Friday, January 11, 2008

wombs, breasts, and decapitated heads...

[January 17 update: this is also now posted over at Feminist Mormon Housewives. Check it out for additional discussion on the topic.]

Artists block. I hate it. What it means is I try to go into my studio and make something but the well is dry. So I try anyways, and end up making crap. The blockage is probably caused by a lot of things, the fact that I don't hardly have a whole consecutive 60 minuets to spend working is surely one reason (It usually takes a good couple of hours for me to 'get my grove on').
But I think it also has to do with being suddenly conflicted about the imagery I was on a roll with. See, I was all gung-ho for quite a while over what I called 'female imagery' and it consisted of wombs, breasts, ovaries, vulva's, menstruation, etc...
My sketch book was full of stylized interpretations of these female sexual/reproductive parts, and many of my sculptures and paintings continued those themes. I think this served me very well in coming to terms with my own female body and as a way of seeking a divine feminine. I love these pieces I have made. But I came to a point where I realized that all I was doing was reducing woman to her reproductive capabilities, her biology... And that has been one of the main problems (as I see it) with how society at large treats woman. So now I am stuck. I was really excited about doing a whole series of little hand-sewn breasts like the one I displayed in this post... but now I hesitate to, until I have reconciled this rift I now feel. It's easy to say that I am re-appropriating woman's sexuality from the patriarchy, all our female parts that have been used and displayed for the convenience and pleasure of a male dominated society... but to what end? Of course, there is always this little sketch I did a while back of a warrior woman with an infant strapped to her back, who has just vanquished her (male) opponent without disturbing the sleeping baby (a little nod to Artemisia Gentileschi?)...

hmmmmm....
So, anyways, I am trying to gather my thoughts, doing some reading, playing with other alternate images... It very well may be that I have moved beyond the wombs and breasts, that they served me well at the time, but now I need to find my next phase... or maybe this is just a clarifying process that will help me take the imagry even further. Possibly, the artist block is permanent and I may never do another piece of art worth mention at all (NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOO!)
But in the meantime, what is your take on using female sexuality, sexual parts, and reproductive themes in art?

26 comments:

Lessie said...

I understand the ambivalence about women's sexuality. Based for so long on her ability to reproduce. I've been thinking of reclaiming sexuality as well. That's part of why I have issues with modesty talk. I know that it's important not to exploit oneself, but at the same time, it's unhealthy to ignore the sexual sides of our nature. So here's a suggestion of sorts, what if your art focused on the clitoris and other erectile tissues in the female body. Then you move away from celebrating only the reproductive, biological part of women's sexuality and into the pleasurable part. Because I think that for the most part, we as a society have a tendency to ignore the clitoris as the sexual counterpart to the penis--thus over sexualizing other parts of women's bodies, like breasts, shoulders, etc. Anyway, I've gone on for too long. I hope this comment doesn't get flagged for inappropriate content. I didn't mean it that way.

G said...

it kinda of blew me away when I realized that so many of my 'female' images had little or no heads, hands, feet... like I was symbolically taking away their ability for thought, and action. just an emphasis on wombs and breasts. that made me pretty sad. what did that say about me?

I like what you said about moving beyond sexuality as merely reproductive and exploring imagery of desire and pleasure. the 'freezing' of women's sexual pleasure is something I have been reading a bit about, (and sometimes gotten really angry over... just for an example, can't remember who said it, one of the previous generations church leaders stating that the only form of birth-control that is appropriate is abstinence, adding that husbands will just have to learn to control their passions... as if the wife has no passions to be concerned about controlling. And so many generations of women's health manuals that have no reference to the clitoris.)

thanks for the suggestion!

Lessie said...

Snicker. Okay, now I'm getting naughty, but hands and sexual pleasure could go together, then you've got action and pleasure! Okay, I'll shut up now.

I know what you mean, though about previous leaders' ideas about female sexuality. Although I have another theory about female sexuality. I've wondered if the stress of child bearing is what caused some women to not really like sex. For example, when I'm not on birth control, I sometimes lose my sex drive to pure psychological stress about getting pregnant and having to deal with that. I've wondered if the advent of birth control has helped more women acknowledge and embrace their sexuality since it gives them the opportunity to not have to worry about pregnancy.

(chandelle) said...

lessie, i think you really have something there. the sexual revolution and the advent of legal birth control went hand in hand, and i don't think it's a surprise at all. without the fear of pregnancy, everyone felt free to let loose and explore their sexuality and connection with others in a way they never had before.

g, i understand that concern about reproductive reductionism. do you know that old painting by?...crap. i can't remember his name. it was a man, though. it's of the woman laying on the bed, with her legs cocked open a bit, revealing her pubic hair and vulva, and she's all tangled in the sheets to such an extent that her face is covered. her sex organs are the focal point and her face has just been - erased. i felt so angry, even violated, the first time i saw that painting. it's a beautiful painting, in its own way, but it also struck me as...pornographic, and that's NOT a term i use loosely when it comes to art. (in fact i almost universally sneer at its application...but it really fit that painting, to me.)

the thing is, we are our personalities and our intellects, but we ARE our bodies as well. as much as we might like to deny it, or try to work our way out of it, we DO define ourselves, to some extent, by our bodies, by our parts, and especially by how we think of our bodies and our parts. and there is this deep feminist discordance about the female body, a celebration/avoidance dichotomy that is so difficult to work around, especially when it comes to art.

to me, when i see your paintings and sculptures of women's parts, i don't see them as separationist, isolationist or reductionist in the slightest. even without seeing your work in person, i feel such an affection for your female figures, because even when you focus on their "parts," as it were, it's clear that YOU have an affection for them as a whole. it's sort of the way photography can be an excellent artform by highlighting aspects of the human form - a blast of light on the curve of the knee, a silhouette of a pregnant belly - or think of mapplethorpe's work, how he created architectural forms with the human figure - and these amplifications of specific aspects of the body still maintain their emotional integrity - their humanity, if you will - despite the emphasis on a "part." i think your work does the same.

ok, getting wordy here. AND i wrote another damn novel on YOUR blog. :( sorry. i really do think your work is beautiful. i think it's important for you to analyze what it means to you, what it means about your body and your relationship to the female body as a whole, but i see it expressed in your art relatively benignly.

G said...

<WARNING- do not click on the following link unless you are okay with graphic nudity>

hey chandelle, I'm guessing you're talking about "The Origin of the World" by gustave courbet?

I remember when I first saw that one, my first reaction to it (besides shock at the rawness of it) was more like 'cool, he respects women as the source of life' and that was sort of an inspiration for my own work... and that is kind of what lead to my current schism... I began to realize I was just appropriating the 'male gaze' of women's sexuality, and society's view of women as 'good for having babies'.

Of course, I was doing using this imagery as a women, and as a budding feminist, so of course (I'm hoping) I brought to these pieces something more... (and thankyou, chandelle for your kind critique of them)

And I do find myself very moved by themes having to do with women's reproductive powers... but whereas just a few years ago the problem's with portraying women through her reproductive organs wouldn't have even registered on my radar, now I find myself battling the 'whole person' vs the 'parts' dilemma.

And lessie... yeah, I also think the implications of hands, and sexual pleasure together could be interesting...

mr. pink's mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G said...

MPM... I have thought about that... but when I tried to think of how to rephrase it so it wasn't so centered on my own art...

anyways, I agree. Just not not sure on the best way to do it.

maybe I'll send a link to fmh lisa and see what she thinks.

Bored in Vernal said...

I admit it, I clicked on the link...
I felt the same about Courbet's work as chandelle. The fact that her head is covered bothers me in a symbolic way. Just like comment #43 on the latest fmh post where "Blain" says:
I would just ask women for some basics: I don’t want to see your boobs, and I don’t want to be overly reminded of them. I know you have them, and I know you can’t make them disappear, but you also know how to make them more or less noticeable. Please, choose things on the “less noticeable” side of the scale. Similarly, skirt-lengths that don’t give me reason to think I might catch something if I pay close enough attention are nicer than not. I’ve head people talk about wearing things that don’t draw attention to you, and I think that’s a good idea.
This comment made me fume! I feel like there are people in the church who want women to symbolically "disappear." Don't make waves, don't show your body, etc. I'm angry about this, and I don't feel we should be taught to cover up because men haven't learned to enjoy the female form in an appropriate way.

On the other hand, I like the things you are doing with your art. I think the female form has a lot of power. Even when we focus on the breasts and wombs. I really enjoy art that celebrates them, or even agonizes a bit over them.

I think your art would have different meanings to women and men. Perhaps your angst is coming from looking at your works from a male pov. I had a post last week on my blog about Jephthah's daughter and at the bottom a woodcut of the daughter on a pyre. To me it was perfect for the conflicted feelings I was having about the religious teachings I mentioned. But my husband berated me for putting a "pornographic" picture up. The emotions the piece caused in us were completely different!

(G, do you do works on commission? I would really be interested in having you do something for me. Will you email me? clbruno at hotmail. Thanks.)

Lessie said...

BiV, I was angered by Blain's comment also. I didn't respond, because I've hashed women's bodies out elsewhere on that blog, and because I didn't want to thread jack Quimby's post, but I was furious as well, and glad that you said something. I hate that women are still having to cover up just because our bodies make men uncomfortable. We border on nudism in our house (our oldest is still only four, but I'm thinking we might keep it up when he's older) so that our son doesn't learn to fear his own, or women's bodies. I agree that just because you find a woman sexually attractive doesn't mean you're lusting after her. Enjoy the experience and move on. Anyway, sorry G, to go on like that on your post. BiV, I'm going to check out your post that you mentioned. I love your blog, I just don't comment very often cause of time.

(chandelle) said...

i commented. :( i just couldn't restrain myself. i especially hated blain's attitude of, "it's a normal physiological response and i can't help it, so YOU need to prevent it from happening by not doing things that spark it." bullshit. i'm sorry, but if my husband, who was a virgin until 25, and has a very high sex drive, can be exposed to probably a thousand naked women's bodies through my work, and never get an erection - if my husband can even watch "the l word" with me and see mostly-naked women gettin' it on, and not respond - and all because he views women with such respect, and respects ME so much that other naked women are inconsequential - then anybody can do it. and that's all i have to say on the matter. :)

(chandelle) said...

ok. one more comment.

what i hate about blain's attitude is that it perpetuates the idea that what he "can't help" is no problem for women. some women, such as myself, are very visual and respond to men in certain situations much like a stereotypical man's response (ok, minus the erection). and we have to learn respect and control just as much as men. but i bet that has never occurred to blain.

G said...

btw... biv, I wanted to thankyou for your comment on fmh in response to Blain. I thought it sick that more people didn't (though, it was probably, as you said, in the effort of not thread jacking the post)

and I just had an epiphany... I had very much been exposed to blain's sort of attitude and instruction growing up (basically, do everything you can to hide your female body from everyone) my father has refered to breasts as disgusting, and there was always a feeling that my vigina was gross, etc...

I think that is part of why I was so rivited with the idea of using 'female parts' as a center point in my art, trying to show them in a more celebratory and beautiful way.
ofcourse, that is a typical defense of porn, that it is celebrating the female body, etc... (I mean, I can walk into Facinations and buy a set of plastic boobs, or a latex reproduction of a porn-star's vagina)
okay, now I am going to visit your blog biv

G said...

(I want to see this 'porn' you've posted!) :)

G said...

oh, one more thought... I think this is one of the reasons that there is the sex-positive femininst movement going on currently, that encourages women to show off their sexuality, sort of a backlash against the 'hide your boobs' message...

ariel levy wrote about this in Female Chauvinist Pigs, and I think she was really on to something

(chandelle) said...

i loved that book. she articulated a lot of my own uneasiness.

Lessie said...

I've been looking at that book for awhile and just haven't picked it up yet. Must do that now that two people I know and trust have enjoyed it. I think that the sex positive feminism is also a response to the idea of covering or degrading our bodies for too long. However, while I realize that it's important to normalize female sexuality, I also think it's important to recognize the beauty in the human body (both male and female) without making it solely a sexual object.

(chandelle) said...

yes, that's why i struggle with sex-positive feminism. it's almost like it's just women doing to each other what men have done to us for so long.

wow, g, you sure spark some intense philosophical conversation! can you imagine how wonderful it would be if we all lived near each other and could do this in person?

mr. pink's mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mr. pink's mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bored in Vernal said...

...but isn't this nice having just a semi private conversation and not having to scroll through 2,000 comments?

G, so many girls get that, and I really want to fight it. Mormon YW are growing up thinking their bodies are shameful. How can they internalize the message that God loves them when there are so many conflicting messages? This is a major cause of dieting, anorexia, cutting and depression.

So what did you think of the "porn" on my blog? I would never have thought of it as arousing if DH hadn't said something. It just evoked different emotions in me, is all.

And one more thing. Comments like Blain's really make me want to appear in Church in something scandalous.

mr. pink's mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mr. pink's mom said...

biv,

i am still trying to find the p()rn on your blog.

(chandelle) said...

to be a jerk, but i noticed on blain's website that he has a page about where to find nude photographs of teri hatcher. very confusing page overall.

BiV, that is bizarre indeed. then again, according to my husband and others, there's no telling what will excite men. i hate citing pop culture here, but i remember a "big love" episode where the teenage boy got an erection in shop class by watching the drill move in and out of a piece of wood. so there ya go.

G said...

chandelle- Ha! I just saw that episode!

lessie- you have definalty got to read FCP (maybe I do a post about it)

BiV- loved your post, and the pictures too!

MpM- yeah, I'm working on it, I think it would be best re-written for the larger audience... maybe I'll get around to it.

Bored in Vernal said...

MpM, lol, I'm glad I read your comments before they were removed!!! gotta luv ya!

Miss Popular said...

Um. I just love this blog. Seriously. I'm a big fan. You are now a cool link on my blog. Thanks for writing.