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.

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* 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)

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