Painting and Gender-Specificity

Painting and Gender Specificity.

What is the relationship between painting practices and feminists politics? How is the medium specificity tied to gender-specificity? I believe I found answers in Katy Deepwell’s article “Claims for a Feminist Politics in Painting”. As a painter, I am consciously involved in a continuous dialogue with historical styles and practices within the discipline – accepting certain aspects, rejecting or questioning others.

Deepwell approaches this subject from the following angle: “Feminism has had a vested interest in challenging modernism, especially for its masculinist biases but also for its separation of art from politics. It is here that painting itself is always doubly-identified as both a conservative and a male-dominated practice. First in the sense of reproducing the bias in which men paint and women appear as objects within the frame and second as a studio-based practice which breeds forms of ivory-tower isolationism and produces the primary commodity in the art market” (144). The author quotes John Roberts saying that painting practice is frequently either fetishized as a release from the cognitive and political or dematerialized as being outside the possibilities for any form of cultural intervention. (Roberts, 17-19).

Thus painting as a model of art practice, Deepwell writes, embraces many different types of painting styles and approaches, both figurative and abstract, laid out as a series of inheritances and breaks from previous forms.

Alternatively, however, painting has been repositioned by the new art history as a “complex signifying system generated by the relationships between the social space of art production; the symbolic space of the art object and its statement and, finally, as a space representation in which social and sexual hierarchies are figured” (Griselda Pollock, 1992).

Picking up the previous thread of the dialogue (or argument) with modernism, I could associate with Carolee Schneemann’s statement (reported by Kristine Stiles in “The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time”, 2001) in that I am not interested in “the mark as redolent of an expressive subject. Instead the works are an exploration of the techniques of vision manifest in the gap between outer representation and inner experiences/consciousness.” Another subject worth to mention in this report is Stiles’s locating of Schneeman’s strategy as an “aesthetic of the transitive eye” moving between a “bodily eye” (which dominates over actual things) and a “body-as-eye” (which thinks its domination in the mind)… “This relationship between eye-body and consciousness she positions as “one of the essential functions of painting” (Schneeman 2001: 4-5), (Deepwell, 146).

The author’s conclusion for the first chapter of her article resonates well with my practice and research, focusing on “Being” and contemporary art:

“If painting can be defined or identified as a mark-making process establishing human existence in feminist works, it has also been used performatively as process to mark different times and establish a different relationship between ‘being’ and contemporary art” (sic.) (148).

Further in the article Deepwell investigates the position of a woman-painter at the contemporary art scene: “Does the problem with any re-articulation of painting for feminists lie in its association with a tradition in which women artists were devalued, marginalized, silenced or is it the problematic identification with the development of painting as a category[?]” (153). She poses a question which each female painter has to deal with at some point: “How to produce an effective set of feminist possibilities in painting without re-instating the purity of painting or re-investing again in its overblown status?” (154).  However, women painters continue to be present in every emerging tendency: in every revival and crisis of representation and abstraction during the last twenty-five years you can find a “plethora of women painting” (155).

(to be continued…)

Work Cited:

Deepwell, Katy. “Claims for a Feminist Politics in Painting”, Contemporary Painting in Context, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010. Print.


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