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Yves Klein‘s artwork is among the most radical of the twentieth century. According to Karmel, Klein presented an artwork that has remained in the minds of most formal analysts for quite a while, owing to its immense stylistic and figurative features that depict him as a feminist artist.1 One of the characteristics of the work that depicts him as a feminist is his use of naked female figures in his work. Some scholars interpret the figures as portraying women in demonstrations. It is important to note that contemporary women go to the extent of stripping in the quest for justice. Therefore, perhaps Klein used naked women to portray some kind of protest against male chauvinism. However, his deployment of ‘live brushes’ has elicited a modern debate about feminism. Various scholars observe that Klein violated the privacy rights of the women by forcing them to remain naked at the time of painting the work. Therefore, the problem addressed in this paper is that Klein’s application of ‘live brushes’ is intended to represent women as empowered individuals who have equal abilities as their male counterparts.
Women in Klein’s Work
Klein uses portraits of naked women to demonstrate feminist perceptions of “the perfect” or “empowered” woman since women have conventionally been viewed as weak vessels as Cullen et al. reveal.2 The pictures depict women who had been painted with a blue color on their breasts, stomach, and thighs and then asked to lean on the painting material. The images were painted in the 20th century in the backdrop of the rising pressure in many parts of the globe for the government to embrace gender equality.
Because of their nakedness, it is possible to mistake the women shown in the paintings as prostitutes from a brothel. In the past, women were perceived as incapable of taking good care of themselves and had to rely on men for their upkeep. They had to remain under the control of men. They had to be loyal to their men. However, if the argument about prostitution is anything to go by, it is evident that the women in Klein’s work are still reliant on men, a claim that disputes the view that females are equal to men. Looking at the issue from a different angle, some scholars argue that Klein used the art of motion to illustrate the need for women to move from the oppressive men. In one of the pictures, the women are seen to be moving. One of the women is portrayed as having placed her hand in such a way that shows it is moving. She is also in a standing position with one foot forward, suggesting she could have been walking. The other woman is holding her head from the back while placing her other hand on the front. The artist has demonstrated the art of motion, which could be interpreted as a wake-up call for women to move from the torturous life propagated by men.3
Analysis of the Work from a Feminist Perspective
With the sensitivity of issues to do with sexuality, nudity, and prostitution, Klein’s work was fated to meet a great public outrage as Yves and Ottmann reveal.4 The fact that the work had women depicted to be naked prostitutes made the large oil painting Klein had presented a serious object of criticism. Klein sought to paint a picture of women living under the oppressive regime where their male counterparts could use them without care. In support of this claim, it may suffice to view the artist’s decision to compel women to strip as illustrative of the nature of men’s oppressiveness towards women. It goes against their right to privacy, which is guaranteed by the constitution. Before much of the artwork is assessed, it is appropriate that the movement to which the artist belonged or subscribed to should be overviewed.
Having lived in the 20th century, Akbar confirms that Klein’s artwork was largely influenced by the then art culture that may be viewed as the foundation of women empowerment, although feminism was manifested first in the 1970s5 Although he was a highly creative artist whose spectacular skills in art earned him much praise, in this particular art, he had most of his ideas influenced by the prevailing social culture that had slowly started to emerge, thus establishing the base for a movement that would later see women gain recognition in the society. According to Kristin Russell, at the time his work was published, various human rights activists had come up to champion for the recognition of gender equality.6 In the contemporary world, women go to the extent of stripping naked to cause their respective governments to listen to their demands. Therefore, perhaps Klein’s images depict women in a demonstration to force the government to enforce gender equality laws.
The assertions that Klein’s work revolves around the theme of feminism is further substantiated by the view that most artists of his days were influenced by their personal experience. The predominance of specific art culture and practice may drive artists such as Klein into designing their works in line with what they observe and experience. For instance, during the period of war and civil violence, artists who lived during such ages were more likely to be skewed by designing pictures and drawings that sought to pass certain messages such as Klein’s feminist campaigns7 Similarly, art as a culture has various movements that tend to influence the imagination of the artists. To this end, they may seek to align with the provisions, practices, and guidelines presented by the movement that rules the day. Klein was not left out in this regard. The feminist movement to which he subscribed influenced most of his artworks.
Klein’s creation of Anthropometries was also largely influenced by ‘Primitivism’, a Western Movement that had dominated Europe and other Western regions for quite some time. The movement is known to have borrowed most of its visual forms from the prehistoric artist movements. Klein had all his works generated from this movement. It is worth noting that the artist abandoned the Perspective Movement he had been entrenched in and adopted the new primitivist campaign that depicted human beings as simple organisms that could co-exist without competing on who is superior to the other. Specifically, the movement could be viewed as part of feminism that sought to shun people who viewed women as weak to the extent that they could not have their views aired or heard as equally important in the society. Klein’s work was a way of allowing women to speak for themselves through the paintings that were made using their bodies. In line with O’Donovan’s views, Figure 2 in the Appendix shows Klein in the process of smearing paint on a woman’s body ready to be captured on the wall as part of his feminist artwork8
It is also argued that the artist’s decision to smear the women’s front with blue color was meant to divert the attention of men since the blue color prevented men from directly seeing the women’s most sensitive parts during the painting exercise. In conventional society, women were perceived as sex objects that never received the attention they deserved.9 As shown in Figure 3 in the Appendix, the blue color, which was smeared in the most sensitive parts such as breasts, would barmen from viewing women as sex objects. With the private parts blurred, the objects require keen observation to tell that they depict naked women. Therefore, according to Cheetham, without considering the sexual organs, it suffices to claim that women are similar to men and that people from both genders need equal treatment.10
However, looking at the images from a different angle, one may claim that Klein did not promote the concept of feminism. Just as the men use their power and dominance to oppress women, Klein uses his position to cause women to strip11. The action raises the question of whether the artist endorsed or rejected feminism. It would be impossible for Klein to promote feminism as a man in ancient times given that most men of the days were against it.
However, some artists have rejected the connection between Klein’s works with feminism, claiming that the paintings are purely meant to entertain the audience. The view is informed by the fact that Klein incorporates all the elements of art to make the images entertaining. Based on what Klein has presented, there is no doubt that the artist has mastered what it takes to produce self-speaking artwork. With the use of all the visual elements, the feminist message the artist was trying to convey undoubtedly reached the audience. Besides the message, the painting’s purpose of meeting the demands of beauty and the perception of women as powerful people have as well been served. Looking at the museum in which it was preserved, the available space is sufficient to allow the picture to be shown with all its details.
In other words, Klein’s message about feminism remains clear up to date. Great technology is also available at the place to help in providing sufficient lighting. This situation can be viewed as symbolic, meaning that the light is meant to ensure that the intended message about women’s rights and empowerment is always given the attention it deserves. Other instruments such as those that hold the image on the wall have additionally ensured the image is well placed to perform its function. Yves Klein could not do better than painting the women in dull but prominent colors as he did. The mixture of equally dull background color has ensured the images of the five women come out clearly. Important to note are the varied colors on the background. The colors show the different scenes in the brothel, perhaps various guestrooms. The hair colors of each woman in the picture make her feminine nature pronounced. With their long hairs, women can best be brought out if an associated color such as black is utilized in an artwork.
Yves Klein has shown a high sense of creativity in bringing out a picture that captures every element of artistic work. Having been created in the 20th century, there was no doubt that his work would be influenced by the prevailing calls for gender equality, which would later result in feminist movements that began in the 1970s. Despite meeting several criticisms, the work has continued to gain immense praise that people who believe the novelty the artist showed was out of the world. Several artists have attributed the work to the theme of feminism. The artists support the view by citing several aspects of the images that depict women as equal to men. For example, women nudity is seen as a protest against male chauvinism while the coloring of the front is said to be a tactic to compel men to view women as equals. All the highlighted aspects have been explained in detail in this paper.
Akbar, Arifa. “Yves Klein at His very Bluest” Arts Entertainment. 2010. Web.
Cheetham, Mark. “Matting the Monochrome: Malevich, Klein, and Now.”Art Journal 64, no. 4 (2005): 94-109.
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Cullen, Mark, Michael Baiocchi, Karen Eggleston, Pooja Loftus, and Victor Fuchs. The Weaker Sex? Vulnerable Men, Resilient Women, and Variations in Sex Differences in Mortality since 1900. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015.
Karmel, Pepe. “Yves Klein: Art and Alchemy.”Art in America 98, no. 5 (2010): 112-119.
O’Donovan, Leo. “Blue streak: ‘Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers.”Commonweal 137, no. 16 (2010): 26-27.
Russell, Kristin. “Feminism and Yves Klein’s Anthropométries.” Visual Arts. 2011. Web.
Yves, Klein, and Klaus Ottmann. Overcoming the Problem of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein. Thompson, Connecticut: Spring Publications, 2007.
- Pepe Karmel, “Yves Klein: Art and Alchemy,” Art in America 98, no. 5 (2010): 113.
- Mark Cullen, et al., The Weaker Sex? Vulnerable Men, Resilient Women, and Variations in Sex Differences in Mortality since 1900 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015), 2.
- Kristin Russell, “Feminism and Yves Klein’s Anthropométries,” Visual Arts, Web.
- Klein Yves, and Klaus Ottmann, Overcoming the Problem of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein (Thompson, Connecticut: Spring Publications, 2007), 3.
- Arifa Akbar, “Yves Klein at His very Bluest,” Web.
- Russell, “Feminism and Yves Klein’s Anthropométries.”
- Akbar, “Yves Klein at His very Bluest.”
- Leo O’Donovan, “Blue streak: ‘Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers,” Commonweal 137, no. 16 (2010): 26.
- Akbar, “Yves Klein at His very Bluest.”
- Mark Cheetham, “Matting the Monochrome: Malevich, Klein, and Now,” Art Journal 64, no. 4 (2005): 96.
- O’Donovan, “Blue streak: ‘Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers,” 97.