My vision of Eve and the Seduction.
This seemed the perfect image to go with the Pink Panther Magazine’s challenge about Objectification in Art.
Here’s my take:
Before answering the question I wanted to make sure I knew what objectification really meant. So I looked it up:
Objectification is the process by which an abstract concept is treated as if it is a concrete thing or physical object. In this sense the term is synonym to reification.
Philosopher Martha Nussbaum1 has argued that something is objectified if any of the following factors is present:
Instrumentality – if the thing is treated as a tool for one’s own purposes;
Denial of autonomy – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency or self-determination;
Inertness – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency;
Ownership – if the thing is treated as if owned by another;
Fungibility – if the thing is treated as if interchangeable;
Violability – if the thing is treated as if permissible to smash;
denial of subjectivity – if the thing is treated as if there is no need to show concern for the ’object’s’ feelings and experiences.
Sexual objectification refers to the practice of regarding or treating another person merely as an instrument (object) towards the person’s sexual pleasure. (Source, Wikipedia)
To me objectification goes right along with labelling and compartmentalising. So I looked up those as well:
Labelling or Labeling is describing someone or something in a word or short phrase.1 For example, describing someone who has broken a law as a criminal. Labeling theory is a theory in sociology which ascribes labelling of people to control and identification of deviant behavior.
It has been argued that labelling is necessary for communication.2 However, the use of the term labelling is often intended to highlight the fact that the label is a description applied from the outside, rather than something intrinsic to the labelled thing. This can be done for several reasons:
To provoke a discussion about what the best description is
To reject a particular label
To reject the whole idea that the labelled thing can be described in a short phrase.
This last usage can be seen as an accusation that such a short description is overly-reductive.
Giving something a label can be seen as positive, but the term label is not usually used in this case. For example, giving a name to a common identity is seen as essential in identity politics.
Labelling is often equivalent to pigeonholing or the use of stereotypes and can suffer from the same problems as these activities.
The labelling of people can be related to a reference group. For example, the labels black and white are related to black people and white people; the labels young and old are related to young people and old people.
The labelling of works of art can be related to genre. For example a piece of music may be described as progressive rock or indie. However, there are other labels that can be applied to a work, such as derivative, low or high. The use of the word labelling is less common in the context of works of art than people. However, it also often represents the rejection of a label. For example, an artist may feel that the labeller is attempting to restrict the scope of the artist’s work to that which is covered by the label. (Source, Wikipedia)
Compartmentalizing is the act of splitting an idea or concept up into (sometimes more or less arbitrary) parts, and trying to enforce thought processes which are inhibiting attempts to allow these parts to mix together again. This process is performed in an attempt to simplify things. (Source, Wapedia)
To sum up my findings – all three mechanisms are to protect the person behind it. It can be simply to make it easier to understand something complex, or it can be to reject something or it can be a way of controlling something that is otherwise beyond your power or control.
With this in mind, objectification in art is a way for the artist to control the ‘object’ of his/her art. Reducing a woman to a sexual object, to the housewife, the mother, the whore etc is a way of controlling the artist’s fear of the object (woman). However, it can also be simply a way of showing the objectification by making the objectification visible to viewers through art. Or it can be to show one aspect of the object with admiration. This holds true, especially considering that some of the art is by women and shows the empowerment of women in a sexual context.
Personally, I think there’s a very fine line between objectification and labelling and admiration and criticism of society.
Art is in many ways a mirror. It doesn’t always show us what we expect to see and what we see is not always what was intended by the artist and sometimes it is so flavoured by the viewer’s own experiences that we wrong the art and the artist.
This means that the viewer’s perspective is just as important as the artist’s intent, if we consider the effect of art. However, if the effect of art is read as the intent of the artist itself may be too simplified as this may not be the case at all but just an error in communication between the intent of the artist and the reception by the viewer.
Yes, there are images that make me feel angry about the way women are depicted; there are images, that make my blood boil and where I want to leave a ‘pithy comment’ for the artist; on the other hand, why allow the artist this much power over me? Is it my fear that I am what I see? Or is it my fear that I am not, which makes me angry?
Again, the line between beautiful nudity (for want of a better description) and porn is very thin and I think also depends on the viewer’s outlook and the mood and life experience of the viewer.
Yes, I wish there were fewer ‘sexy fairies’ and fewer demonised women, Jezebels, to use a label. On the other hand, why buy into the idea? I don’t see myself like either. I know who I am and maybe by being angry about it and wondering about it I am buying into the idea, doubting myself, wondering if that’s who I am. However, I am not. So, I do my art. I show the women in my art how I see them and make the viewers wonder what they’ve missed and doubt themselves rather than me.
Objectification, labelling and compartmentalising have a long tradition in society and art – from the Madonna to the Mona Lisa to Botticelli’s Venus of Milo women have always either been put on a pedestal or turned into a whore. Doesn’t say much about us, just about the ones who see us. To go back to the beginning, all this is a defence mechanism, allowing someone to gain control and power over something they fear or think is beyond their control, and the other side, women are obviously so scary, so complex and so interesting, that some always have to reign us in….
Should we care? Maybe, maybe not. In the long run, I think all we can really do is be ourselves, be the best we can, and teach our daughters and sons just how good we are. ;-)
All images my own, except for the ones below.
Model and Stock:
bruised by xstockx
Apple II. Stock by CozycomfycouchStock
Apocalyptic Bronze Hand by Amor-Fati-Stock
Textures and Background:
Plaster Damaged Texture by goodtextures
STORM AT SEA BG STOCK V by ArwenArts
Mirrored in misty waters… by steppelandstock
111 Views, 17/05/2010