Transformation of Representation of Women in Art


Starting as early as the 1960s, the feminist art movement intensified as a result of many factors. First, male artist has always used women as subjects of art in their production. In reference to history, women are viewed to be idyllic feminine figures as well as sexual objects. In art by Titians, a woman is displayed staring and reclining passively and seductively at her audience (Foster et al., 52). She can only be identified as an entity to be admired by men. This concept is still extended in the twentieth century, where sexual images of women are being spread over mass media. Women artists refused to be misinterpreted as subjects and wanted to be seen as serious artists through the feminist movement, where they came up with a type of art with undeniable presence and hard to ignore. Apart from the fact that some of the work drifted from how women are represented traditionally, it led to the rise of feminist work. This kind of freedom led to the rebellion against traditional constraints by female artists Judy Chicago and Hannah Wilke, thus establishing a new pattern of the theme depicting females in the field of art (Reilly et al., 112). Through the use of suitable familiar images, the female artist propelled their agenda. The female body is more powerful against social gender when depicted by a woman. Due to many misinterpretations of the meaning of feminist art, this paper will define it as a form of art that emerged to query tradition and was made by an artist who declines to admit that their artwork was influenced by their gender. Hence, will discuss how female artist promotes their feminist agendas using their art.

Hannah Wilke, a profoundly determined artist attributed to the feminist art program. Wilke commenced her occupation by molding sculptors.  Wilke was greatly recognized when she started carving small vaginas which were made of terra cotta (Bonney, 7). She became the first artist to use vaginal imagery and thus a big step for the feminists. Wilke expounded on this concept through a series of photographs, where she used her typically nude body as the backdrop. In the photo, vulvas were randomly stuck on her pictures. She used to chew gum as a medium for sculpturing rather than clay to bring up the idea that women are like chewing gum. Wilke asserted that she opts to use gum to represent American women since she finds it as an ideal metaphor as it entails chewing her up, ripping what you need from her, and getting rid of her (Nemser, 19). She created cognizance of the attitude of the community of how insignificant females are with each ‘scar’ left on her body. The photos did not only represent women physically but also how they are treated in society.

 In the photos, Wilke imitates popular images of women while mimicking those in advertisements with her stylish and sexy poses (Klinger, 30). With this, she distracts viewers with the unattractive scars stuck on her body. Since this is poses were borrowed from models in the media they address and question the perception of femininity in society. Since these scars on female genitals, she reminds her audience that stigma is attached to being a woman. She brings the idea of what men desire while intentionally making it look ridiculous. She uses the title S.O.S. Stratification object series to acknowledge the concept of dual reaction in an appeal for sex and absurdity.

Cindy Sherman, though she opposes a feminist agenda, she brought out to light how women were perceived in societies. Similar to the concept of Wilke, Cindy made use of imageries that are conversant to form the basis of her photographs. Her images did not seem to be mocking as they appeared to have been taken from a movie as compared to those of Wilke. In her series which contained 69 photographs that were white and black, she represents the character of diverse women, each with a dissimilar stereotype (Johnson and Oliver, 2). Sherman brings out the image of completely different women through the use of wigs and make-up. The different photos portrayed her differently thus losing her fixed identity and bringing out the question, “who is Cindy Sherman?” (Johnson and Oliver, 9) In one, she is a young blonde lady pictured lying on a bed having a bra on and she is seen as an object of sexual desire. In another photograph, she is a professional lady outfitted wearing a suit in the middle of a lofty skyscraper. Both of these photos does not explain the life of Sherman but rather is meant to raise questions on the individuality of females generally and in what way these images make us generalize the individuality of women based on what we see.

Through Sherman’s numerous identities we can see how easy it is to say the true identity of a woman based on social constructs of platitudes. She uses herself in different roles to appear as 69 very different personalities. Her photographs appear to emphasize character alone during instants of quiet reflection(Sutherland et al., 102). In one of the photos, she is covered with a bathing towel while the viewer could see her back. She poses staring at the mirror and seems unaware of the camera, thus creating the sense of being alone, as though she was ambushed in a private and honest state. Sherman creates a sense of how human being thinks. By mimicking the images of popular women she recaps us that things may not seem as they appear to be. These untrue characters remind us of how our subconscious is deep-seated by these socially built identities.

Lynda Benglis, a sculptor, was not criticized for her work. Her sculptures, different from those of Wilke’s which were mere feminist vagina statues are so intellectual in the sense that they were more of a picture of sexuality rather than a clear likeness. In her photos, she challenges the conventional impression of femaleness(Reilly et al., 91). Lynda outfitted tough, looking butch while standing in argumentative stances. In, one of the photographs she is entirely nude, with only a pair of shades and a dildo on, which she pretends to be male by holding it in front of her. She poses aggressively appearing to be giving the notion that maybe had she been of the male gender, herself and the work she did would be given more attention. She advocated feminine representations and also recognized of females as artists.

 Even though Lynda’s original drive in the ads was to create a sense of humor in the movement, she did not amuse most people instead most of these people were enraged by the images. She explained her of the art in the sense that, a female artist could see herself on a base type state, and create a sense of the image of her, where she again mocks herself (Nemser, 22). Through the series of advertisements, she spoke of the inequalities and dissimilarities of the different sex in the art, as well as the obligation viewers to recognize the sexual information in her art as well.

Wilke’s photographs suggested advertisement, through these identifiable forms, Wilke effectively criticized clichés. It was easy for anyone to relate to these images because they ridiculed pictures on social media. It was common to come across nude pictures of women which were normally accepted. But it took control of female form when they started making art and hence recognized the bodies of females as abodes of power induced by such controversies (Foster et al., 157). Women who use themselves as subjects were criticized while men who self-portrayed themselves were not called names such as narcissistic. For men, they always used women as models but when a woman used herself, she was viewed as decadent mostly if she occurred to be attractive.

 Most people saw Lynda’s photographs as a cheap way to gain attention for her exhibition. But instead, the main reason was to create awareness while challenging the issue of gender inequity in the world of art(Semmel and Kingsley, 1). Since Wilke was beautiful she was considered narcissistic, her beauty made her not to be recognized as a serious feminist artist. It was perceived if a woman displayed her body, is because she has the idea she is looking good and that she was attractive. Women were said to be a narcissist, while men were seen as an artist. In this case, Wilke uses her body to deal with subjects of femininity and feminism. Where she felt she represented every woman.

Sherman’s photograph of her lying seemingly bare on the bed, while she holds tightly the bed sheets all over to her chest, was one of the most controversial. Her hair was unkempt while her eye makes up were messy staring off to brightness with a blank look(Bonney, 6). According to most interpretation, it was seen as an aftermath of rape. In most of the photographs, women appear vulnerable and possibly victims of crime(Sutherland et al., 59). In anyway one like to interpret the image, it will make the viewer likely uncomfortable. A sense of looking at something we should not see. Sherman responds to criticisms that the images cited reinforced female stereotypes where she responded by saying, she wanted to provoke, mostly infuriating males into evaluating their molds when they come across a picture of a lady. In most of her photographs, she challenges the depictions of how women are viewed in the modern society.

To sum up, the theme of art is challenging given the problems attributed to it. Before the emergence of female feminist, women would have to exclude gender from their art in order to be taken seriously as an artist. Most of the art by the male representing women were contradicting with self-representation by women artists. By use of a photograph, it allowed the female artist to represent women differently from how they were seen traditionally. Though we can really not determine the end term outcomes of the next wave in feminism, it is evident that it has gone beyond boundaries for most current artists.

The aim of the female artist was to regain how a female was initially represented as a form of power and exhibit it in contrary to the conservative model. According to society, there is a way or an idea of how women are expected to be and their roles. Most early women working during the feminist art movement did not see themselves as feminist but what they did had a significant implication on women’s mandate in art. With regards to these challenging traditions, women artists regardless of if they had centered on feminism, facilitated the reformation of present-day women’s art through changing the representation of women in the arts and also their recognition as artists.