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Feminism and Gender Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2019


This paper discusses the history of women in the field of art. Two articles will be explored in discussing the said issue. The first article in the analysis is written by Linda Nochlin and it is entitled “Why have there been no great women artists?” The article is basically about women, art and power.

The second article is by Michael Camille and is entitled “For our devotion and pleasure: The sexual objects of Jean, Duc de Berry”. It talks about the history of art. The two articles explore and compare the main points articulated in them with the aim of drawing similarities and differences in their writings. Analyses of the articles Linda Nochlin’s article

Linda Nochlin’s writing on the subject “Why have there been no great women artists?” is a pioneer article on the subject of feminine participation in the field of art. The article provokes the debate on why female artists have not been so successful in the field of art as compared to their male counterparts.

The title of the article by Linda Nochlin has generated a lot of debate with some terming it as being feminist considering the fact that it is written by a female writer. However, Linda Nochlin’s article is a response to a question which she had been asked by a gallery owner. In her opening remarks, she tries to point out the different ways in which other individuals have tried to answer this question.

She argues that all those attempts to answer the question are commendable especially in giving the historical background of art. However, the article only serves to highlight the point that female artists were not as successful as their male counterparts.

To affirm her argument, she pinpoints that there has never been a female artist who could match the works of Michelangelo or Remembrandt and no amount of scholarly research could alter this fact which on a broader sense validates the concerns raised by the question. She further argues that the same experience on women being sidelined is clearly synonymous with other cultures such as Chinese, African and even Eskimos throughout history.

Linda then attempts to provide answers to this question by first mutilating the whole idea behind the myth of the genius artist as a case of artistic fantasy. This myth has been a part and parcel of art since the days of Pliny.

It has nurtured the notion that an individual with a real gift in art will most naturally be accorded the tag of a genius and therefore, doors will be opened for him or her to be nurtured by a renowned teacher in the field and possibly enhance his or her skills beyond the teacher’s scope of ability (Nochlin 20).

She argues that a work of art is rarely a personal expression of the art and therefore, if we quantify art as a total reflection of both purpose, production and patronage, it will be clearly evident to all of us that there is a systematic biasness that promotes the exclusion of women from the domain of those who are able to create and model famous works of art like those of Raphael and Michelangelo (Nochlin 176).

Interestingly, this fact is clearly illuminated in the article, “For our devotion and pleasure: the sexual objects of Jean, Duc de Berry” by Michael Camille. Mr. Camille portrays the Duke as a great patron of art. However, the paintings commissioned by the latter were actually an expression of his passionate sexual attraction to young men.

Many historians have made the claims that the Duke was most likely fancied with homosexual behavior and therefore expressed this passionate desire through the paintings which he commissioned. Looking at it from the point of view of Michael Camille, we are able to note that the artist was not freely expressing his own personal views but that he basically painted the views of his patron, the Duke.

This clearly confirms Linda’s argument that the systems that existed did not give the artist the room to express himself or herself but rather to express the views of another in order to succeed and be promoted into the limelight of the given society in which the artist found himself or herself.

It is possible that the artists themselves might not have agreed with the views of the Duke although they became famous because of painting in accordance to the views of the Duke.

Institutions which trained and modeled artists were purposely engineered and tailored to serve certain classes of individuals and this was the general case in all Europe where the art academies throughout history were established to serve a particular domain of people while at the same time excluding others.

For example, Jacques-Louis David, most likely did not permit female artists into the art classes where they could perfect their skills in art although he was one of the leading supporters of female artists. This therefore denied the female artists the chance to compete against famous artists like Pris de Rome who rose to fame by sketching pictures of nude people.

The women artists did not have the opportunities of learning how to sketch any pictures in order to compete with such famous male artists. Therefore, even though there were considerable numbers of women artists in the later years of the eighteenth and the dawn of the nineteenth centuries, none would have come close to receiving the famous awards that their male counterparts were enjoying.

Linda makes the article further interesting when she changes the basis of her question to point out the fact that the absence of famous female artists in history can actually be examined in a broader spectrum by further raising a new question. She asks why there are no famous artists of the aristocratic classes.

She points out that although aristocrats were actively involved with works of art throughout history and also received training on the same, none of them had received an acclaimed award in art apart from Toulouse Lautrec who became a famous artist after abandoning his ancestral background.

Linda narrows down to assert that the whole question about female artists actually revolves around the production of art and therefore, to provide answers to the subject, we must keenly examine a broad spectrum of realities rather than the whole aspect of why artists chose to become artists in the first place.

Linda concludes by expanding her argument to stress the point that the same predicament faces women in all other domains that focus on studies on women.

The issues of women are actually never looked at from the perspective of women but are always subjected to male viewpoints just like in families and societies in general. Issues on women are commonly built around the male perspectives with little or no consideration at all for the women’s points of view.

A careful analysis of the article by Nochlin reveals that society has not provided an equal platform for both men and women to acquire skills in art. Although women artists have been numerous throughout history, little has been done to tap and nurture their talents in art.

This is a fact that society has to reckon with and consequently address. She also makes an important contribution to the subject of art by emphasizing that for aspiring artists to become successful, they will need to build firm and lasting relationships with other famous artists or patrons, be educated in good art academies and also be given the opportunities to freely express their views artistically without placing social barriers on their work.

These three factors are very important in the development of an artist’s skills. Getting education from famous schools of art and academies is a very vital need for an upcoming female artist since without such education; the most talented female artist will not be able to achieve her full potential.

It is therefore important to provide the same educational facilities to women artists like their male counterparts.If this is done, women will be able to achieve the same levels of recognition as their male counterparts.

In fact, it is possible that they may even outdo their male colleagues in both talents and skills. Providing facilities that enhance equal learning opportunities for men and women in the field of art boosts healthy competition and development of robust ideas in fields of art.

It is possible that the greatest works of art are yet to be done and we can only find out if this is true by leveling the playing field and anticipating great works of art in the future.

Building strong relationships between young upcoming female artists and other famous artists or patrons of art is important to the female artist. It is quite evident that any woman in history who gained any form of fame or success for her works of art must have been inspired by a male artist.

This could either have been a father to the female artist who was himself an acclaimed artist or a husband who had links with famous artists and who therefore helped to shape his wife’s skills in art.

This fact is also highlighted in Michael Camille’s article, named “For our devotion and pleasure: The sexual objects of Jean, Duc de Berry”. In this article, Camille highlights how the Duke spent fortunes commissioning paintings and artworks which the latter passionately cherished.

It is clearly evident in the article by Camille that the artists at Jens’ time flourished because of his patronage of their works of art. He spent an enormous part of his wealth acquiring their pieces of art, some of which have endured to this day. It was his patronage of art that made the artists of his time famous. It is also interesting to note that none of the artists who worked for the Duke was feminine.

Though skills can be acquired in great schools of art, they can only be shaped into useful experiences through the direction of an acclaimed artist. The skills acquired in class are theoretical while the guidance of a famous artist offers the real experience and improves talent in order to produce a great piece of art which will be admired by all.

Cultural and social stereotyping which portrays a woman as bound and confined to the duties of the household especially in the nineteenth century was a clear barrier to the advancement of women in the field of art. The women who painted during this period were thought to do so in order to become famous and not as a part of their careers.

The woman was always expected to maintain her place as a housewife and not try and venture in the male dominated field of art. Such notions clearly explain the great divide between historical male and female artists. Although art has had a special place in influencing human life throughout history, it is sad to note that not a single famous female artist emerged to be famous therefore making the contribution of art to human life throughout history a one sided affair.

However, women now need to rise to the occasion and make their voices be heard. They need to be willing to explore into the unknown and fight the barriers which have existed and which have limited their participation in the field of art. Michael Camille’s article

On the other hand, according to Michael Camille’s article, named “For our devotion and pleasure: The sexual objects of Jean, Duc de Berry”, the history of art is a description of Duc de Berry’s love for artwork and his portrayal as a homosexual. The purposes of the Duke’s frenzy on works of art are attributed to the fact that he was not seeking to glorify the art but was actually to create an ego (Camille 169).

The Duke’s collections of art were of diverse varieties and tastes. Some of his most prized possessions were jewels. The Duke owned large tracts of land which were the source of his enormous wealth and which also facilitated the acquisition of artworks and other precious collections.

However, the Duke is said to have had a controversial character. His perceived behavior of homosexuality is largely ignored in the writings although many historians have pointed to this fact. They base their evidence on two sources. The first is the information provided by Froissart who was an actual witness to the events described.

He describes the Duke as having placed his “pleasures” on a young boy named Tacque-Tibau (Camille 172). The other is an extract from a political article that mocks the Duke’s obsessive feelings directed towards another man whose professional background was not mentioned. The article explains how the Duke lavished the latter with many pleasantries (Camille 172).

The best way to understand Jean’s sexual orientation is by keenly examining the artworks which he so passionately commissioned. The January page of the “Tres riches heures” of Jean shows the patron at the middle of a party of homosexuals.

This was most likely depicted to portray the patron’s attraction to youthful men. By taking this into account, we are now able to understand Jean’s love and quest for works of art and how this is influenced by political position and power.

The “Grandes Heures” which was painted by a number of artists contains images of both young and old men plainly depicting themselves in sexual acts. One has a picture of a youthful man who is being fellated by an image of a hooded body in a turban. Such a figure during that period in history depicted a sodomite.

In addition, the young man was painted as ringing three bells. In the language used at that time in history, numbers represented the male sexual organs and the ringing of the bell could easily be interpreted as an act of simulating sexual feelings (Camille 183).

Another damning portrayal of art which clearly depicts the sexual scenes is that of an old man who is kneeling above a small figure of an animal whose head disappears into his crotch. The old man is also depicted with bare buttocks and his sexual organs explicitly hanging next to a larger feather (Camille 183).

Such scenes clearly and overwhelmingly attest to the fact that Jean Duc de Berry had a passionate sexual appeal towards young men which he openly expressed in the paintings which he supported. The Duke uses art as a way to communicate his odd attraction to men and spends a fortune doing this.

On a more interesting note, Jean was also a devout religious man and looked intensely for salvation by accumulating religious symbols which he later donated to some religious institutions. This is clearly contrasted to the nature of his character as portrayed in the works of art which he so passionately loved. The Duke’s contribution to art cannot be overemphasized. Conclusion

The two articles provide us with a rich understanding of the gender issues that have historically existed over the centuries and how art has become a central part in illuminating and preserving these issues. Through art, we are able to clearly understand the gender imbalances that earlier generations faced and we are able to carefully study their effects on the societies then.

This gives us an opportunity to take corrective measures for the current generations in order to avoid the pitfalls which arose during such times. Art has no gender and, therefore, equal opportunities need to be given to all talented young men and women in order for them to maximally exploit their God given talents which will enable them to achieve what others failed to achieve throughout history.

Works Cited

Camille, Michael. For our devotion and Pleasure: The sexual objects of Jean, Duc de Berry,” Art History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1992. Print.

Nochlin, Linda. “Why Have There Been no Great Women Artists?” in Women, Art and Power. New York: Harper and Row. 1988. Print.

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