like wrinkles and uncommon shapes. Young, classically "beautiful" people are much easier to draw or paint. It's much, much more difficult to capture the details of someone old, fat and wrinkly.

Also note that in my experience most art/life drawing models tend to be artists themselves. In my experience in living in a number of arts communities as a working artist, artists are usually pretty willing to model and be practical and objective about the experience - and in my experience it's been all business when it comes to modeling.

I'm definitely not saying it doesn't happen, or that modeling isn't used as a way to gain sexual access - I just haven't ever personally seen it. Granted, most of my artist friends were women, and most of the male artists I knew were gay.

So, as for the artistic validity of the young female nude study? It's usually not, at least in as much as it challenges a visual artist to capture or express difficult things. It can make for pretty or titillating content that sells well to gross playboys who need to class up the condo, but that doesn't make it fine art.
posted by loquacious at 11:50 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


And another question might be, "Why are paintings of naked women by men such a central part of art history, and why is the right [nay, the duty!] to produce them so central to a lot of arguments about artistic freedom?" Political art gets censored, defunded or destroyed (when in public space) pretty regularly, but we don't find that as concerning for some reason.

Or, "what does it mean for people of all genders that, just as with exposure to commercial advertising, a trip through an art museum is substantially organized around ideas about normative female beauty?"

I mean, men can paint women in lots of ways, naked women even. But you so rarely hear, "Why, why is it so wrong for a man to paint like Max Beckmann" rather than "why is it so wrong for a man to paint like, eg, Balthus", which to me says a lot.
posted by Frowner at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2018 [30 favorites]


fnerg: I think more women should paint hot men.

Found this while putting together the post: What Happens When Women Create Explicit Paintings of Men
"Though male artists have been painting the female nude for millennia, when female artists have dared to something similar, they've been criticized or ignored. Now artists like painter Nicole Wittenberg are challenging the status quo—to stirring and gorgeous effect."

The author brings up and sort of superficially dismisses the concept of male gaze. Here's a more thoughtful essay explaining it, for anyone who might be interested.
posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on April 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think more women should paint hot men.

I agree. It's interesting to imagine how that would be perceived, though - especially if they were to paint more hot men in styles that have been used by men painting hot women.

So, it's not "the art world" but the hawkeye initiative is an example of what I mean. How women are depicted has been shaped by men for so long that a sexually interested gaze is normalized as long as the subject is a conventionally attractive woman.

I think that women painting men in the same way will be taken less seriously as artists - not just because they're women, but because when that sexually interested gaze is applied to men it is so much more obvious. It also represents a worldview that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to many male viewers, who have not been trained since birth to view themselves in this way.

(Side note: I'm not saying that more representations of hot men is what would make the art world more equal. I agree that we need more representations of everybody..)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:00 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Took male kids & friends to see Ai Wei Wei at the Hirshhorn & wandered by Ron Muerck’s Big Man sculpture. It was almost like they did not know how to react to a nude oversized sculpture of a seated man. That unexpected exposure helped with understanding art as honoring the ordinary person. There is a lot more to be done to uncouple female nudity from associating women as a commodity, sexual or otherwise, and that can be social work (and I don’t mean the fig leaf movement). I appreciated that there was some balance in presented nude subjects at the Hirshhorn. We still frequent the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The next time I’m there I’ll settle my curiosity about subject representation.
posted by childofTethys at 12:19 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


The art world is an incredibly complicated mix of people of institutions.

I believe criticism of the people and institutions who have historically curated our broad cultural and academic ideas of what makes art "great" are very much justified. The people who suffer in obscurity and struggle to make great art everyday under late stage capitalism that precious few of us ever give a crap about? Based on my art training and experiences, maybe not so much.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:25 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I agree. It's interesting to imagine how that would be perceived, though - especially if they were to paint more hot men in styles that have been used by men painting hot women.

So, it's not "the art world" but the hawkeye initiative is an example of what I mean. How women are depicted has been shaped by men for so long that a sexually interested gaze is normalized as long as the subject is a conventionally attractive woman.


To be totally fair, but.... I got a question, straight/bi women of Metafilter. Are the dudes on the Hawkeye Initiative actually meant to be sexually appealing to you? The reason I ask is that I've always thought they were posed that way not to titillate women who are attracted to men, but as a way to shine a light on women's perspective of the contorted, twisted poses common to media trying to appeal to straight men. I'm saying "women's" very deliberately here, because I think half the message of the Hawkeye Project is to tell people "here is what you see if you imagine a person in this position, not just a Sexy Lamp."

I'm always vaguely confused about the "male gaze" or "female gaze" as applied to sexual attraction, largely because I'm pretty sure that e.g. the queer female gaze is not remotely the same as a straight male gaze--at least, judging from what art and images catering to that straight male gaze looks like. And I'm pretty sure that the queer male gaze is markedly different from the straight female gaze, too. There's an awful lot there that is about self-identification vs. identification of the other, and I think it's more than a bit too simple to collapse both of those things and make the same "gaze" responsible for defining both.
posted by sciatrix at 12:32 PM on April 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


The male gaze is so predominant that the most famous sexually interested depictions of beautiful men are by a man — Robert Maplethorpe.

(Not arguing that gay men are in any way over-represented in art or that they don’t also face prejudice. Just: statistically there are more hetero women than gay men)
posted by mrmurbles at 12:33 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Except that in my experience the models tend to be mostly thin young women, to the point that it's a relief and a delight to get someone who is old, fat or a man (I have literally never had a model that was all three of those)

I think some of this may be less about what the artists want, and more about who is willing to strip nude and stand in front of forty people while they immortalize each wrinkle and fat roll forever with your face attached. Like, I know I am definitely not brave enough to do that, as a fat older woman, and if anyone is, I give them all the fucking credit, but I'm not going to demand other people do what I'm not comfortable doing myself.
posted by corb at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm not saying that more representations of hot men is what would make the art world more equal. I agree that we need more representations of everybody..

I mean, past my snark, yes. Representation in and by art is something that's absolutely necessary, and why Black Panther did so amazingly well. You have a movie that's not blacksploitation being marketed to the entirety of the movie-going audience, and it becomes a thing. Likewise, I don't think there's anytbing wrong with male gazey, or even objectifying art, as long as everyone gets their turn on the objectification stand, because the tastes of more people than just men need to be represented.

I think the problem is exactly what the elle. com article talks about, and what the op's link briefly mentions, that there's an immediate backlash towards women who objectify and sexualize men. As if their work isn't as serious as men doing the same thing to women.

Frankly, Tom of Finland, though an amazing artist, makes me a little bit uncomfortable, and that's totally fine, because Tom of Finland isn't for me, and doesn't need to be for me, and I can see how endless male gazey paintings that weren't created for women would make women uncomfortable, but (one) issue is the lack of paintings created for the female gaze.

--

The issues of sexism and harassment brought up in the other links are definitely another problem, since that sort of BS turns women away from the art world, and limits representation in a different way.
posted by fnerg at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Are the dudes on the Hawkeye Initiative actually meant to be sexually appealing to you

No, they're just meant to highlight how ridiculous those poses are, because those poses -- particularly in comic books -- are ostensibly neutral but actually very porny in a way that is more easily seen when the subject is male.

With regard to how many subjects of "art" are conventionally attractive, I really like the art of Shoog McDaniel. Not just on grounds of representation but because his photographs take aesthetic pleasure in bodies that dont fit the young/thin/"conventionally attractive" mold.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:59 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Going to go out on a limb and say that works featuring men for women are not going to be found in the high brow art world. There are a lot of female (as far as I can tell) artists and illustrators out there making male anime and beefcake art for a female audience.

Also, yes, it is hard to find diverse models for nude drawing classes. It's less hard for photography shoots. Being a nude model is more than just dropping trou - you need a set of poses and a lot of stamina. I considered it when I was unemployed - the local art college paid $15 an hour.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:02 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Isn’t the stock moment in dystopian visions of a future dominated by fundamentalist when they remove the nudes from art museums?
posted by vorpal bunny at 1:05 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Isn’t the stock moment in dystopian visions of a future dominated by fundamentalist when they remove the nudes from art museums?

No, you're thinking of the Shrub administration.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:08 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


See also: pretty much the entire genre of portrait photography. I don't even do portrait photography (I'm a nature boy myself) but I do read articles about photography in general and if I have to look at another young, conventionally attractive female model wearing skimpy clothes and making those same five submissive-sexy poses I think I'll scream. There's no reason your fucking lighting tutorial needs to feature softcore pornography, or why it needs to reinforce a narrow, unhealthy standard of beauty. Why is it OK that this is considered the totally unremarkable default?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2018 [12 favorites]


Except that in my experience the models tend to be mostly thin young women, to the point that it's a relief and a delight to get someone who is old, fat or a man (I have literally never had a model that was all three of those).

I am going to start mentally replacing all art and media images of thin young women with images of fat old men, in the same outfits and poses. Would be a fun project to try and actually make this happen as an art installation piece.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:50 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


How did y'all do on the quiz asking if particular paintings were by men or by women? (I did terribly.)
posted by zompist at 2:02 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Should a woman have the agency to decide for herself whether to pose nude?

IDK, should a black person have the agency to portray a "happy slave" eating watermelon etc. in a blockbuster white supremacist movie?

Criticism of the male artist who paints a conventionally beautiful woman in the nude is NOT criticism of the nude model, nor is it a call to restrict her rights and agency. It is criticism of the male artist, a call to restrict his entitlement and sexism via social approbation.
posted by MiraK at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2018 [15 favorites]


IDK, should a black person have the agency to portray a "happy slave" eating watermelon etc. in a blockbuster white supremacist movie?

So agency doesn't include the power to make bad choices?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


The story from Robin F. Williams in that first link! “All day, there were men coming into my studio mansplaining my paintings to me. It was surreal.”

I did surprisingly well on the quiz and only missed two. I did not recognize any of the work, but a lot of it was very powerful and interesting. In fact, that was the big takeaway that I got from the first article. If you are doing something necessary with the nude female form in your work, of course it makes sense to include it. But if you are being lazy with it, and just painting women as objects, well, that’s done. It’s over. There is enough art that looks like that. That message has been sent and received; time for something new. Art is about a narrative, a message, a discussion. The male gaze is fucking boring.
posted by sockermom at 2:18 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


"But aren't we impinging on women's freedom" arguments aren't the best way to approach this topic, for these reasons:

1. There is no agency or advocacy group which has the ability to prevent women from posing for any painting they like, or to prevent men from painting any painting they like. No imposition on women's freedom is happening or likely to happen.

2. Society is not structured in such a way that there is going to be enough social sanction for this to matter. If social sanction didn't prevent nude modeling in the 19th century, it isn't going to happen today. Neither models nor artists are likely to face any meaningful individual social disapproval.

3. "It's a bad choice for you individually to pose for this artist individually" is missing the point, because the issue isn't "OMG a naked lady", the issue is that artistic tradition is structured around both sexualized paintings of young women and the pretense that this is all Very Serious Artistic Business With No Titillation Involved And Certainly No Political Dimension.

I don't understand why this is so difficult to parse. I can literally walk through any major art museum and some huge, huge percentage of the paintings are, in a sense, technically sophisticated cheesecake, but it's considered enormously pearl-clutchy to point this out since Art Is Serious Business.

It's the same as in any other major cultural production that involves money - women are expected to look at images of women painted from the viewpoint of straight men and treat those images as neutral, universal and truthful. What's more, women are expected to look at these images as if they are the limit horizon of worthwhile depictions of women, as if what's most important about women is their sexual appeal to random straight men.

Women are half the world. But you'd never know it from art museums, and it is considered impolite to point this out.
posted by Frowner at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2018 [67 favorites]


Women are half the world. But you'd never know it from art museums, and it is considered impolite to point this out.

The Guerilla Girls have been raising hell about this since 1984.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:42 PM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


I was already familiar with three of the artists, but I missed Henry Taylor's Portrait of Jazz Mitchell and Lisa Yuskavage's Self Portrait.

--

Frowner: I don't understand why this is so difficult to parse. I can literally walk through any major art museum and some huge, huge percentage of the paintings are, in a sense, technically sophisticated cheesecake, but it's considered enormously pearl-clutchy to point this out since Art Is Serious Business.

Art historians are capable of discussing this, though. My cousin has a Masters in Art History and she's been quite insightful on the topic. The body language and shape of the depictions of women matters as much as whether they're clothed or not. Most women in paintings that hang in museums (and in sculptures as well) are depicted with soft curves and slack musculature. They're typically shown in demure, submissive, maternal or deferential poses. From the Renaissance and earlier through to the beginning of the 20th century, that is primarily how women's bodies were portrayed. Up until the Victorian era, if a woman's body was shown it was likely in an hourglass shape. In the Victorian era, an inverted goblet. We don't see a prevalence of images of strong women with defined musculature (that don't feel like a product of the male gaze) until we reach the modern era.

That is centuries of art works which showed idealized women and femininity a particular way. Art is both influenced by and has an influence on our cultures. Demure, submissive portrayals of women in art are both a mirror and a producer of cultural norms.
posted by zarq at 2:43 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


IDK, should a black person have the agency to portray a "happy slave" eating watermelon etc. in a blockbuster white supremacist movie?

If you haven’t seen The Watermelon Woman you absolutely should today. (It’s not a white supremacist movie but it explores blackness and silent movie history (edit: actually maybe not silent film my memory is bad...)and queer relationships in a brilliant way and I can’t stop gushing at how good it is)
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:46 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


>>(Also, there are figure drawing groups were the guy running it makes a point of *only* getting hawt young women, which is it's own brand of skeevy, IMO, particularly when it's not advertised that way. Like, draw what you want bro, but don't advertise it as a generic figure drawing...not that I'm bitter or anything.)

I've often wondered about this, sitting in classes and drawing groups and trying to sketch naked people. I used to go to a sketch night in NYC and on "costume nights" where the models wore minor bits of fabric - swim suits, for example - some of the older male artists would complain. The costuming made it "harder to draw" the figure. Seriously.

In the live drawing spaces I've been in, there are generally more female models, and more attractive and young models, and more white models. I was always excited when we got to draw someone with scars, wrinkles, fat, stretch marks .. a body with stories to tell.

I've thought that self-selection is part of it. I'd be very hesitant to pose nude - partly because of, you know, naked in front of folks plus having to hold a pose for a long time, but also because I'm not 20-something and slim.

I missed one on the quiz.
posted by bunderful at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I really and truly think that almost all of the male artists in question here chose their subject matter entirely because it gives them an excuse to ogle attractive young women all day. The scam is that as long as they are always totally straightfaced about how what they are doing is Serious Art, nobody will question it. I get it, but it seems really sleazy.

Like oh, Mr. Serious Artist, what do you paint? Oh, hot young naked ladies? How convenient.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:19 PM on April 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


Nope, men shouldn't paint naked women. Next question.
posted by medusa at 4:46 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Well, this is the opposite of what I usually think, but the article is so much more interesting and thought provoking than the comments here.

People are creating works that they want to create, and people are choosing to view and purchase those works. I'm not sure what the alternate criteria being proposed is, if there is one.

But I also only got 4 right on the quiz, and 2 of them because they were referenced in the articles, and the other 2 dumb luck.
posted by bongo_x at 5:23 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Why are paintings of naked women by men such a central part of art history?"

One answer: many artistic men are exploring their relationship to the feminine form, especially what various ideals or degrees of ideal might look like, and also coming to grips with their own desire for experiences with that.

There might be other applicable answers, but this one seems pretty reasonable and likely to be broadly applicable.

One can characterize that as "porn" or "sleazy" and I see people have, not without reason.

My own opinion is that this is about as inherently problematic as exploring most ideals and our desire for it or relationship with it. Maybe somewhat more so to the extent that men (among others) have a struggle integrating their sexual desires into a broadly whole outlook on the world around them. My take is that male gaze is primarily a problem not because it exists at all but when either men's relationship with "the feminine form" precludes their ability to see the *person* instead of just the form (or worse, only the ideal form) and when it aggregates to become a nearly exclusive lens through which women are seen.

So, I think we don't necessarily want men to stop exploring this aspect of their experiences (nor do I think we're likely to succeed at it). We want men who aren't blinded by it to other human considerations, and we want a wide body of art which goes well beyond it.
posted by wildblueyonder at 6:05 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's all perfectly true wildblueyonder, but there are literally an infinite number of valid and interesting subjects for artists to make art about in the world. Every aspect of human experience and more is on offer, totally worth exploring and investigating and playing with and searching for beauty in. And yet what among all these myriad possibilities is the one that most straight men throughout history have most consistently chosen to focus their genius on? Naked ladies.

It's always naked ladies.

I like looking at naked ladies as much as the next straight guy, but shouldn't it just seem a little too obvious by now, a little overdone? Like, maybe we could paint and photograph and sculpt something else for a while, something original, and give the naked ladies a rest? I mean unless you happen to have something that nobody's done before and which absolutely requires the involvement of conventionally attractive nude young women, but really. Most things don't. There are virtually always other ways that straight male artists could make their points, but they consistently pick the way that allows them to spend lots of time looking at hot young women with no clothes on. Why could that possibly be?

If you want to "explore your relationship to the feminine form," and "come to grips with your desire for experiences like that," why should I or anyone else give a shit about it? It's been done millions of times, what's so great about your own personal boner-gazing that it should be hung on the wall of a museum? "I explored my relationship to the feminine form, and discovered that looking at attractive young women without their clothes does indeed give me a chubby." Fucking brilliant insight that, somebody give this guy a MacArthur Fellowship.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2018 [30 favorites]


It's really worth watching Hannah Gadsby's recent documentary Nakedy Nudes for an informative and hilarious take on this question.
posted by rednikki at 6:47 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like looking at naked ladies as much as the next straight guy, but shouldn't it just seem a little too obvious by now, a little overdone? Like, maybe we could paint and photograph and sculpt something else for a while, something original, and give the naked ladies a rest?

And what about all those fucking mountains? Everyone knows what a mountain looks like dude.
And why do people keep writing all those stories about their relationships and families like it's never been done before a million times? Don't even get me started on love songs.
posted by bongo_x at 6:49 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


paintings of mountains don't make women think they're worthless unless they're naked every time they look at them.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:51 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I am aware that my pictures of mountains are nothing special. I'm not pretending that they're serious art just to give me an excuse to go look at them. It's crossed my mind, but unlike naked women it does seem like it's hard to make a living off of pictures of mountains unless you have something new to show people. Also, I think I would have a hard time maintaining a straight enough face. I would be all "I'm just so gosh-darned lucky that people are willing to pay me actual money to go look at a mountain, which is there for anyone to see and which has been photographed from exactly this angle eleventy billion times before anyway," and the MacArthur Fellowship committee would shake their heads solemnly in unison and turn away.

But nature photography just doesn't have the frankly masturbatory (both figuratively and literally) air that female nudes do. When I look at a really good nature photo, I get a sense of connection to the wider world, a sort of transcendant empathy that echoes what I feel when experiencing nature firsthand. That's what I try, mostly unsuccessfully I'll admit, to convey in my work.

When I see a picture of a nude, conventionally attractive woman in art, I generally just think, "Congratulations on working out the fact that dudes will pay to see this." It almost always feels exploitative and porny and gross. Like, I can imagine the thought processes, start to put together the words that I would need to use to sell to a woman the idea that I should be allowed to spend hours and hours staring intently at her body, and then the words I would need to use to sell the resulting product to serious people who would stand around in museums and galleries drinking free wine and deciding whether they wanted to spend thousands of dollars for some tasteful T&A… and I just gag a little. I could never do it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:24 PM on April 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


And why do people keep writing all those stories about their relationships and families like it's never been done before a million times? Don't even get me started on love songs.

Pretending that you actually mean this in good faith, allow me to assure you that romance writers, at least, have been radically expanding the range of stories they're telling (especially since self-publishing and ebooks) and readers are enthusiastically embracing the added choices. There are stories about straight characters, queer characters, rich characters, poor characters, young characters, old characters… There are even people writing about asexual characters. There are plot lines that explicitly deal with issues of class, race, disability, neurodiversity, and more.

I might also note that romance, as a genre, is almost entirely written by female and AFAB authors. Coincidence?

Also, y’know, if you want different stories about relationships and families, check out science fiction. It might blow your mind.
posted by Lexica at 7:51 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


why should I or anyone else give a shit about it? It's been done millions of times, what's so great about your own personal boner-gazing that it should be hung on the wall of a museum?

If the volume of attempts is as you say -- and I'd agree that's likely the case -- I'm pretty sure most of them in fact did not make the walls of a museum. And I'd also agree that no one's personal muses earns them the esteem of their fellow artists or society, erotic subjects less so, and being interested in bodies or boners is as banal as yet another love song, which should standouts have a high bar to clear.

That's a different thing from saying people should stop writing love songs or otherwise pursue things they find compelling.

I explored my relationship to the feminine form, and discovered that looking at attractive young women without their clothes does indeed give me a chubby." Fucking brilliant insight that, somebody give this guy a MacArthur Fellowship.

Zero idea what your orientation/kicks are, but I assume you've spent some time reflecting on why you are the way you are in particular. I'd bet you've thought about what it is you find compelling about what you find compelling, what makes various shades of ideal in your personal experience, and wondered if there's substance behind that or if it's whimsy. Maybe you've thought about how you might explain or portray or otherwise capture that experience to communicate it to people you choose to let in on that particular aspect of your life. I assume that's part of understanding yourself, and that to the extent you've had the space do that, it's been valuable to you, and to the extent that you haven't, it's been painful. I assume you wouldn't want any of that trivialized, even if it most of the conclusions were banal, even if none of it resulted in a work of art that was worth museum walls, worldwide awards, or lasting acclaim. Maybe it's worth extending the same consideration.

(Also, while the premise that depictions of naked women by men are overrepresented among works of art is one I'm happy to roll with, maybe it's also worth not overstating the case that zomg straight men have literally painted nothing else.)

I am aware that my pictures of mountains are nothing special. I'm not pretending that they're serious art just to give me an excuse to go look at them.

Realizing the limits of your own work is a pretty banal thing for artists to do too. ;)

I love mountains, I love some pictures of them. Most of such pictures aren't anything special, most don't belong on a museum wall or mine.... but I also recognize that people are going to keep taking them because of their own relationships with the experience of images of mountains, hoping to capture and show some of that. And frankly, I hope they will, partly because it's something that brings people closer to something they find compelling, and partly because eventually someone will capture something special, maybe even you.
posted by wildblueyonder at 7:57 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


So agency doesn't include the power to make bad choices?


Whoa, that's not a bad choice!

ZenMasterThis, I asked the question about black actors in order to point out that it makes no sense to focus on the agency of the object of any oppression in question. Of course there will be black actors who want to play that role, and of course there are women who will want to pose nude for male artists: it's a job in a market that discriminates against them; it's a channel to money when most other channels are closed to them, and have every right to do whatever they wish.

But oppressed people's choices and their agency is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the oppressor who is exploiting them - movie maker and the male artist - deserves censure. Please don't justify or condone oppression on the basis of the oppressed people being willing to sign up for exploitative gigs in order to get paid. Stand against oppression. Stand against oppressors. End the existence of exploitative jobs in the arts. And if that makes anyone think, "so you want oppressed people to lose what few jobs they have access to?", maybe that will spur them to consider working towards equal opportunity for all.
posted by MiraK at 8:09 PM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


People have a certain relationship with, say, the landscape. And they have a different kind of relationship with human beings, a relationship that doesn't just involve looking at them.

If you're a cishet guy, I don't want to hear a message about what kind of woman you find attractive from your paintings. I also don't want to hear that from your poetry, I don't want to hear that from your novel, I don't want to hear that from you while talking to you at work, I don't want to hear it from you at a fundraising event, I don't want to hear it from you literally ever. The visual arts are just a small part of the list of ways I don't want you to use to tell me what sort of women you want to fuck, and a small part of the list of ways I have been forced over the years to listen to that kind of bullshit.

"Art" does not cover up the fact that you don't need to be dragging the general public into your hangups about women. If you need to process that kind of thing, do it with a therapist.
posted by Sequence at 8:21 PM on April 20, 2018 [16 favorites]


paintings of mountains don't make women think they're worthless unless they're naked every time they look at them.

I mean - neither do nudes for everyone? Like, I actually love and frequently feel empowered by female nudes if the artist is skilled enough. I think it’s easy for a guy to just be painting cheesecake, but the good nudes are the one that take something of the quality of being nude, of being naked before a stranger or naked before an intimate for hours and hours, the emotions playing across face and body. Even “lady draped on silk sheet” is watching the artist and feeling her feels while the artist studies her for 20 hours or so. It’s way different than a photograph- and both more and less sexual, depending on the pose and the feels the person is feeling.

I mean, I would also be interested in male nudes, they just don’t speak to me as personally. But I don’t feel I’m worthless when I look at female nude art but rather the reverse. Unless it’s shitty art produced for titillation which actually has very little to do with nude-or-not. There are a ton of fantasy covers with girls in chainmail that are technically clothed but far more cheesecakey than a well done nude oil.
posted by corb at 9:01 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


The question for me in a sense is - are we far enough gone, as a society, from any sort of sane balance that it makes sense to prioritise some concerns over others. I would personally posit that with regard to sexism (no comment intended on other - isms) we absolutely are. Our society is so fucked with regard to gender representation and the objectification and sexualisation of the female body that I do think a cogent argument can be made that it would be beneficial for society as a whole to step back from engaging with this sort of art for a period (even if there are individuals who enjoy it for non problematic reasons) in order to restore some sort of balance or context where s subjects like this can be engaged without the problematic context from which it is utterly inseparable today.
posted by Dysk at 12:55 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


(And that means getting rid* of the porny chainmail shit, and the car mag covers, etc, etc, as well as the oil painting nudes, until such a time as the difference is globally self-evident enough to not need elucidating - which is a rather different world to this one.)

*Not burning or destroying or anything - just like, taking temporarily (which may mean a long damn time) taking out of circulation until the context which it in aggregate both embodies and creates is no longer dominant, and the works can be evaluated apart from that context.)
posted by Dysk at 12:59 AM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Should a woman have the agency to decide for herself whether to pose nude?

Should a worker have the agency to take a job for less than minimun wage?

Individual agency is not the only concern that exists, and historically, we've been happy to balance it against other concerns until comparatively recent history, where a liberal/libertarian obsession with individual choice has taken over and made it difficult for a lot of people to see that, much as society has obligations to us, we have obligations to society. Social issues can require a society wide response, where examining the issue on the level of the individual can never yield any result except conservation of the status quo.
posted by Dysk at 1:04 AM on April 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

1. No matter how much I might agree with someone's politics, I am always mistrustful of anyone who wants to dictate what subject matter is and is not appopriate for artists. I tend to be more mistrustful if I agree with someone's politics actually, because the temptation to allow either government censorship or the de facto equivalent acheived through social/economic pressures is even greater when I agree with the underlying cause. It's a good idea to remember that whatever rhetorical strategies work really well for my side will one day be employed by my political opponents and we know what both political and social censorship around this very subject matter looks like and it was ultimately oppressive to the very people it purported to protect.

2. Just because one can't imagine a scenario in which a male artist painting a female nude might communicate anything new, revelatory or meaningful doesn't mean it can't happen. That imaginative leap is, in fact, precisely what we rely on artists for.

3. There will always be people whose interest in a subject matter as either an artist or a spectator is problematic - like the white kids who giggled at Huckleberry Finn's and/or Flava Flav's use of the N word when I was in highschool but I'm glad I live in a world where Huck Finn & Public Enemy exist.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:44 AM on April 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


4. I'm currently in Italy and have looked at a lot of Medieval and Renaissance art, which includes male and female nudes, but only after there was a renewed interest in Classical literature and art that shifted depictions of humans away from the iconic toward what we would call realism. The depictions of women that seem most oppressive are actually the older, iconic art, because they obviously depict an idealized idea of women as unnaturally chaste and without any sexuality at all. Mary is never shown pregnant for example, and barely looks human, and her infant child is depicted as a tiny hobbit-sized man - as if to obscure the fact that her body was in any way involved in his gestation and birth.

It's also illuminating to see the differences in beauty standards. Both the women and the men who are not saints or mythic figures tend to be what we'd call "plus size." Even some of the characters from mythology are plumper and rounder than we display as attractive in our media. The only characters that look like our definition of "healthy" or "sexy" are the saints - sculpted and painted as having no body fat because they're ascetics which was a sign of holiness. Holy people starved themselves as part of their religious practice. You can see Christ's sixpack when he's dying on the cross because he's depicted as a holy man who denied himself the pleasures of food.

Of course the ability to steer artistic culture such that one sees no nudes for hundreds of years required the kind of control over society that the Catholic church wielded for years via a mostly oppressive rule that required violence, fear, and mass illiteracy. I'm not sure how we'd get to a place where we could enforce "no men painting female nudes" but I can't think of anyone, myself included, I'd trust with that power.

Finally, the meaning that's made from art changes over time with the shifts in who's viewing it. No one in 13th century Florence would have even had the thoughts I had while looking at dozens of Marys on dozens of devotional altarpieces. There's shortcomings and oddities about our culture we can't even see that will be of interest to people 700 years from now, provided the human species survives that long.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:04 AM on April 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


I was thinking about paintings of women by men, and then I was thinking about a particularly iconic one and how unusual it actually is - Otto Dix's portrait of Silvia von Harden, a German journalist of the Weimar period. You've seen it - it's the one where a thin, dark-haired woman with a monocle sits at a table holding a cigarette, and she's wearing a checked red and black shift.

It seems to me to be a very unusual painting, even an unusual painting for Dix, since it's a portrait of a named woman in public, depicted neither as a mother nor a sex worker nor as an anonymous portrait head.

It made me think about several things about the way the art history of about the late 18th -20th centuries tends to appear in museums:

1. The social conditions that create naked lady paintings rather than naked man paintings - to wit, women's economic vulnerability. If women have less access to public waged work than men, the private/scandalous work of being an artist's model (which was private/scandalous until, oh, probably the 20s at least) is going to be more appealing.

2. How - prior to maybe the women surrealists - radical it is to depict women working. Or really, even mothering, as Cassatt does. There is a class angle on this - it's not like you see tons of pictures of working class men working. But you do see some, and you see lots and lots of portraits of men in a bourgeois work context. Dix paints some, in fact.

3. The women workers you see are mostly sex workers or women whose work is considered dangerously close to sex work, like Degas's opera dancers. It's extremely weird to look at all those ballet pastel pictures of opera girls, now considered so sweet and innocent, and think of what unspeakably hard and vulnerable lives those women led. As time has passed, the exploitative nature of their work has gotten naturalized, so that we think "oooh, pretty lady" rather than "oh, woman at huge risk of syphilis or burning to death in her stage muslin, woman who would have been despised by respectable society and at risk of an early death".

4. Which kind of takes me to mythology - naked or semi-naked women painted to represent the nation, or ancient Greece or whatever. I always think of Waterhouse's Circe and how little her actual power is a subject of the painting.

~~~
Why I'm tired of naked lady paintings generally is because women do not exist primarily as naked ladies, and there's a huge dearth of interest in and depiction of other aspects of women's lives.

It's not that art exists primarily to be a point for point representation of the world, but it is very striking that men are considered worthy subjects in all kinds of contexts and women are considered worthy subjects in very few - hence why Dix's portrait of von Harden stands out so much.

When I was thinking about these pieces, I was looking up male artists who painted nudes that I found interesting, and I was looking up . Larry Rivers. There is this Larry Rivers painting at the MIA that I just love, or at least loved, and I'd always thought of him as someone who painted naked people really well and expressively. When I was reading a bit more about him, I found that he had produced sexually abusive film of his two daughters, over their objections and without their consent, and that this had been extremely destructive for both of them. He claimed that it was just "about bodies" and not abusive or creepy, and indeed intended to show it - but it was film where he coerced them, over many years, to get naked for the camera. He filmed their bodies, especially their breasts, made commentary and tried to coerce commentary out of them. It's extremely gross.

And I just feel like this is sort of an extension of the idea that women's bodies are this centrally worthwhile subject for art - that what the women want doesn't matter, that the coercive power of family and financial support don't matter.

I feel really grossed out and angry now, because even if I wanted to continue to look at Larry Rivers's paintings, I would always see them in the light of this sexual assault of his children.

On the one hand I could be "all art about women's bodies is political, painting naked women is always political, Rivers's coerced filming of his daughters can productively be read through a political lens and tells us something important". On the other, I'd just like people to see women as more than just things to get naked as much as possible.
posted by Frowner at 5:05 AM on April 21, 2018 [25 favorites]


I mean, I agree with eustacescrubb that the meaning of depictions of women changes over time, but because women were relatively rarely painted by women prior to what, the late 19th century maybe?, and because paintings by women artists of the past were often within male-determined commercial networks, and because paintings by women artists have been shut away and neglected, those depictions have still almost always been in the context of what men want to say about women and by means of women's bodies.

There's more going on than just "I, an individual male artist, am sexually exploiting women for my own personal ends", because that's not how artists' lives have generally gone, the I-freak-the-mundanes individualist artist is a modern invention, etc, but it's not absent.
posted by Frowner at 5:45 AM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


the meaning of depictions of women changes over time, but because women were relatively rarely painted by women prior to what, the late 19th century

Yeah I think this was what I was driving at: if we take care of stuff like freedom, justice, education, then art will follow in due course. Rather than trying to delimit what kind of art people are allowed to make, our time will probably be more productively spent making a society where women have more control over their lives, economic situations and political realities. Art will follow suit on its own.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:03 AM on April 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


Art will follow suit on its own

There are a lot of women in art who are, like Cory Booker suggested, bending the arc of history towards justice because it ain’t gonna bend itself.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


bending the arc of history towards justice because it ain’t gonna bend itself.

And well they should; I was responding specifically to the idea that we should delimit the subject matter allowable to artists based on gender.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2018


I'm remembering an anecdote I've told on MeFi before:

The scene is an open gallery artwalk night in the Santa Ana arts village. I can't remember the name of the building, but it was the lofts and studios right across from the Santora to the west.

Some older artist friends I know are hosting a live drawing class. (Read: Sit around and drink wine, bullshit, play artist-in-a-zoo and muck about with charcoal and pastels.) These are classically trained and accomplished artists and painters, all Latino and/or Hispanic. One of them is a Mexico City University Art School graduate in his mid to late 60s and an accomplished designer, typographer, muralist, painter and practicing architect named Sergio O'Cadiz. I have yet to meet anyone else so talented, storied and accomplished and been able to call them a friend, and I've met a lot of interesting people. He makes the "World's Most Interesting Man" beer advert look like a cardboard cut out - Sergio was the real deal and he knew it.

One of the other artists that I remember is Kalim, and if I'm remembering correctly he was from El Salvador. While not as classically trained and schooled as Sergio, he was an amazing illustrator and oil painter as well as folk artist. He also played classical, flamenco and folk guitar.

One of the other artists was my friend Stephanie, who was from Prague, also an accomplished illustrator, painter and modern visual artist and had the most disturbing and/or playful ideas for projects. There was another woman doing sketches who I didn't know. So it's a pretty diverse gender, age and race crowd.

The studio they're in was one of the unused ones, so just old rough wood floors and plaster and lathe walls, sparsely furnished. Just a couple of chairs, a bench, a table for the wine and cheese, and half a dozen artists. A pastiche of an art studio - but not. It's as real as it gets.

And so they're doing life study drawing from memory, not a life model. There's nudes of both male and female forms. There's studies of knurled old hands. Closeups of eyes and mouths. Torsos. Arms. Buttocks and backs and shoulders.

The artists are doing demonstrations, showing people how to draw basic forms and rough shapes and fill in details, how you can make a huge mess and sculpt a drawing like clay and make and correct mistakes.

And as the art walk evening progresses sketches are taped to the walls.

At some point later in the evening when the crowds had died off, a suburban, WASPy family walks in with a boy of about 10-12 years old. His eyes light up and he blurts "BOOBIES! BOOBIES!" and his mom gasps, covers his eyes and wrestles him out the door.

We all laugh - a little sadly - and go back to having our conversation.

30 second later as if on cue another family walks in, this time Latino or Hispanic, also with about a 10-12 year old boy. I'd guess from their clothes they were locals in Santa Ana, blue collar.

This kid's eyes also light up, and says "Woaaaah! I want to learn how to draw like that!" and the whole room busts out laughing, and we have to explain to them what just happened and why what they said was so funny. And so they gave him some paper and charcoal and some lessons, and they hung out for a while.

I am obviously strongly in favor of more of the latter and less of the former.

Granted, I've also been wrestling with the idea I've been really lucky, innocent and naive to a lot of horrible things in and out of the art world, so YMMV.
posted by loquacious at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


I was responding specifically to the idea that we should delimit the subject matter allowable to artists based on gender.

You do realize that there are no squads of Art Police going around wrenching paintbrushes out of artists' paint-smeared hands if they're painting "unallowed" subject matter, yes? This is a theoretical and philosophical discussion which may or may not change individual artists' thinking about the subjects they want to paint and how they want to paint them.
posted by Lexica at 11:41 AM on April 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


That's cool, but please don't act like censorship is a childish boogieman that Can't Happen Here.
Not in these times.
posted by bongo_x at 12:02 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is a theoretical and philosophical discussion which may or may not change individual artists' thinking about the subjects they want to paint and how they want to paint them.

Yes; I'm saying that instead of spending our energy on that theoretical discussion, which will arm and empower both our enemies and the most totalitarian-leaning members of our own political persuasion without actually accomplishing its ostensible goal and very likely being used to make things worse for women, we should spend our time and energy building a more just, more free, more inclusive, less sexist society. If we do that, we will get more men who ask themselves questions about the motives behind thier artisitic choices, and we will also probably get a few men who paint female nudes in such a way that surprises us how non-sexist their work is.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:03 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think it should be noted that the conversation here about this problem is pretty surface level and if we are accomplishing anything at all here then we are investigating misogyny and the female nude in art in order to better understand our personal relationship to art from a more informed perspective than maybe we had before.

From an “actually educated in the arts and married to a very successful creative activist getting her MFA” perspective, I can say the use of intersectional feminism as a tool to effect radical change in the institutions and norms of art has quite a bit of passion and support and effort behind it and most certainly could use a shit load more.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:23 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


I meant affect and I missed the edit window and now I feel embarrassed lol.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:31 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


You do realize that there are no squads of Art Police going around wrenching paintbrushes out of artists' paint-smeared hands if they're painting "unallowed" subject matter, yes?

Really. Counterpoint.


I mean, you have to acknowledge that this is eminently doable. If Google decided to write an algorithm to automatically delete every link and reference to nudes created by male artists, or even suspend the account of any person who possess pictures of female nudes, they could. I mean sure there would be an uproar, but it would probably settle down after a few weeks, after Bing and DuckDuckGo follow their lead.

It's worth pointing out that we've been there before. Attitudes about permissible art have changed drastically over the last 60 years, they could change again. The question to ask is, if it ends behavior we don't like, would that be justifiable?
posted by happyroach at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Google is going to destroy anyone's ability to go to an art museum or gallery? The links we're talking about here involve physical art pieces and the institutions that display and promote them.
posted by agregoli at 7:45 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I really, really think that the "what if the internet took our nudes-by-men" question is a straw question, sort of like "what if Trump imposed martial law on day one". Just like that question, it's a question that speaks to a lot of people's perfectly legit fears and philosophical concerns, and just like that question it has elements of truth - there really are bursts of puritan censorship on the internet and Trump really has escalated violence that was already happening. I'm drawing this parallel in particular because both of these questions seem to provoke a lot of anxieties among mefites whose politics I share.

But I want to say that both those questions are the wrong question (and I'm going to discuss only the art one going forward) because they do not take into account the actual material conditions with which we live.

First, even a generalized "we are going to take away All Pictures of Nude Women Because Nude Women are Bad" initiative isn't going to happen. It's not going to happen because it would put big corporations at odds with big corporations - the porn industry and the fashion industry, plus large parts of the regular movie industry. There will never be "no nudes on the internet".

The censorship of porn and pictures of naked women have been either censorship of free pictures of porn (see!) or censorship of feminist depictions of bodies, like photos of women nursing. What has not happened and will never happen is some kind of stand between men (and other people, really) who want to spend money on naked pictures and the naked pictures. The naked lady industry is far too large and powerful for this to happen, Handmaid's Tale aside.

The censorship of naked lady pictures by men specifically will especially never happen (even given the technology) and I think that the fact that this question even arises speaks to a lot of people's deep seated or unconscious fears of feminism. Google and Facebook are not feminist. They have active histories of anti-feminism. They censor women's images of their own bodies, not sexist images.

Unless there is literally a conservative feminist revolution like a Handmaid's Tale in reverse such that conservative feminists control the internet, this will not happen. And unless you all know something that I don't, conservative feminists are not massing in the hills with heavy artillery.

Even if somehow Google were like, "capitalism continues on its merry way, except that we are going to prevent anyone from looking at jpegs of naked women depicted by men, and we are going to devote the enormous amount of time and money needed to make this happen", what do you think the public response would be? And how ridiculous would Google look? Google is never, ever going to put itself in a position where they are yanking back young women's pre-Raphaelite wallpaper or every use of Dejeuner sur l'Herbe. This is not going to happen.

It's like that joke about Queen Victoria, where it's, "If you say that the ghost of Victoria appeared to Churchill on the eve of [some important battle] I will be agnostic, but if you tell me that when Victoria was introduced to [important foreign dignitary] she slapped him on the back and offered him a cigar I'll call you a liar". There are all kinds of censorship issues that I believe could come up on the internet, but there are some that just aren't going to happen.
posted by Frowner at 9:48 AM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


Big corporations are very happy to hassle the porn industry. Banks and venture capitalists refuse to give them loans; credit card companies can refuse to process payments or charge 5 times the normal rate; adult entertainers can be denied even having a personal bank account. (See here.)

It's also a bit strange to say that censorship will never happen when it did happen, fifty years ago, under this same capitalist country. Porn existed, of course, but it was driven underground. The UK, right now, is planning restrictions on Internet porn— you won't be able to see it unless you provide an ID and credit card.

Maybe most people watch porn— but they don't admit it on surveys, and they don't vote based on it. Only 39% of US people say they'd oppose restrictions on porn.
posted by zompist at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm deeply confused by how we've gotten from "maybe we need fewer men whose artistic subject centers around female nudes, particularly female nudes whom they find attractive" towards "GOOGLE IS COMING FOR OUR PORN!"

Porn ain't High Art, at least not in the context we're talking about.* Hell, in this case, the subject of female nudes is notable for being not porn, in the sense that the dudes who are painting them ostensibly are doing so to say something deeper than "mmm, gets my rocks off." That's why this art, the art under discussion, is not labeled, consumed, or sold as porn; why it's not subject to porn's obscenity laws or regulation; why it's free of any policing attributed to porn.

This is not me saying that I'm in favor of more policing for porn. This is me saying that porn is not the subject at hand, and no matter what questions we ask about the art world centering male artists who focus on nudes while ignoring or marginalizing both female artists and artists working on male nudes, no one is coming for your damn skin mags as a direct result.

I'm sort of astonished at the level of derailing happening here.

*There's a great argument to be made about this. It is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, though, which is that we're talking about art that is generally considered not porn.
posted by sciatrix at 4:03 PM on April 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


It really is fascinating to me just how many discussions that start off about women and their objectification end up as discussions about the pressing need for imagined men to jack off. It’s like Godwin’s law, but for masturbation.
posted by sockermom at 5:50 PM on April 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


I know, right? Like, god forbid we even talk about the fact that art's historical and modern focus on men painting/photographing/sculpting naked ladies is kind of weird and problematic, and that maybe it would be nice if dudes went away and focused on something else for a bit or maybe we looked at female artists' perspectives for a while when we're talking about art qua art.

God forbid we talk about that, because what if some hypothetical guy's porn got ganked from under him?!?!
posted by sciatrix at 5:57 PM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


we should spend our time and energy building a more just, more free, more inclusive, less sexist society

Challenging sexist culture - like art, for example - is very much part of how we do that.
posted by Dysk at 3:21 AM on April 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


Challenging sexist culture

Totally, but that's a very different activity from working to prohibit, either via censorship or some other means, artists from making art about certain subjects based on gender.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:32 AM on April 23, 2018


Tell me: why is it that "let's pay less attention to this particular topic and more to all other categories of art" means you are forbidden to make the art that works for you?

Why are men whose art revolves around female nudes entitled to an audience? Why is this such a hard concept for you?
posted by sciatrix at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Because any diminishment of privilege, like going from having a guaranteed audience to having to work to find one, feels like an attack when you’ve never had to even think about the consequences of your work before.
posted by harriet vane at 7:40 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Or even more mildly, in line with the original article: "let's think about why this particular dyad of artist and subject have been so central to all High Art history?"

Why is that so threatening to you and others in this discussion? When we say "let us think about how to critically consume this art, keeping that bias of subject and artist in mind," why does that read in the minds of so many people as "let us prevent you from making the art you like"?

I'm so angry about this, in part because my art is such that I don't expect anything to come from it aside from it pleasing me and perhaps a few other people, caught by chance. It exists for pleasure. There is nothing wrong with that--but it does make me wonder why other people think that they are entitled to a ready-made audience without having to get out and work for it.

It makes me wonder why a member of the audience for art, saying "I'm uncomfortable with the lopsided focus in professional art circles and tradition on presumedly- and avowedly-straight men forming Art around the gaze of straight men upon nude women, often enough upon nude sex workers in the context of their time and history. Can we widen up that privileged position to other artists and subjects?" is apparently tantamount to walking up to any given artist creating something that pleases him or her to consume and saying "you can't make the things that give you joy."

No one is slapping your paints or your cameras or your sculptor's tools out of your hands, boys, any more than they're coming for your fucking skin mags. This isn't a discussion about any specific artist; it's a discussion from one audience member to another about the aggregate of centuries, an argument for consuming more variety than we have before. If you lose your audience because audience members are thinking about consuming more perspectives, your art was never that compelling to begin with, was it?

Was it?

Is that the fear?
posted by sciatrix at 7:48 AM on April 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


When I was thinking about these pieces, I was looking up male artists who painted nudes that I found interesting, and I was looking up . Larry Rivers. There is this Larry Rivers painting at the MIA that I just love, or at least loved, and I'd always thought of him as someone who painted naked people really well and expressively. When I was reading a bit more about him, I found that he had produced sexually abusive film of his two daughters, over their objections and without their consent, and that this had been extremely destructive for both of them. He claimed that it was just "about bodies" and not abusive or creepy, and indeed intended to show it - but it was film where he coerced them, over many years, to get naked for the camera. He filmed their bodies, especially their breasts, made commentary and tried to coerce commentary out of them. It's extremely gross.

And I just feel like this is sort of an extension of the idea that women's bodies are this centrally worthwhile subject for art - that what the women want doesn't matter, that the coercive power of family and financial support don't matter.


To extend that example further, the Larry Rivers Foundation owned that film after his death. His daughters asked the Foundation to destroy the film in 2008, but were refused. When the organization sold his art collection to New York University in 2010, the film was included. Rivers' daughters then demanded that the film be returned to them.

Initially, NYU agreed -- at the foundation’s request -- to keep the material from the public while his daughters were alive. They then decided against accepting the film as part of the collection. But as far as I know, the Foundation has never returned it to his daughters. Even though the films are of their bodies and were taken against their will when they were children (which in any other circumstance would be clearly acknowledged as child pornography and child abuse,) they have no right to it. What his daughters, his victims want doesn't matter. It never has -- not to their parents, the art world or the Foundation.

Children who are sexual abuse survivors often don't get a day in court. They don't see justice done against the people who mistreated them. But Rivers' daughters' situation must be its own awful kind of hell.
posted by zarq at 8:11 AM on April 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


Totally, but that's a very different activity from working to prohibit, either via censorship or some other means, artists from making art about certain subjects based on gender.
posted by eustacescrubb


Please stop this derail. It's not what the article or this discussion is about.
posted by agregoli at 8:12 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


why is it that "let's pay less attention to this particular topic and more to all other categories of art" means you are forbidden to make the art that works for you?

Firstly, the way you're phrasing it here (and the way you've framed it in your other posts above) is completely unobjectionable to me. I think encouraging art criticism and conversation that prompts arists to consider their subject matter and how particular traditions have affected and will affect the world outside art is a great idea.
But that's a very different question than the one posed by the linked article: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

That question is suggesting that we can determine for artists what is and isn't "justifiable," which, historically, when we have allowed one or another ideology to determine the content of art, has tended to result in more oppression, not less. My example above regarding medieival depictions of women as either virgins or saints whose bodies aren't even human is a good one- there, one of the lasting oppressive results of a theory-driven de facto prohibition on depicting women and women's bodies as human is the cultural tendency to see women as only children, mothers or whores. In this case the theory in question was theology. But other ideologies have tried similar things - the fascists, for example.

So, do I agree that we should be educating artists to think about their place in time and history and reflect on their motivations for the subject matter they choose, perhaps asking themselves as part of that reflection if they're the best person to approach the subject matter? Absolutely.

But do I think we'll have success, or even a more free and just society if we frame it in terms of what's "justifiable"? No, I don't.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?

That question is suggesting that we can determine for artists what is and isn't "justifiable,"


And what we've discussed here is that no, it's not a very artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman. Not any more. It's been done. It ignores many culturally significant issues as to why that is no longer an artistically justifiable pursuit. That does not intersect with censorship in any way, except if you're afraid that museums might decide to downgrade their presentation of their existing naked works and perhaps not buy as many naked works in the future - which, to me, is a lovely trip into So-The-Fuck-What-Land.

Men can continue to paint whatever the hell they want. They may not be as RESPECTED if they only paint naked women. That's not censorship.
posted by agregoli at 8:22 AM on April 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


That question is suggesting that we can determine for artists what is and isn't "justifiable," which, historically, when we have allowed one or another ideology to determine the content of art, has tended to result in more oppression, not less.

I mean, this reads like you are proposing this potential cultural shift (I am not convinced enough people even care about this issue for it to BE a cultural shift yet) could oppress men, which, honestly, is so ridiculous as to be depressing as all get out.
posted by agregoli at 8:24 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


could oppress men

I mean yeah I guess you can get that from what I wrote if you ignore the example I keep referring to which is very specifically about ways in which women were oppressed by thinking very much like this and which I refer to immediately below the bit you quoted, but ok.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:10 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


So...yeah, not sure how you weren't suggesting the opposite, then, which is that men could be oppressed instead.
posted by agregoli at 9:35 AM on April 23, 2018


huh? My point all along has been that this sort of approach backfires and that, historically, when societies favor ideology over freedom, it's women who suffer.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:39 AM on April 23, 2018


OH, so you're saying that women encouraging this cultural shift are doing something that when done by men traditionally hurts women, so if we want this, we will be hurting ourselves? That feels threatening! Oh well, I guess we'll have to advocate for women anyway, since I don't give a shit about vague worries of censorship against literally thousands of years of men getting their way in every avenue of life, including the art world!

The point is, no men will be "oppressed" by this cultural shift, if it indeed occurs, and we sure as hell should be encouraging this cultural shift, because we have plenty of naked women portraits already and don't need any more. It's lazy, it's been done, and women artists are underrepresented anyway in the art world, so let's focus on what they are doing and up the amount of works in museums by women artists and the subject matter that women want to present. Which is likely to not be quite so many representations of the female form from the male gaze point of view.
posted by agregoli at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


(Also, for the last time, no one is taking away a man's freedom to paint whatever he wants. Your argument is nonsensical.)
posted by agregoli at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2018


Um, no, I'm not saying any of that, or anything like it, but since you appear to be capable of having a conversation with me without my actual input, I'm clearly not needed here, and can move on to something else. If you could be so kind, do carry on letting me know what I think.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:45 AM on April 23, 2018


I wrote the conclusions I took from your comments, and it was not my intention to misrepresent you. I can't see any other way to take what you wrote. We're not talking about censoring anyone, so I literally don't know what you're talking about otherwise.
posted by agregoli at 9:48 AM on April 23, 2018


Could you both please take this conversation to memail? You can just as easily not listen to each other privately, where the rest of us don't have to watch.
posted by zarq at 9:52 AM on April 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I said my piece, you don't have to be rude about it, zarq.
posted by agregoli at 9:58 AM on April 23, 2018


I'm not being rude. You both made the last 10 comments in this thread before mine, and you're now both repeating the same points but neither of you seems to be listening to each other.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on April 23, 2018


I take accusing me of not listening as rude, for sure. I have listened as best as I could and interpreted as best as I could. And I was done with the convo when you decided to tell me I wasn't listening. I'm sure this will be deleted, but I'd appreciate it if you would assume we're all participating in good faith, because it really did hurt my feelings to be accused of otherwise.

If you have another comment about the things we're talking about, that's of course welcome.
posted by agregoli at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2018


I take accusing me of not listening as rude, for sure. I have listened as best as I could and interpreted as best as I could.

You are talking past each other. You keep accusing each other of saying something that the other has either not said or implied, or after the other person has clarified their meaning. It's happened more than once, and pointing that out is not rude. It's a plea for it to stop.

And I was done with the convo when you decided to tell me I wasn't listening.

There's no indication of this in your last comment. Which is why I said something.

I'm sure this will be deleted, but I'd appreciate it if you would assume we're all participating in good faith, because it really did hurt my feelings to be accused of otherwise.

I believe that you are commenting in good faith. I also think you are not listening to each other. One does not preclude the other.
posted by zarq at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


[Y'all just in general, yeah, let's wrap this up. I feel like we've gone from going in circles to going in circles-around-the-circles.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


So I guess the question to me isn't, "should male artists paint naked ladies" but "why can't most male artists admit that when they say they're interested in women as artistic subjects, they're really only interested in some women, eg women they'd like to bone"?

I have a very similar pet subject when it comes to discussions like this one, which is: where are the aunts?

This arose for me when I spent several years reading Victorian novels semi-professionally, and one thing I noticed was an infinity of aunts. Nice aunts, mean aunts, distant aunts, flighty aunts, aunts who seemed flinty but loved one person, aunts who made impossible demands, aunts who always had a treat for the children, invalid aunts, aunts who were obsessed with art (meta!), aunts startled by unexpected intimacy, aunts who bankrolled everything, aunts who were starving, genteel aunts who snubbed their relations in public, aunts with jobs, aunts who thought women in factories were the apocalypse, aunts who loved dogs. Aunts!

And it was only in the midst of this bevy of fictional aunts that I realized I had spent much of my life reading and watching materials, largely written and produced by men, where aunts hardly existed at all. I mean, sure, Aunt May has to be included because she’s part of the Spiderman origin story, and sometimes boozy aunts show up in holiday stories, and period pieces sometimes have them (although guess which characters are the most likely to be abridged or written out in Austen adaptations), and sometimes an upsettingly sexy aunt causes an adolescent character some confusion, but they are shockingly absent from most forms of art/film/literature, once you start looking for them.

Twitter these days has a delightful taxonomy of aunts— aunts are everywhere in real life, yet strangely apocryphal in so many of our cultural texts and our art. You’ll find the endlessly nubile young women, and you’ll find some mothers, but aunts, despite their overwhelming cultural force in so many human lives, are just oddly hard to find in most narratives, and even more so in most art.

I don’t mean this to be a derail, but it was a very unsettling realization to me, similar to what Frowner mentions above. Despite their utility (think about how many people have been half-raised or entirely raised by aunts!) and ubiquity, they are so rarely considered worthy of artistic exploration! Artists who claim to speak to the universal human experience have somehow elided the aunt from that condition, and why? Are aunts not beautiful, not elegant, not lonely, not splendid, not strange, not hilarious, not indomitable, not puzzling, not strong, not available to sit for a portrait?

The aunt’s femininity is one that is supposed to be uncoupled from desire, her figure is chimeric depending on your family and your class and your upbringing, she is doubled and tripled and quadrupled, she is three times your age and a few years younger. Where is she in your art, male bastions of genius who somehow have an endless tap of twenty-one-year-old coeds looking languid?

“But what about the aunts?” is sort of my personal Bechdel-esque thought exercise— an undeniably normal and female part of human existence that is all but invisible in our art and our entertainment and our ur-narratives. When men say “can’t we keep painting female nudes?” I think to myself, “sure, go ahead. Pick your aunt. Say something new. Do a figure study of someone who has known you since the day you were born and gives you an odd gift every other year. Explore an intimacy that is all but untouched by the masters of previous generations.” The aunt is more universal than the nymph. If you are bored by the prospect of her, then no, you probably shouldn't be painting female nudes.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2018 [26 favorites]


I would give your aunt comment more than one favorite if that were possible.

If you count great aunts, I've had quite a lot of significant aunts myself. The nice thing about the aunt relationship is that it often doesn't carry all the complex intensity of parenthood but it's still close in a familish way. If you crossed a friend with a parent, you'd get an aunt (or possibly an enemy with a parent, depending on the aunt).

There's definitely some gaiety in the mere idea of an aunt, possibly because "aunt" sounds a bit like "jaunty".
posted by Frowner at 11:26 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


It'd be awesome if people didn't construct a prude strawman to argue against every time anyone has any kind of objection to the widespread sexualisation and objectification of women. Analogising or equating all criticism to "ew boobies" insults the intelligence of your readers.
posted by Dysk at 3:27 AM on April 24, 2018


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