Visual art uses the human body to depict particular socio-cultural classification of gender. Such pictorial representations result from cultural processes the define the identities of male and female (Gender in Art). Pictorial arts highly focus on the human body. The earliest representation dates back between twelve thousand and twenty-five thousand years ago. These ancient arts were symbols of deities, or representations of important cultural heroes. In recent times, human paintings have been used to represent non-spiritual personalities in more contemporary settings (Douglas). In this paper, we will discuss the issues of transformation of gender, age and culture regarding the portrayal of the human body in art. Towards this, we will discuss how different cultures have displayed the human body and the central concerns involved with such depictions.
The Body in Art: Issues of the Transformation of Gender, Age and Culture
Universally, humans are renowned for their unique creativity in visual art. “Art, in its many forms, is practiced by almost all human cultures and can be regarded as one of the defining characteristics of the human species” (Morriss-Kay). Art is a mode of expressing and conveying ideas, beliefs, and cultural values concerning the experiences of humanity throughout all life stages. Through art, we get historical insight about people aiding us to relate present conditions with past occurrences. As earlier noted, the pioneering representations of body art portrayed significant beings like deities and cultural heroes. Today, there is continuous incorporation of ordinary people in the development of art with the body remaining a major focus of both religious and ornamental artworks (White).
The human figure in art is vital for understanding of the various identity aspects including gender, age, race, sexuality, and ethnicity. Many people re-create their bodies, apparels, and hair to disregard or align with standards set by the society. In many western arts, body depictions of women, mostly developed by male artists, idealized the perceptions of the female figure in the society. Contrary, female artists reclaimed their stance and portrayed the feminine through numerous lenses (The Body in Art). Morriss-Kay (2010) suggests that art acquired new symbolic meaning with the development of human intelligence. Visual art is known to be closely associated with linguistics. In Pitts Rivers Museum, there were certain artworks portayed as human forms, originally regarded during the nineteenth century. In past years, art created by Europeans would be considered superior in “taste, style, skill, and meaning” (Douglas) over those created by other people.
In ancienct Greek and Roman, there are numerous divinities and allegorical characters depicted in the visual art. Portraits of realistic humans were first seen during the fifteenth century, which were used by the rich people as representations of close allies and loved ones. In such times, women were represented as those belonging to higher classes adorned with royal clothes, jewels, and makeups. Husbands wanted their wives to reveal the power and class they possessed. This one important cultural trait defined human representation in art during that age (Kranzberg).
Gustav Klimnt, a popular artist of the nineteeth century represented women at different life stages. In his creativity, he included portraits of young ladies, including all forms of femaleness like aging, loss of beauty, and pregnancy. It is believed that he perceived women as natural products and aimed to portray their progressive development through the stages of life. Visual representations in the modern times cover a broad scope. During the Second World War, women were represented as part of the work force that took part in the war. Hanna Wilke’s artworks also display women who survived breast cancer. The female nude bodies are used by artists “to make statements about art, beauty, and ways of seeing the world” (Faulkner and Green).
Generally, the state of male and female genders is communicated through pictorial artworks. It is undeniably that art has played a major role in progressive streotyping of women, birthing both negative and postive consequences. Art brings a clear understanding of gender roles during the civilization periods. Throughout the ages, feminity is portrayed as either sinful or saintly, good or bad (Faulkner and Green). With the digitization of communication, people are constantly bombarded with artistic images which portray identity, age, and cultural values. Such information influence their perception of femininimity and masculinity. Many artists utilize their artistic skills to criticize and document the relationship of society and gender. In the 1960s, artists challenged the cultural and traditional streotyping of women in both public and domestic circles, including the conventional beauty standards. “These artists sought the destruction of male-dominant social precepts” (DiTolla).
In conclusion, the body is portrayed with several trasformations depending on the cultural settings, religious values, ecnomic status, and age group. Activities that demarcate between genders are constructed by existing social values. Art representation of genders differes from one society to another, and depend on the period of time one lives. The major forms of representing human figures are through object forms like rocks, wood, and ivory carvings. Other displays are through pictorgraphic paintings. Artworks represent the features of the human figure, social class, gender, and age.
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