1. Gender Construction
Femininity is concerned with the orientation of the female sex. Stereotyping an individual due to their feminine nature is imperative in further reinforcing sex functions in society. Femininity can be perceived in two ways: conventional femaleness and defiant femaleness. For instance, the idealized feminine body in contemporary society is exceedingly thin and changes the meaning of conventional femininity. The reason is that it represents determination, commitment, and power. Femininity has transformed over time as unlike conventional femininity, modern femininity establishes a fusion that incorporates both conventional femaleness and defiant femininity. The aim is to retain conventional femininity and at the same time portray the traditional traits of a male in terms of leadership, power, strength, and dedication. Women have changed biological, social, and psychological needs attached to them, redefined themselves, and created a new understanding of females as individuals.
Femininity in terms of roles is clearly revealed in the manner stereotypes are attached to women. Gender roles have changed through time as it is seen through such stereotypes. In this case, it would be imperative to look at some examples of changing gender roles through the visual arts. The first example is Madonna, created by the Norwegian expressionist artist Edvard Munch in 1894. This visual art is also called Loving Woman. It signifies religious and erotic ideas. The subject stresses the notion of gender roles since her portrait is very feminine and beautiful, including all the characteristics that are highly valued in women.
According to Munch, Madonna exemplifies all the beauty of the universe. He describes, “Your lips, as crimson as a ripe fruit, are half open as if to express pain.” The artist objectifies the portrait with regard to her beauty and youth. It is the convention of gender role stereotyping. This perspective is clear in the artist’s understanding, using his theory of deeming women exclusively as being gorgeous and sexy. Arguably, given that the artist’s mother died early, there is a distorted perception of females as always beautiful and young. For this reason, women have to focus on these values that express themselves in his labeled paintings, like Madonna.
In his painting, Munch reinforces bigotry and labeling through evaluating the subject in a sexual and objectifying way. According to Gilboa, labeling subjects in art due to their sex is the result of the artistic procedure of characterizing sexual and shared personality. Munch creates it by exaggerating Madonna’s sexual orientation through her semi-naked body, appealing pretense, and the red corona positioned on her head that is similar to the characteristic of a saint and compassion to the outward structure. Thus, the protagonist becomes a caricature of female sexuality and herself.
On the other hand, Rosie the Riveter is an iconic representation made in 1943 by J. Howard Miller. The image designed for Westinghouse is a representation of six million ladies who were a workforce in the Second World War. Most of these women worked in occupation roles that were initially men’s ones, for instance welding and machine work among other jobs. The name of the painting, Rosie the Riveter, symbolizes female empowerment as the Riveter was a role meant for men previously. It contrasts with the conventional sex function. The artist depicts the subject putting on overalls. From the picture, it is evident that her hair is tied up in a polka-dot, stressing the values of contemporary femininity functions, and it is critical in eliminating the function of submissive housewives. This image reveals all the male characteristics respected in a male-dominated society, including strength, power, dominance, and bravery. It clearly displays a change in the traditional gender role that took place in the 1940s.
Also, the focus could be given to Renoir's portrait Afadanie Charpentier and Her Children. It was created in1878 and remains kept in New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another portrait is Bazille's family Reunion found in Paris. One more example could be Camille’s portrait in a wide range of postures and diverse dresses. It was created by Claude Monet in 1867. Although these paintings share the scope of femininity, they are painted from a totally diverse point of view. Renoir went into Madame Cliarpentier’s work-room on commission; Bazille distinguished a specific, almost formal incident, and Monet’s painting was formulated as an exercise in open-air painting. Records indicate that most of the works by Morisot and Cassatt focus on domestic space, for example Two Women Reading, 1869-70 and Susan on a Balcony, 1883. These paintings are created with a confidence of knowledge about everyday activities and rituals that not only comprise the femininity space but collaboratively observe its creation during the women’s lives. On the contrary, Cassatt’s artwork delineates femininity as the qualities incorporated, obtained, and realized from youth to old age through motherhood.
Self-portraiture concerns the personal depiction of an artist. Even though it has been done from since earliest times, it did not take root until the rise of the Renaissance Art Movement in the mid-15th century, a period when artists could frequently be identified, portraying themselves as the main subject. Moreover, artists could choose to depict themselves as the important characters of an artwork as opposed to being the main subject. With improved and affordable mirrors as well as the arrival of the panel portrait, most artists attempted a wide range of self-portraiture. It has changed greatly throughout history. For instance, Portrait of a Man in Turban was created by Jan van Eyck in 1433. In essence, it could be the earliest panel representation. He went further to draw an image of his wife, depicting her as a part of the people that had begun order representations. It was more common to high-class Netherlanders as opposed to the south of the Alps. The field had not been highly august until the time of revitalization (a period associated with much wealth and curiosity in the artist as a protagonist), when the genre became fashionable.
At first, men artists were prominent in self-portraiture. However, over time, women painters have come to take the center stage. Nearly all noteworthy women artists made an impact on the visual arts: the change is clear throughout history, from Caterina van Hemessen to the renowned Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. Other famous female artists include Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, Paula Modersohn-Becker, and Jenny Saville. They presented their nude bodies through portraiture. Females were usually not able to study nude drawing up to the 20th century. For this reason, painting figure compositions was no easy task, and portrait making was a regular profession.
Alice Neel painted her first self-portrait in 1980. It was a short while before she died at the age of 84. Holding the paintbrush, the nude artist looks directly at the onlooker with no considerations for pleasure. In such a painting, Alice Neel invites the viewer to see her entirely in this extremely susceptible and honest space. Hard vertical chair bars surround the woman’s soft flesh. Raising one arm symbolizes that she is ready for work. The other arm hangs limp, imitating the profound sag of stomach and breasts. Eyeglasses point out some frailty but show that the artist can see.
Caterina van Hemessen painted her self-portrait in 1548. The small painting was executed in oil on oak when the artist was 20 years old. It earned her a great reputation during lifetime and is still relevant not just for being an early contemporary female portrait but for depicting the artist in the act of painting. Given the period, self-portraiture was unusual although ordinary for a few artists. For example, those paintings of Albrecht Burer indicated the artist’s social status and daily life. It was rare for the artists of that period to portray the tools of their profession. Uniqueness was evident when Caterina van Hemessen represented her tool of profession. In her self-portrait, she is shown in half-length, holding a brush and looking outwards as though looking at her own image as she draws it on the oak panel in front of her. A close look at the self-portrait reveals that the artist has just begun work on the shown painting. There is no background information disclosed in the painting, and only the outline of her head can be seen.
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun is one of the most prolific and successful portrait painters in the history of painting. According to her, she executed over 900 works of art during lifetime. Most of the artist’s works include historical paintings and landscapes. However, the majority of these paintings is greatly colored, deftly submitted, and romanticized resemblance of the most renowned aristocrats of her period. Among the best-known portraits is that of the queen, Marie Antoinette Holding a Rose. Personal resemblance, with its casual sophistication and abundant landscape surroundings, is characteristic of Vigee Le Brun’s portraits.
Frida Kahlo de Rivera is a Mexican painter, best known for her self-portraits. After an accident that occurred in her career life, Frida Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine and began painting. Most of her portraits depict a lot of pain, probably drawn from personal experience. She had difficulties with marriage due to miscarriages and many operations. She created at least 140 paintings. Among them, 55 are self-portraits that mostly involve the symbolic portrayal of physical and mental wounds. A lot of influence on the artist’s painting style is borrowed from Diego Rivera.
Finally, Paula Modersohn-Becker is a German painter, who focused on early expressionism. Although her career was stopped because of embolism at the age of thirty-one, the artist presented a variety of great images of elevated intensity.
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