Updated: Sep 5, 2020
I first joined Instagram in... 2015, I think... I wanted to follow artists and share my art. Find out more about the art world I had joined. Prior to that, I was mostly creating art in my own bubble, experimenting and having fun. Not that I still don't have fun, I do! Even more so because I have become less frustrated that "oh *$%£ why can't I render a face properly" or "%$^&& why the $^^£% doesn't this reflect my imagination?!?" There is a lot less of that, although there is still enough of it because I am always trying to challenge myself. But I don't let it get to me anymore and I know how to go about fixing it and trying to improve something. Anyway, that was off track...
Objectification of women in art. I dived straight into the Instagrams and following an artist would then link to other suggestions and I was in awe with so many artists that I just hit that follow button unfettered and without discrimination. If I thought the style and technique was awe inspiring, hit that follow button I did. Until I didn't.... I started noticing that I would look at my feed and cringe at some of the subject matter. I still admired the technique, but a pattern emerged, much to my dismay. The objectification of the female nude, and although it was done mostly by male artists, I also found some female artists do it too; this latter, not as frequently, but it felt that they were very much catering to the male audience by oversexualising their models and painting subjects that were definitely objectifying women. When I first came across this last one, I was taken aback and wondered if it was my own prejudice, if I was imagining it because would a female artist really stoop that low? So I shared it with other artists I am friends with and no, I was not imagining it. The entire feed objectified women and the artist herself posted pictures in... interesting... let us just say, choice pictures. It was as if to say collectors are not discerning and this sells. The female nude, oversexualized and objectified, sells. That makes me sick to the core, and it should make you sick too.
Then I occasionally find amazing things such as this! https://meghanhetrick.com/2017/11/30/agency-vs-objectification-aka-how-to-draw-sexy-women-without-being-a-f-ing-creep/ and it makes me smile. Because that is just wonderful.
I was also horrified to find a big London gallery promoting an artist who sexualised girls! The artist then tried to defend himself by saying his model was 22yo. It didn't fly given that he painted her as a child, pigtails and all lying in a what would be consider grown-up sexy position, partially nude, vulnerable as if waiting for a lover.
Russian artist Serge Marshennikov is technically brilliant and one cannot deny his paintings are beautifully rendered. But unfortunately, many of his paintings not only objectify women, they clearly oversexualise women. Not only that, but as you can see at the two paintings I have selected from his portfolio, he makes them look like young girls who are vulnerable, flimsily clad - when not nude and, according to a friend, it looks like they have been roofied. With over 126k followers on Instagram, he is very popular; but some of the comments below these images do question the model's age and basically, what was he thinking? In the words of the French actress Adèle Haenel, this is bullshit. She is his muse, he admires her and then paints her like an object, an underage pretty little thing to be gawked at. That should be terrifying, especially if you are a parent. It should not be praised and it certainly should not be hanging on your wall.
Yet, erotic art has been around for centuries. Of course it has, and it can be absolutely beautiful. It's not pretending to be something it is not. It can be raw, passionate, and I am sure everyone involved, the models, or whatever the chosen style is, it is all great.
But I am not talking about erotic art, I am talking about objectification - where women are portrayed as what is considered ideal and in a sexually provocative manner, in the guise of high fine art. Their faces are placid, eyes closed, devoid of emotion and look almost dead to feelings, it is akin to creepy and uncomfortable. The woman is painted as a thing for the observer to gape at and is no longer an agent of free will. Let us do a visual comparison to make it a bit more clear.
Which image is objectifying women? A or B? Hint - would you go into battle without a breastplate?
It is very much a painting in the context of the male gaze. Even when we look at famous nudes in the galleries and use that as an excuse to say it's acceptable, don't forget they were generally painted by men and commissioned by men.* Considering that the art world still is a very male dominated field, it isn't surprising to see how women are still objectified in paintings and in art in general (movies are still a form of art, posters for advertising - art, fashion magazines - art). Men are the ones setting the standards as to what women should look like, behave, and what is acceptable to them. Women need to be perfect to be accepted by men and men will only want to be with you and have sex with you if you fit into that narrow profile of what is sexy and hot. Have you noticed how in a lot of artwork women look young, thin, demure and what is considered sexy?
Now let's see how some female artists who really love to portray women as human beings and - this is what a woman can actually look like - paint!
Firstly, look at their gazes, look at how they look at the viewer. Do they look inviting, do they look like objects? No, they don't want you to sexualise them, pity them, they are saying look at me at how I am. Take it, or leave it. Learn that this is what a woman, a human being, a mother, a daughter, your friend, your neighbour should be accepted based on personality, not looks because nobody is going to look like that picture perfect, covered in make-up, photoshopped model in the magazine, in the movies, etc. Can you now tell the difference between an objectified, oversexualised/hypersexualised painting and one that simply pictures a woman's humanity?
Anyway, not a thesis, just a bit of a how uncomfortable it can be for a woman to view another woman being objectified in art. Of course, if the model is aware and is comfortable with it, then that's her prerogative. It does not change the fact that it is objectification.
One last observation done by the Guerrilla Girls on Nudes at the Met.
* For more on the ethics of nudity in art and the male gaze: https://confluence.gallatin.nyu.edu/context/first-year-writing-seminar/the-ethics-of-the-female-nude
For more on the female nude in public art (JSTOR is paid for, can be available for university students for free, usually. But the brief excerpt already says a lot): https://www.jstor.org/stable/3346133?seq=1