The status of the female body in society

venicewallf600Linda Nochlin is a feminist art historian who in 1971 wrote a famous essay called, “Why Are There No Great Female Artists?” I think the essay should of been retitled, “Where are all the great female artists?” But of course, Nochlin wouldn’t have known the powerful women of the 70’s had even existed thanks to the abundance of rights they’d been given. I am blogging about this in particular because even after 40 years, the same question “Where are all the great female artists?” is still being asked.

In 2010, 83% of the artists in the Tate Modern were men and in the  Saatchi gallery 70% were men. (figures from the guardian newspaper). This appalling information raises so many questions but considering i am interested in female ideals, the idea i want to discuss  is, “what is the status of the female body in society?” I want to know how a womens status effects her rights and is it whats stopping women from moving forward in terms of their careers and socially. I feel this can be answered by looking in detail at the way women have developed their say throughout history and how artists such as Cindy Sherman and Orlan are using a rather… different form of medium to protest for a stronger, more independant woman.


There has never been an abundance of powerful female figures but women have throughout history been oppressed. Because of this, throughout history women have fought, protested and rioted for their rights and after generation after generation of head strong women, we are finally getting closer to becoming a more equal and harmonious society.

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It was the 1970’s when woman began to really ask questions and therefore a huge feminist art movement began. Women began to protest for their right to be equal to men. This was something i first began properly looking into in 2011. I was researching how Women picketed for the (mostly male dominated) Art Workers’ Coalition to support protests for female rights and for galleries showcase female artwork.

womens-day-1970sI find it inspiring how women wanted to shun their  idealistic “housewife” way of life and stand up and fight for equality. I began researching for this blog looking at a massive influence in feminist history, Paula Rego. For me, Rego is a hugely influential artist who uses her powerful position as an artist to manipulate the female position in society in her paintings. She is fearful and controversial and is not afraid to stand and fight for her beliefs. She does this by using story telling in her paintings and often switches up gender roles to make the female the more dominant and powerful character.

A collection of paintings i pay particular attention to when relating Paula Rego to feminism is her ‘Dog women’ series in the early 1990’s. In my opinion, Rego’s paintings portray women as ferocious creatures which is a massive contrast to the usual ‘domestic’ and ‘controlled’ view of women at this time.


Paula Rego
Dog Woman


1994, Pastel on canvas

120 x 160 cm


“To be a dog woman is not necessarily to be downtrodden; that has very little to do with it. In these pictures every woman’s a dog woman, not downtrodden, but powerful. To be bestial is good. It’s physical. Eating, snarling, all activities to do with sensation are positive. To picture a woman as a dog is utterly believable.” – Paula Rego

Barbara Kruger – Female Ideals

“I’d always been a news junkie, always read lots of newspapers and watched the Sunday morning news shows on TV and felt strongly about issues of power, control, sexuality and race.” – Barbara Kruger


In 1979, barbara Kruger stopped taking her own photographs and began using images from the media. This shows that social issues in the media clearly have a large effect on her. Kruger uses lot’s of sterotypical 70’s housewife photographs. These images portray women as “the perfect housewife” or “the glamorous mother”. Kruger adds dark twists to the initial message of the images, altering the meanings associated with women stereotypes, making us think twice. Kruger then posts these images in poster form making her a propaganda artist. It’s as if she wants to brainwash people into seeing the pain before the beauty through the use of text, form and colour. In the image above, Kruger uses the bold red text to make the reader assume the women pictured is questioning her beauty. She makes the women seem vulnerable but at the same time, Kruger is empowering women, asking the question women dare not to ask.


For Kruger, text to accompany her work was obviously an important way of communicating, if not the most important component in her work. She studied poetry and writing at university and attended poetry readings. It was obviously something she was passionate about.


“It entered the visual vocabulary of photographers, painters and sculptors and focused on what pictures and words look like and what they can mean.” – Barbara Kruger

barbara-kruger-your-body-is-a-battleground-19891This image created by Kruger uses a very direct approach in accordance to the front facing face of the model. Kruger used a models face to show beauty and then divided the face to show positives and negatives within a person. The inversed side of the photograph shows the negative, darker side and the inversed side shows the beautiful, positive and visible side to the body. I think it’s questioning beauty and trueness. By inversing half of the face, the beautiful woman looks very deserted and vicious. There is less detail in her features which gives her a creepy, unnatural look. It’s as if each side of the woman is fighting against one another in a battle. The photograph is quartered by the use of a slogan, “your body is a battleground”. The text is highlighted by placing it on a read background with white text. The text is bold to emphasise the message and uses the second person pronoun “your” to speak directly to the reader.

Roy Litchenstein – Female Ideals

Roy Lichtenstein created a painting called, “I don’t care! I’d rather sink- then call Brad for help!” The painting is a comic book type image from the 1970’s pop art movement. The image shows a vulnerable girl on her own being almost completely overcome by a threatening wave. Lichtenstein was inspired by comic books. It’s as though he has followed the generic comic book story line where the male character is the hero and the female character is the damsel in distress who is later to be saved by the male. Lichtenstein’s “I don’t care! I’d rather sink – then call Brad for help!” is somewhat peaceful, as if the wave is a pillow to comfort the girl and as if she is lying on a bed, close to going to sleep. Another perception of this image is that she is drowning in a sea of her own tears. The blue tones in the image almost blend the woman into the sea, as if that is where she belongs. The original image appeared in a comic book with the headline “run for love”. Usually “Brad” doesn’t appear in Lichtenstein’s paintings but in the original I have noticed that he appears in the background, clinging onto the upturned boat.



The well known version shows “brad” cropped out the image which makes it more melodramatic and captures the audience’s attention. Lichtenstein leaves it up to the audience to decide what has just occurred in each painting, for example in his painting – “Ohhh… alright…” he leaves the audience on a “cliff hanger” dew to the text “Ohhh… alright…” which makes the audience wonder what the other speaker has just said to make the woman respond in such a way and create the concerned look on her face. It’s almost too obvious that she’s talking to a man, but once again Lichtenstein has left the man out of the image to give a sense of mystery to the painting. The woman is shown desperately clinging to the phone as though it’s the closest thing she has to the man she longs for. She looks disappointed and powerless whilst the man (even though not shown) is clearly the more powerful person. I think this painting is very stereotypical as if every woman would react in this way to bad news.

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Lichtenstein’s made a series of pop art style work which shows women in very melodramatic states, where the man is seen as very domineering towards the woman. I think that Lichtenstein is stereotyping woman as powerless and in need of a male figure of authority to keep them safe, despite the woman featured in his paintings look recurrently disappointed by the man.

I think Lichtenstein developed his own visual idea of comic characters looked like through his imagination when listening to serial radio shows such as “Flash Gordon” and “Mandrake the Magician.” These shows must have influenced him and his idea of the “hero” and “damsel in distress”.


Female Ideals


When exploring the work of Barbara Kruger and Roy Lichtenstein I find it interesting understanding how each photographer portrays their female ideals. Kruger empowers women by using language – asking rhetorical questions, lists of three ect. to make the reader think, whilst Litchenstein takes power away from women. He implies through his work that they are somewhat worthless without the love of a man.