Periods and shopping – hormones and female vices

Why is it that women must have an “excuse” for overspending?

More importantly- why is iot that psychologists feel the need to link such a “feminine” trait such as uncontrolable spending to the menstrual cycle? This to me just seems like the comments scientists made about women at the start of the 20th century- being hysterical, their minds controlled by the womb, and how this made them unqualified for the vote. And this time it seems a much less high-profile fight for women’s rights.

And this is not to mention the potential problems with this arguement- does it still hold true for those who have gone through the menopause, or young women who have not started their periods yet? Or women like me who have P.C.O.S.? Plus surely there are men out there who make so-called impulse buys and overspend on things they don’t strictly need…

‘Are womens spending habits linked to their hormones?’ – why this question rather than ‘Are men’s urges to watch football related to their hormones?’ or something similar. The fact is it’s so much easier and more acceptable to  create the idea that women are incapable of controlling their actions than it is for men. I’m sure there have been studies into the links between testostrone and increased violence in men, or similar, but it just worries me that we still find the need to justify (socially constructed) gender differences via science.

Who does she think she is?

Thanks to a “related entry” on my blog I stumbled across a new film exploring the relationship between motherhood and art Who does she think she is?. I am very glad that people are tackling this subject, and I would strongly recommend you at least check out the trailer (as if you are in the UK, screenings are primarily in Canada and the USA and thus difficult to attend). I hope that the film lives up to its strong message and mission statement.

I have discussed already the difficulties faced by women, but motherhood and family responsibilities is one that I have yet come across on the course. Whilst some women who are artists have the difficulty of being placed in the background of their husband’s show, many more face the difficulty of choosing between their relationships and their art (a problem that is widely spread throughout the world- should mothers[women] have careers?)

I believe it takes alot of strength to put oneself out there as an artist, especially if the artist is a woman as that already gives you an “underdog” status. Whilst it may be considered an old-fashioned and outdated thought, the value that a women puts her family before her career is one that is commonly held, often by women themselves. Whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be a mother (especially as we are more readily given the choice of different options now), to have both a career and a family does pose many difficulties.  In the past,women who chose to follow their careers, as this film’s trailer illustrates, were not mothers,and often not wives.

What we really ought to question now is, in a society which claims women can have both, how do women cope with this? In this economy of choice, are we now pulled in so many directions that we cannot achieve anything of merit? Must we resign ourselves to being that jack-of-all-trades and master of none?

The disappearing art of the tomboy

I read an interesting article about the ‘tomboy’ a couple of months ago, and found myself struggling to think of one I might personally know. I used to *try to* be one myself, when younger, as have both my sisters at various points, but none of us got along particularly well.

I was never a popular child and my own quirks combined with the tendency towards football and yo-yos rather than dolls and pink, made me feel like an outsider from the age of about five. One of my younger sisters has suffered at the hands of various bullies for years, which originally started when she was a tomboy-ish girl in primary school. She later went on to call my littlest sister “odd” or “weird” for some of her boyish tendencies (though this is partially due to her inability to see the appeal of football).

But what is perhaps more interesting about the tomboy than its disappearance is its conception. Whilst it appears to defy gender categorisation, the term tomboy encourages it through the assumptions it makes about typical feminine and masculine behaviour. Whilst I am more than happy for girls to prefer running about and climbing trees to playing ‘mother’ with baby dolls and brushing the hair of barbies, perhaps what we ought to consider is why we feel the need to give these girls a different name to their contemporaries because of this.

Foucault’s reading of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’



Las Meninas

Diego Velazquez, 1656

Oil on canvas, 318cm x 276cm (125.2in x 108.7in)

Museo del Prado, Madrid

I feel Foucault’s main point in this text is the idea of gaze within and beyond the picture, and it is this gaze which I will discuss. Whether it is the artist, who first appears to look at us as though we were the models; or the maids’ somewhat intense looks at their young mistress.

The frequency at which gazes are shot about the image and outwards towards the viewer is astounding. The gaze, however, always returns to the place in which we, observing the painting, are standing. But we are and yet are not the observed, due to the fact that the intricacies of this painting are held on the back wall within the mirror and its misty figures. Where the view feels he or she would be reflected we instead are shown the apparition of the king and queen of Spain. It is they, not we, who are being represented on the canvas which back takes up the left hand of Las Meninas. And so the royal figures gaze upon the same scene as we do, yet also they gaze back at themselves, and equally, at us.

It is this reciprocity of the gaze which draws us in:

‘the painter’s gaze, addressed to the void confronting him outside the picture, accepts as many models as there are spectators; in this precise but neutral space, the observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange’ (pp.4-5)

Are we seeing or are we being seen?

In my next post I will take a look at another interpretation of this painting and consider some  of Velazquez’s other works involving the royal family.

Why have there been no great women artists?

If someone asked you to name 5 women artists, you’d struggle, right? I probably would too (and I’m a female fine art student!). But why is this?

Well, to begin with, let us think about how male-dominated the art world is (as my post on women’s gains illustrates) and which artists get a lot of press (for example: Damien Hirst, and fairly recently Rothko and others who have had major retrospectives) The fact is that, for whatever reason, we associate great works with men. Is there a fundamental difference between men and women’s artwork? And if there isn’t, why is it that the famous and/or great artists are all male?

One article that aims to address this matter is Linda Nochlin’s Why have there been no great women artists?

Whilst many writers have strived to give certain artists who are women their due, Nochlin feels this tries to rectify the imbalance whilst failing to answer why this is such a vital question, and cannot therefore be a sufficient response. To argue the case for women within a canon that is written by and includes predominantly white males cannot be a move towards a long-lasting change. Similarly, we cannot begin to include gay, transgender, black, Hispanic (and so forth) artists when the viewpoint of art history as a discipline is so narrow.

Another typical response is for the feminist to argue that there is a different kind of greatness to women’s art- a ‘distinctive and recognisable feminine style’. Whilst Nochlin understands the reasoning behind this (women’s’ place in and experience of society is undoubtedly different to men’s), she quite rightly points out that it is a rather big stretch to incorporate such a large and diverse group of artworks and artists under an umbrella term of ’feminine’. Not least because the idea of ‘feminine’ in itself is incredibly problematic. For example, traditional feminine values may include characteristics such as delicacy and introversion. By all means try to apply these to every women artist, but I don’t think people would commonly call Tracey Emin delicate (for example, no slur intended!)

‘The problem lies not so much with the feminist’s concept of what femininity in art is, but rather with the misconception of what art is: with the naive idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience- a translation of personal life into visual terms’ (p.5)

Nochlin does not think “great art” is ever this. However, as artists we cannot escape our own experience of the world, so personally there is always an extent to which ones work will be personal and reflect our own individual experience (though emotions are often strictly cut for fear of the sentimental)

Another problem with Nochlin’s argument is whilst she urges us to transcend the male canon; she endorses it purely by using the term “great art”. Whilst she discusses the myth of the Great (male) artist she does not discuss great art in detail. Art that is referred to as “great” is by and large male, therefore “male” and “great” could be seen bound together, and “great” and “female” could be seen to be mutually exclusive terms.

Other areas Nochlin discusses are social class, ethnicity and the nude. Her main conclusion is that ideally, we want to move on to a time in which all artists are on equal starting points and thus there will be little need to have labels such as “female artist”.

[This is by no means an in-depth discussion of her text, but hopefully it will highlight areas for exploration and discussion]

Understanding gender

Gender is often seen purely as a binary category distinction between male and female- i.e.: what sex you are. But it is also regarded by some as a social construction of meaning which has effects to do with power. This means that gender studies can be applied to many different contexts and persons- it is not only about discrimination against women, but also discrimination against races, cultures, sexual orientations, religions etc.

Women’s gains (or lack thereof) in the art world

In the lecture for this week, we were told how, of Art Review magazine’s 2008 power 100 list, there were only three artists who are women- Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Marlene Dumas. It is an increasingly worrying statistic for those young women, like myself, studying fine art (especially as the amount of women attending these courses always vastly outnumber the amount of men) This was of course an exercise to alert us to the continued relevance of feminist study, as often we take for granted that the world has irrevocably changed and that women are now on an equal footing with men. It feels like women are fated from the start to be less than their male contemporaries when this is still the case of things.

[I cannot help but wonder at those who commented on the Telegraph site (the link I provided), as they seem to find little (or, more likely, no) enjoyment in modern art, and thus I fail to see how they thought their comments were adding to our understanding. Whilst it is perfectly valid to hold such opinions, I feel that the comments should be more relevant to the subject matter- a discussion of the people included, the people left off, and maybe even how relevant such a list is.]

Typical behaviour in ‘Cockfights’

This week we discussed the social and political implications of gender (gender as power) in relation to particular artists and artworks.

In Cockfights and Other Parades*, gender is explored through the works (and photographs) of the abstract expressionists, especially Pollock and Krasner; and Zoffany’s painting Colonel Mordant’s Cock Match (1784). Many aspects of gender are explored- class, for example, is of a particular accord with Zoffany’s work, as one might expect from a work produced in the much more outwardly hierarchical society of the 18th century.

One particular point caught my attention in this article, relates to the gestural brush-marks used by the abstract expressionist painters. We (the readers) are asked “Is the gesture male?” What the author hints at is the structure of artworks as being perceived ’male’ or ‘female’ (thus the need for the phrase ’women artists’, as though their concerns are fundamentally different due to their sex).

Griselda Pollock goes on to involve psychoanalytic ideas of hysteria and gender transgression, and applies it to the method that the artist Jackson Pollock used. If we can see Pollock’s gestural action painting as a kind of hysterical act, then “creativity might be seen to stem from identifications that transcend that actual gendered embodiment of the artist”. This would then indicate that it is possible to se art not coming from a socially fixed gendered viewpoint but as unfixed creative possibilities. Equally, the gesture, action, making or construction are all words that are associated with men- men are dynamic, they are go-getters; women are reduced to “fashionable accessories”, ornaments. Their function is seen as predominantly decorative, ad much as their male counterpart’s role lies in action. Therefore, it is possible to see Pollock’s method as fundamentally male.

This section particularly interested me as I have always felt it is problematic to view women and men as being fundamentally different; yet I find it hard not to make distinctions between what is essentially ‘male’ and ‘female’. Biologically there are obvious differences, but things such as the progression in transgender surgeries means that that boundary is more blurred than it originally used to be. Sexually, traditional roles of the masculine and feminine are subverted by homosexuality and asexuality. It seems as though these categories are increasingly being used out of habit, for the sake of tradition, or even purely for the sake of defining and grouping peoples, rather than because they serve a legitimately helpful role within society. For those who do not fit wholly within their given gender category (i.e.-most of us, if we are honest) there are many social and psychological reactions which are very rarely positive.


* Cockfights and Other Parades: Gesture, Difference, and the Staging of meaning in three paintings by Zoffany, Pollock,and Krasner Griselda Pollock (Oxford Art Journal, 2003, 26:2, p.141-166)

Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s

For this study, I’ve decided to make simple lists to summarise the ideas that are brought up in relation to these photographs of artists.  Obviously,I’m taking a slightly feminist view, so my thoughts often came back to gender roles,especially as ‘gender’ has been the over-arching theme of this week’s readings (notes/thoughts on those to follow).


Click on the artist’s name to visit their site or their biography. All portraits are the work of Hans Namuth (1915-1990)


Ad Reinhardt with his family (1958 )

ad reinhardt– authority


-traditional roles (father, husband, bread-winner)


tingurly and saint phalie

Jean Tinguely and Nicky de Saint-Phalle

New York City, 1962

-Gaze(who/what is the focus on? who are we supposed to be looking at?)

-Female form (of sculpture)

-Gender roles (He’ll smoke and work, she’ll sit there, bored but pretty)


Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning

East Hampton, New York      1953

-Again, ideas of focus and importance, though here it made more obvious that Willem de Kooning is the focus of the photograph due to his prominence in the foreground.

-However, it is the woman this time caught smoking, which seems somewhat unusual, though it may be considered elegant in certain cases,and rendered masculine in others (“women on fire eating meat!”, as certain male friends of mine insist on saying rather rowdily every so often)


Helen Frankenthaler

West Islip, New York    1964

-here the scene shows Frankenthaler being taught by a man (presumably another artist)

-could be seen to hint at women’s lack of skill, but equally it is just a picture of her learning something new, or of a piece she worked on with another (it’s all too easy for us to read into things- we cannot tell whether the scene is staged or not, for example).

barnettnewmanBarnett Newman

-Again,smoking (perhaps I’m a little more aware of this as someone living in the age of the ban (how would they cope?)), but this stereotype plays further- alone, male- were the decor different, it could almost be a bar.

-There is a sense of self assurance as the artists sits, back to the canvases, almost as if he were not phased by them (though he may yet be unaware of how important these pieces would become/were made to become (more on that in week 2))


In general I feel these photos show a tendancy for women to be quite literally pictured as being a different kind of/of a lower class of artist in comparison to their male contemporaries. We see this through the subtle positioning of women in the image compared to the men (often behind, in the background), and the overall feelof the image- for example,whilst Newman seems clever, independent and confident due to his aloof position away from the camera- women in images are often not portrayed so powerfully.

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008 )

Hartigan began her career as a draftsperson, but began to paint when she moved to New York in 1946 and became exposed to the friendship and society of the Abstract Expressionists. Her professional break came in 1950 at a show at the Samuel Kootz Gallery organised by Clement Greenberg (an art critic and big advocate of the Abstract Expressionist movement) and Meyer Schapiro. Up until 1951, however,she signed her canvases “George Hartigan”.

‘Hartigan’s fame reached its peak in the late 1950’s. During this time, Hartigan was featured in a Life photographic essay “Women Artists in Ascendance” and her work included in several prestigious exhibitions such as Twelve Americans and the Sao Paolo Bienal.’*

However, Hartigan’s career spanned beyond the so-called ‘New York school’, exhibiting in many places across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and in 1967 she became the Director of the Hoffberger Graduate School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. ‘[F]rom 1965-2007 she mentored, criticized and generally helped hundreds of painters find their own paths’#

hartigan et al(Hartigan second from left, pictured with (r-l)Walter Silver, Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers)**

Sources- #,,, *, **