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'A work of art had meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded' Pier Bourdieu, 1989, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
During this essay I will be exploring the question, is postmodern feminism ignoring its original origins in feminism, but still changing traditional tastes and values of our current culture?
This question derives from an on-going look into the feminist movement, from its humble origins to its transformative victories and it's still relevant struggles. I hope to carry through and elaborate on ideas and theories I have already formed, which first brought to my attention the origins and concepts of feminism. Within my critical research, my main arguments and views were centred on the taste and values of our current society and culture and the changes that had been made by feminism, it also brought in the movement of feminist art and the historical understanding of feminism movement and theology. While looking at these issues I applied the theories of Piere Bourdieu and his take on the constructs of codes within art and how this informs our views on the worth of art and our fundamental tastes and values corresponding to art and culture though, I have now expanded; citing views on feminist historical analysis with Griselda Pollock, TJ Clark, then continuing with critiques from authors such as Linda Nochlin, Rosemary Betterton, Wolff, Jones, Grosz, Nead, Kuspit, Rideal, and sources from Jonathan Harris, Meskimmon, and Linda Nochlin's Women, Art and Power and other essays.
Are contemporary and modern works of art, showing more female empowering depictions of women, redefining our tastes and values as a mass, or are the more traditional and male dominated codes of taste and values still excluding these works of art from reaching a more prestigious value of recognition in the art community and still creating a deficit in art history where the female artist has for so long been kept at bay, disvaluing their work and concepts within art. Throughout this discussion I want to explore the meaning of the social understanding of the terms gender applies to each sex, and how gender and the female nude has impacted the constructs of the female identity within art and critical history, and the codes we use to view these Feminine female forms and nudes throughout art practices. I then hope to elaborate on my own concept that maybe the social movement of feminism has given us new codes and approaches to gender that we now apply to new depictions of the female form. Though as the traditional feminist movement stalls within contemporary society and the postmodern movement envelops cultural and sociological theory as well as the current ideology of feminism, does the postmodern version of feminism still push the patriarchal codes of the past, or has the movement lost its core origins and opted for a more self-preservative outlook into the issues of gender, forgetting the masses.
While exploring these issues I will be drawing my main understanding on how we first view and understand these works of art, or be it in these cases the representations of the feminine female form, nude and the lack of inclusion of women within critical history discourse, from the theories of the Peire Bourdieu and his principals of habitus and the constraints of cultural and economic capital. I will then correspond this basic understanding of taste, and look into the argument for the evolution of feminism into postmodern feminism, and how this has changed how we view the physical female form, and why we are still debating the nature of difference between the concepts of naked and nude -using Eduorad Manet's painting Olympia to do so- the constraints and fear of the overemphasized question of gender and gender priority within artwork that has been produced within this century and finally correlating these discussions with the evolution of art history discourse and the effect second wave feminism had on the exclusion policy that made up the foundation of art history writing in the modern era.
Throughout this discussion I will bring in both academic and public opinion through extensive research, and a questionnaire that spans the divides of the codes Piere Bourdieu has set about to section off the masses from truly understanding the concepts of 'high art', focusing on the differences expressed through a range of class, economic power, educational resource and understanding, and the main divider which diminishes the former mentioned, age.
This theory of codes was first identified as a concept for reading art and the separation from the general masses and those who understood art, was put forward by Piere Bourdieu, who theorised on the basis that our understanding of art and the determination between 'high' and 'low' art was achieved by 'habitus' or the 'feel for the game'. This can be broken down into several different factors, focusing on the statement that there is no true and innocent eye when reading art, that we all come to the table with already formed views on taste and values, and these preconceived views were formed from our 'habitus'. 'Habitus' broke down into; your social upbringing, your gender, your schooling, your class, and the already formed views of your teacher, be them your parents, friends, colleagues, or education. Also your ability to read such 'codes' within art was again varied by two others factors; Cultural Capital and Economic Capital. These 3 factors were building blocks on which we all learnt the codes of art and what is deemed 'high' art, thou they are also what exclude the mass majority from these codes, as they do not either possess cultural capital or economic capital, enabling them to fully appreciate the art on the same levels as those who do and have learned the greatly needed codes in order to decipher the work of art.
'Representations enter our collective social understanding, constituting our sense of ourselves, the positions we take up in the world, and the possibilities we see for action in it.' Lisa Tickner, 1984, Difference: On Representation and Sexuality.
In a creative environment ideas and perceptions of 'high' and 'low' art are now beginning to be viewed as the products of a system which held hierarchical values as its corner stone, which were created and established by a powerful and undeniable cultural, social and economic elite. During this period of history men controlled and dominated these elite. They inhabited every aspect of art acting as critics, artists, curators, patrons and creators and benefactors of art institutions and the main consumers of the arts. This complete historical exclusion and totalitarian grip upon the art world, those men once held has led to claims that the traditional codes and values used to evaluate art work to the standing of 'high' art and appraise it are historically and still very much currently biased against the female gender. It was also these traditions that created the concept of exclusion towards women in all 'high' aspects of education, art and deemed women unworthy to be recorded in the academic histories of the time. It is this idea of exclusion within art and academic history during modern time that has had many theorists such as Pollock and Linda Nochlin, on the back of second wave feminism of the 1970-80s and revival in 1990s, write about the changing of the discourse of feminism and feminine critique and analytical study.
Gender in itself is merely a concept created by social denominations to set boundaries and attributes for each sex, to create distinguishable differences between the masculine and the feminine. The traditional polarization of these two genders shows a vast imbalance of power in all aspects of life. Historically these polarizations of these two genders has seen the male as an ever changing creature, thou one thing had remained throughout, that the male gender holds the power, both physically, economically, socially and culturally. The male has been the creator of meaning, understanding and arbitrator of social standing order and construct. Where the female has been placed in the role of 'the bearer of meaning' and historically become little more than property to the male and thus the outward expression of the male's wealth, leisure and prestige within society, though the females themselves as individuals are never the possessors of these attributes. A study done by Wagner contributes to the point above, agreeing to an extent that women, through both art and historical discourse are excluded due to their gender, elaborating on the modern movement of women artist she chooses to apply case studies to, artist such as Georgia O'Keeffe. Wagner's aim through a series of case studies was to examine how gender becomes an 'actively determinant factor in the production and reception of art'
Wagner also suggests 'the social and professional experience of women who make art, as well as the forms their art takes; they require both public and private negotiation of the roles of women and wife, as well as that of the artist; they shape the various means used to claim authorship or voice or identity in a work of art, as well as the value placed on that art in the public realm' Source: Jonathan Harris, The New Art History, 2001
Chapter 2: Brief history of feminism.
Throughout history women have felt the need to question the inequalities they face on a daily basis and have sought out the reasons for their oppression and how we are to understand, and the challenges that have been made to this is in the past. If a woman's role could be proved to be a product of social construction within a specific historical context and discourse, rather than universal and natural, then feminists could quite easily argue that it was open to change.
Female academics and activists within one of the first created and organised women's movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries discovered that women were extensively absent and ignored within standard history texts and art history discourse, this motivated and empowered them to write their own histories to combat the exclusion of the male dominated academic arena. Detailed studies of women's political views and activities, work and involvement within trade unions were commented on by authors such as Barbara Hutchins, Barbara Drake and Alice Clark
But with the break down and fragmentation of many of the women's movement after the First World War, these pioneering histories tended to be lost from view or remained unendorsed by any academic collective. But though this came as a setback for women's history and recognition for what women had achieved within the historical context, Women's history continued to be written. Then however there was a renewed interest for the importance of women to be recognised within history, for example, the history of women's suffrage during the 1950s and early 60s became a spark to reignite interest, but once again these studies had little influence on the male dominated writing of history and again was more generally refused on to the academic curriculum. But these initial tries opened the door to how we now see art history written for a feminist critique by the female author Linda Nochlin.
Then it wasn't until the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM), or 'second wave feminism', which occurred in the late 1960s, that women's history really started to create a great impact on historical discourse within mainstream academia. Political and academic activists again alluded to the lack of references to women in standard texts and called for the re-discovery of women's active roles in the past.
A context was then produced by on-going developments in social sciences and the social history of the time that sought to recover the history of the perceived less powerful groups, which coined the phrase - 'history from below' - and challenged the traditional and conventional ideas about what should be seen. The Feminists movement made some distinctive contributions to these developments by bringing to light women's specific and sole experiences in institutions such as Marriage and family, drawing attention to the significance of sexual and gender divisions in places such as the workplace, the home and educational system exploring the interlinked connections on the private and public life. Sheila Rowbotham produced a ground breaking study, Hidden from History, that was then followed up by a detailed investigations into the many varied aspects of women's lives, this included employment, family life, trade unionism, sexuality, and women's organisations.
So by looking at history through the eyes of women many began questioning familiar chronologies and ideas of time arguing that emotional support, family concerns and personal relationships were equally as important as politics and waged work. So by doing this they went beyond simply putting women back into a familiar framework and began to challenge and restructure the way in which history in the widest sense was written and is considered historically significant. The immediate task then after 1970 though was the absolute need to rectify the holes in historical knowledge which had been created by the continuous exclusion and omission of women of all cultures and classes from the history of art. The singular dominion of women artists was in that time the basement or storeroom of a national gallery.
The continuing shock of discovering that there had been any type of women artists at all, and in fact so many, and such interesting ones was a seen as a pleasant recurrence. Evidence of women's uninterrupted and continuous contributions to the fine arts is still the fundamental corner stone in exposing the canon's gender bias and selective nature. " Tradition remains the tradition with the women in their own special, separated compartments, or added as politically correct supplements", Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories, Griselda Pollock 1999 Routlege.
In the discourse of art history women artists can be considered an oxymoron, a perplexing addition, only now available in our post-feminist time. Though, as the phrase 'Old Mistress', first applied, 1972 by Ann Gabhart and Elizabeth Broun, suggested, the omission of women is deemed more than a small oversight. Showing clearly that the phrase "Old Master" carries far more academic weight and context than "Old Mistress" ever could, due to the traditional codes of art during that time and the fundamental understanding of exclusion still holding sway in the critical historical sphere.
The problem we now face though is structurally, it would be impossible to allow excluded women artists like Artemisia Gentileschi or Adelaide Labille-Guiard to just be re-admitted to the historical discourse it would lead to an expanded canon, without inherent misunderstanding of their artistic legacy or face a radical change to the very concept the canon creates as the discourse which has sanctioned the art we should study. The canon is politically 'in the masculine' as well as culturally 'of the masculine'. ref: Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories, Griselda Pollock 1999 Routlege.
AdélaÃ¯de Labille-Guiard (French, 1749-1803), Oil on canvas, 83 x 59 1/2 in. (210.8 x 151.1 cm), self-portrait with two female pupils.
During the 18th century only 2 female students a year were allowed within the French art academy, one such of these few female students was Adelaide Labille-Guiard, who attended the academy in 1783, during her time at the academy she was forced to prove her talent by painting portraits of each of the male examiners while the remaining were present. This belief of disvalue in female practice was a normal occurrence and greatly adhered to the original concepts of the female gender coding.
This painting by Adelaide Labille-Guiard is an self-portrait with two female pupils. The painting is one of her earlier works and was painted in oils, a widely appraised material of the time, and has many characteristics of her early training in the French academy; it boasts rich and sumptuous colours and shows great detail, fine and elegant. But though this painting does adhere to the traditional gender roles and ideas of femininity, as depicted with the use of the fine and extravagant dress she asserts her femininity, and the air of leisure and comfort in her position and chair, but many now believe this painting to be a work of propaganda, urging the academy to equalise opportunities for females to come and be educated. This idea can be backed up with certain aspects of the coding with inside the painting, and in my opinion one of the first uses of female empowering coding within a piece of art work. Within the composition she has placed what we can now identify as feminist moods and she has done this by quite obviously made her pupils female, drawing the viewer's mind towards the idea of females being perceived as students. Thus it may be seen as acceptable maybe even possible to allow females to be taught, also within the painting can be seen, a statue of the vestal virgin completing the feminist moods. This painting, though still keeping with traditional gender codes in some respects is one of the first to use intentional feminist ideologies of equality for both sexes, at least in the studio. Though the feminist movement did not appear in the form we now know it today until the turn of the 20th century we can see the beginnings of a changing taste, hidden beneath and in plain sight of the traditional codes and those who created them.
Postmodern feminism is considered to have been conceived and coined around the early 1980s with the creation of the term post-feminism, which in fact takes a critical look at the many various feminist theories of the past, paying close attention to those from the second wave of feminism. This new view of feminism has also happened to coincide with the third-wave feminism, happening during the 1990s. Postmodern feminist thought has challenged and decided to avoid the conventional definitions of femininity that was produced during the modern feminism period. The existentialist view on women which was established by the modern period, argued that "one is not born a woman, but becomes one" and thus shifts the focus on to the social and cultural construction of women by a system with had been historically male dominated. But on the other hand postmodern feminism has often tried to break the bonds tying it to this thinking which overemphasized the experience of upper middle-class white women in Great Britain. According to the thinking that originates in postmodern feminism "woman" is a bias, ever changing and debatable category, convoluted and complicated by class, age, sexual prerogative, ethnicity, education, social standing and economic power, which in our current society creates identity, though echoing the complications for the mass viewer of art through the theory of habitus. Therefore gender is an act or a performance based on our natural heterosexuality rather than being constructed by our social and cultural surroundings.
In current society women might majority agree to the ideas and end goals of feminism, that is the equal rights of gender and end to gender discrimination, but they may not align themselves with traditional feminists. Postmodern feminism is thus highly experience oriented and driven, women may participate in the movement purely based on their personal experience in life this is one of the reasons the core of feminism has evolved to become an ever changing and highly elastic ideology. Postmodern feminist thoughts coalesce with an incredible diversity of individual lives. Often a woman who otherwise won't bond herself with feminism will reach out and seek it out if she is confronted with her salary being capped much longer than her male colleagues or an abusive relationship or, in a positive productive situation, if she needs credit to start her own beauty salon. Furthermore, women who align themselves with postmodern feminism have become more concerned with more than just one issue they are now in fact trying to understand how gender inequality interlinks with other issues like homophobia, classism, racism and colonization to produce and maintain a "matrix of domination" by this patriarchal society. Postmodern feminist thought is highly individual and experience oriented and it relates to specific issues of women that occur in a particular culture and society. It is this style of feminism that I wanted to explore and grown using the construct of this new type on feminism on a public stage and seeing if, the public or at least my cross section of women fitted into the idea of postmodern feminists.
The ten questions.
During the research I conducted a questionnaire which I put forward to what I perceived to be a cross section of women who bridged and spanned the concepts of Habitus which Piere Bourdieu has put forward. I tried to include my family within this to illustrate the divides and contradictions of habitus within a family unit, though due to the decision that I only wished to question the females within my family and outside in order to focus on the female perception, due to the context of time and social standing. I have also included both women who would have been present in society during the second wave of feminism in the 1970-80s and women who are now reaping the benefits by being my contemporaries and educated during the new era of postmodernist feminist critique and energised feminine art and social history. I have compiled a list of ten questions, choosing a more reflective and simple look at feminism as a whole instead of a heavily laden questionnaire which does not have a broad enough basis to appeal to all, in doing so I have created a platform for the ideas of Bourdieu and Pollock to easily be viewed from many different points within their theories. These are the questions I finally decided would create that board basis:
â€¢ What does the term feminism mean to you, as a woman?
â€¢ Do you find Feminist a positive word for women?
â€¢ What is a 'feminist', in your view?
â€¢ What has the feminist movement done for modern women?
â€¢ Do you have any feminist theories or ideals?
â€¢ Do you see feminist views in art or the media at this present time?
â€¢ Does feminism still have a place within art as a movement, or has it had its time?
â€¢ Has feminist art helped break down the traditional barriers for women artists?
â€¢ How do feel about feminism representing women?
â€¢ Do you as a woman like feminist art?
What the primary research tells us about postmodern feminism within our society and within our own family and the females we socialize with isâ€¦... How these beliefs show that postmodern feminist views are often an unknown ideal held by these women and though feminism created a world they now are on their way to being undeniably equal in they either have no connection to this original concept nor wish to have one, and if within our wider community there is no alignment with feminism or the equalities it champions, is this same approach and attitude found continuing in our art and cultural paradigms and arenas?
Marxism- Olympias choice in TJ Clark, the painting of modern life.
Olympia now seen as a founding monument of modern art, highly criticized upon its entry into the salon of 1865, caused a scandal and was highly criticized.
TJ Clark argues this was because it represented social truths that reflected changing society in modern urban Paris that were hard to accept. Definitions and categories were losing their clarity. Olympia pictured as something produced by the social order, representative of the ordinary exchange of goods and services. Clark's analysis is seen as an example of how identities have been hidden from art historical discourse and under-mind and misrepresented by art history and society in general. This disavows the traditional objectifications of the female subject whose individuality is covered over by the male artist. Uncovering is a key term in feminist art history - to uncover previously buried histories. The model who posed for Olympia was called victorine meurent. She was also an artist in her own right, who exhibited at the Paris salon.
Clark doesn't acknowledge the importance of the presence of the maid Clark was blind to her presence and talked of her only as a sign of Olympia's status as a working prostitute , for feminists this blindness reveals Clark's analysis as embedded in networks of historical and social production that exclude some identities and prioritised others.
Edouard Manet, Olympia 1863.
Olympia deviates from the academic canon in its style which can be characterised but it's broad, quick brush strokes, studio lighting that eliminates mid-tones, large colour surfaces and shallow depth. This deviation from the canon, instead could be said to have created a representation of an over sexualised naked women opposed to the bourgeois and accepted version of a smooth idealised nude, Manet painted a real women, whose nakedness is revealed in all its brutality by the harsh light conflicting with the traditions codes opposed on women, stripping back the traits of femininity, purity and weakness that made the nude transcendent and conceptual instead of a still of the flesh in all its rawness.
The subject matter and composition is based on titian, Venus of urbino 1838 though it merely references it and then makes a break from it, though the pose of the nude is the same we can clearly see that Olympia's accessories seem to be chosen as modern forms of the renaissance prototypes, he uses an orchid instead of roses, cat opposed to a dog and finally a black servant offering her flowers for the original maid bringing a dress for the Venus.
One main criticism centred on the signs that signified, or clues that painted to the reclining nude's sexual and social identity. Male viewer as a customer- a stare many of the male viewers as users of prostitutes would recognise from the brothels and the streets. It was not that the use of prostitutes as models was unusual in the salon, bourgeois and upper-class women were unlikely to pose naked for artists, so ordinarily any painting of a nude was a painting of a working class women and very often those who worked in the sex trade. Prostitution demanded and received its representation in the salon every year. But the problem was the Olympia was obviously not the better class of prostitute, not a courtesan which signified a comfortable, general and archaic, socially acceptable field of reference, Manet was trading in dangerous territory in uncovering the social truth. Olympia obviously operated in the world of sex and money and acted as a sign of that world.
Manet's painting dishonour's the nude and makes her into something disreputable;
Olympia is not nude she is naked opposed to the Nude who is represented to be respectable, therefore naked is deemed embarrassing, lewd and impure. Whereas the nude is seen to be clothed in respectability, the nude is separate from sex, a sign of respectable male desire, the Nude is impersonal, and it hides nothing and shows nothing and finally the nude is the antithesis of sex. The view of naked is juxtaposed to this being seen as shameful and embodiment of sex, prostitution and adultery
The image's reception was summarized by feminist art historian Griselda Pollock as a "shameless display of modern commercial sexuality in a parody of the ideals of high art"
In Olympia Griselda Pollock identifies oppositions of:
Dark and light, Reclining and standing, Clothed and undressed, Labour and leisure. She then goes on to list the sexualisation of Olympia through the departure from the canon Manet took, and the departure from the reference of Venus of urbino .
The inclusion of the orchid in her hair, her bracelet, pearl earnings and the oriental shawl on which she lies, symbols of wealth and sensuality. The black ribbon around her neck, in stark contrast with her pale flesh, and her cast-off slipper underlines the voluptuous atmosphere; olympia's hand firmly protects her genitalia, as if to emphasize her independence and sexual dominance over men, Olympia ignores the flowers presented to her by her servant, seen as disdain for a gift from a client. All of these things created a sense of commercial sexuality, and disclosed the realisation that Olympia was portrayed as a prostitute. And through the constructs and patriarchal codes of the time this would have in no way be deemed as high art.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who lived, worked and provoked during the beginning of this century. Her paintings are characterised by her colourful, figurative and symbolist approach with a distinct naÃ¯ve and native Mexican style. She belonged to a collective of Mexican artists, and intellectuals who distinguished themselves by their passionate endorsement of communist social reforms and proud connections to their Mexican heritage. In 1925 Frida's life ineradicably altered when she was involved in a collision, which injured her spine, pelvis and foot leaving her with the need for a vast amount of operations and infertility, this dramatic ordeal coinciding with her ever turbulent marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera became the subject and influence in many of her paintings and works. Within her work Frida occupies the central focus and subject of her paintings exploring both her physical and psychological self.
Susan Fisher Sterling, NMWA's chief curator, says "Each group seems to find some validation in Kahlo. In some ways we're obsessed with ourselves and sexuality. Kahlo was very much a part of that narcissistic body culture." Kahlo's art is to painting what the memoir is to literature--self-absorbed, confessional, and hard to dismiss as a flash in the pan. "Frida Kahlo has been the right artist at the right time," says Gregorio Luke, director of the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) in California. Source: Washington monthly, The Trouble with Frida Kahlo, Uncomfortable truths about this season's hottest female artist. by Stephanie Mencimer, June 2002
Many feminists might celebrate Kahlo's rise to acclaim and greatness yet many do not consider that her fame is not irrevocably linked or related to her art; instead her fans are largely drawn to her by the story of her marriage and challenged life, which her paintings are often presented as simple illustrations. Frida's story is a tragic tale of physical suffering culminating in polio at six, a grisly accident at 18 involving a car accident. Many are merely fascinated with tales of her glamorous lovers and acquaintances, among them were photographers, a Soviet spy Tina Modotti and Leon Trotsky.
The divide between contemporary feminist art and modern feminist art, and how that correlates to the postmodern feminist view and the modern feminist view in wider society.
Ever since the showing of The Dinner Party in the late 1970s, exhibits of Judy Chicago's artwork has increasingly created heated and passionate public debate. Her supports have held her work up as a ground-breaking feminist voice and have maintained that her methods, art works and instillations challenge the patriarchal structure of the art world and society. Her critics accuse her of producing mere low grade political propaganda which places her outside the ranks of truly great artists. Others contend that Chicago's art is out-of-date, far too political, and undeserving of academic endorsement. Her work has even been chastised for being more exhibitionist than substance and concept. This idea has raised concerns about the status of Chicago's work as "good" art worthy of academic, cultural and financial backing. Other criticism and anxiety about the table's emphasis on female sexuality has led to the word "exhibitionist" being attached to Chicago's work, lowering the scope for it to be deemed within the realms of 'high' art. These themes not only become a central point to the public debate surrounding Chicago's exhibit, but have also surfaced in the public discourses that has followed and surrounded Chicago throughout her career. This exhibit has employed the use of social anxieties about gender, technology, and the body as a way into feminist critique and discourse.
Then looking at the struggles we are still facing as females, lending opinions on current talking points which are bringing in feminist ideas and principals. Gcse physics female levels, f word cupcake feminism.
Finally an evaluation on whether postmodernism has taken feminism too far away from its original modern roots and is it still changing our codes of taste in society of has it become too self-prioritized to make any form of wide change.