Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gender Observations

I was looking though the latest issue of American Art Collector Magazine recently (which is a monthly catalog of all the contemporary realist art gallery shows in the US) and I started to notice I could often tell if a painting was done by a man or a woman instinctively, without reading the name.

I decided to test myself, by looking at the painting and covering the name and then guessing the gender of the painter, and was shocked to find I was correct most the time.

I have no idea what makes a woman's painting look like a woman's painting, do you? It was based more on a feeling than anything else, certainly not ability or subject matter, but just an approach. Whether still life, figure, or landscape, I could tell. Figure I'd say is the easiest to identify, landscape the most subtle, but all are discernible.

I've looked at this magazine a LOT over the last year or two, I pore over every page every month and make notes of galleries and artists to watch, and I think it's been helpful to train my eye to recognize trends and styles in the realist movement. I noticed a couple months ago I could recognize different areas of the country sometimes (different "schools of training" etc). I can also tell who has studied with or been inspired by whom (David Leffel and Malcolm Liepke have apparently huge followings because it seems every issue has a splashy, red-nosed New York-style sprite drinking a martini, or a still life with a spray of "silver dollar" willow receding into black with some scattered grapes...). I also feel I can tell if someone has studied the Florence School/Bargue/Sight Size method.

But I didn't realize till just this month that gender is so obvious. Every painting is pretty clearly executed by a male or female hand. Of course this isn't a scientific study, just a feeling, but try it and maybe you can tell, too.

It also brings me to my other gender observation. Is it possible to paint a female nude without SOME aspect of sexism? It seems to me to be nearly impossible to paint a female that does not reference thousands of years of art history and have some element of a female stereotype implicit in the image.

How does a woman paint a woman without referencing how men have always painted women?