Female Sexuality & The Male Gaze With London Drawing Group
We joined London Drawing Group for a day of exploration in the Male gaze and Female Sexuality. Soaring through the National Gallery we became familiar with the versatile lives of women centuries past, the positioning imposed by the male artist and striking stories behind the art, ranging from accounts of the artists lives to thrilling mythology and gut wrenching sagas. If you've ever stuck your nose up at a Degas in favour of an Emin, this tour is guaranteed to change your mind.
Words by Rhiannon Thornton
If you aren't obsessed with the concept of the gaze then lucky for you, you're still free to enjoy all forms of media without thinking, "Is Merdia really a feminist princess, or am I being manipulated by Disney?" Which is not always what you want to be thinking when you and your friends are belting out "let it go". Despite the downfalls that come with acute self-awareness there can also be potential benefits, most of which unfortunately will lie deep in your psyche and have less to do with a kind of explainable happiness you get when you say, go to a funfair. But I think we can agree that self-discovery is the greatest roller coaster of all!..Come on guys, get on board.
The reigning voice on matters of the gaze and original coiner of the phrase, Laura Mulvey focused her celebrated 1989 book, "Visual and other Pleasures" around the discussion. What the world gained from her essay is an understanding of the framework for which women are bound to be depicted through media, that being obscurely and by men. Focused on cinema, Mulveys essay can be applied to almost any form of visual narrative from a yogurt advert to a Tom Ford campaign to, let's face it, Disney. Once you get your knowledge thirsty little grip around this concept it can open a whole world to the realization that people have the power to be much more than how they are played, painted or wrote.
Welcome London Drawing Group, a budding group of vigilante tutors who host a series of enthralling classes held at the National Gallery. These art enthusiasts are equipped with an extensive familiarity of fine art and the evident passion to let you know about it too. The all-day class is a great chance for anyone with an interest in gender, media, art or reaching the end of the day feeling a little smarter than the day before to develop an understanding of how the gaze plays a significant part in painting. Complete with full historical insight, informed personal response and jaw dropping back stories that could make for a cracking EastEnders episode, our tour takes us from the recognisable images of Leonardo Da Vinci's, "Madonna of the Rocks" to a less commercially viable depiction of gruesome decapitation in Johann Liss' "Judith in the Tent of Holofernes".
By homing in on the erasure of female history the tour aims to draw awareness of not only the literal positioning of women within the paintings but also the figurative one. Feminist art collective, The Gurellia Girls famously use stats and facts to create a discourse about the station of women in media. In 1989, 2005 and 2012 they conducted what is formally known as a "weenie count" by taking a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and tallying up the difference between male and female nudes on show. The most recent study found that while a whopping 76% of nudes show females, only 4% of the artists shown where female.
While men have taken authority in depicting women, and in the process have rewrote the reality of female lives, that very right isn't something that women themselves have been able to do. Rather, female painters have been discouraged from self-description altogether, and as the Gurellia Girls have pinpointed this lack of space for honest representation is not something that we can see disappearing at any vast rate. As the late and great John Berger famously wrote, "You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting "Vanity," thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure."