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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)

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- #http://www.acagalleries.com/dynamic/artist_bio.asp?ArtistID=9, http://arthistory.about.com/od/nameshh/p/hartigan_grace.htm, http://www.hollistaggart.com/artists/biography/grace_hartigan/, *http://www.marylandartsource.org/artists/detail_000000124.html, **http://library.syr.edu/digital/exhibits/i/imagine/section10/coneyisland.jpg

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)


‘Unlike the brooding and macho Abstract Expressionism characteristic of Rothko or Kline, Mitchell’s paintings draw much of their inspiration from nature, setting her apart from her American contemporaries’*

Mitchell studied art in Massachusetts for two years before transferring in 1944 back to her hometown of Chicago. She received her B.F.A. in 1947, leading to a scholarship supporting a tour of Europe. In 1950 she received her M.F.A.

As well as finding inspiration from artists like Kline, Mitchell also drew ideas from the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Kandinsky. It was these European influences which first led Mitchell away from the stricter, representational academically taught art, to a freer and more abstract style. Despite her connections within the New York scene, Mitchell stayed somewhat apart, partially due to her more European influences, and latterly when she began to divide her time between Paris and New York in the mid 1950s. Interest in Mitchell’s work, and of her role in the Abstract Expressionist movement was reignited/created in 2002, due to a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. (Whilst her male contemporaries have works in the permanent collection at MoMA as part of a display of  “pivotal” moments in the creation of modern art)

joan-mitchell-photo

Mitchell is a wonderful example of an artist who took inspiration from others, but also from herself, she did not blindly follow her male contemporaries (as some art historians make artists who are women seem to). She held on to her ideas inspired by the rawness and beauty of the natural landscape.

*The 20th Century Artbook (Phaidon, 199, p.309), http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/mitchell.html, http://www.spaniermanmodern.com/inventory/M/Joan-Mitchell/mitchell_BIO.htm, http://images.artnet.com/logo_images/424260964/joan%20mitchell%20photo.jpg

Introduction

This blog is a record of my thoughts and ideas surround this issue of women and gender in the arts. It is intended as a reflection of the things I am learning as part of my degree, and as such I hope it will be informative and of interest to others.

What I am hoping to gain from this exploration is a better insight into the feminist issues in the arts,particularly fine art. As a woman producing art in today’s society, I feel it is pertinent to understand the history of what went before- and not simply to accept what we are taught.

My parents brought me up to believe that all people are equal, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, culture, age, sexuality. I believe it is our responsibility to uphold the fair treatment of all, and to do so, we must question the ideologies that (consciously or unconsciously, subtly or unsubtly) shape that which does not value equality and diversity.

I hope that in studying the role of women within art I can better locate myself within a community, a world, that is traditionally so male-dominated; and encounter those who, through their work, made such a thing possible.