My thoughts on the portrayal of females in art

So I’ve been wondering about this for a while…well..I’m not sure wondering is the right word. More like thinking in general about why so much art depicts the female form in some way. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I think it’s just an interesting talking point of how influential women are in art as a whole. When you get down to it, people like art because it’s beautiful or appealing in some way. Art and making art makes everyone at least a bit happy, it is after all human nature to want to create, or make something new. It broadens our horizons, and it also expresses what we value or believe in, or perhaps question. In this case, I see myself viewing art, appreciating the thought and message behind it, but always thinking why the artist chose to draw a piece the way they did. I’m not an expert at critiquing art but it’s pretty obvious males like looking at females. And females like looking at females. In that sense I can see why so many people like viewing art with females as the main focal point.

So I’ve always wondered firstly, why so many people choose to draw females. And I don’t think many are even aware of it…it just happens. I think it’s easier to draw females than males in a lot of cases (I know there are exceptions…just making a general statement here), mainly because the lines are smoother and more organic, with less hard edges and jagged points. In this sense, females suit a lot of styles because the lines and gestures are nicer and easier to work with. There’s also the case of fashion which I think also plays a pretty big part in why many choose to draw females instead of males. And also beauty, of course. I admit, I would probably be more inclined to like a piece depicting an attractive female rather than a male, mainly because females are more appealing (or maybe because the artist modelled the person in what society values as being attractive? ) The thing that always bugs me though, is the portrayal of extremely exaggerated boobs, butts, and thighs being modelled in art today. And at the same time, I feel majorly conflicted because at the end of the day I still appreciate some of the sexualisation of women in art. And I too find it hard to not draw from what society defines as beautiful too. I think I’m pretty open minded when it comes to art; I appreciate pretty much any medium and I’m never dismissive about something without giving reasons why I don’t like it. But I think there’s a very fine line between tasteful and shameful that I can never seem to wrap my head around completely…

I know pin ups and all that have been around for ages, and I guess it has a market (a pretty big one at that) that caters to people who are into that. I usually enjoy it if I really like the style or technique…but again, I always question myself when I automatically like an overly sexualised portrayal of a person be it male or female… and then I think I’m the biggest hypocrite. As an example, I really, really like Artgerm’s Powerpuff girls pin up. I think he’s just an all round great, inspirational artist I look up to and admire. His portrait and human anatomy drawing skills are just sublime. That said I almost always notice the boobs and skimpy clothing first in the pin ups, and …I don’t know how to feel about that. And as an artist maybe sometimes I’m not consciously aware of what I’m sketching, but sometimes I guess the mind just switches off and we just draw pretty, appealing things. Which may or may not include portrayals of women with features our culture defines as beautiful. eg. big eyes, long legs etc. That’s not to say men aren’t sexualised either. I’m talking about the chiseled abs and set jaws and toned arms. It’s just a lot more art depicts sexualised females in the stupidest poses, particularly in posters and ads…things like that.

To me personally, using exaggerated sexualisation feels so cheap. Like I’m using the easiest, cheapest way to make something appealing to the masses. I hate the fact that when I draw a sexy female (not that I draw many sexy females in the first place) I’m potentially reaffirming what society defines as beautiful. The same definition which is featured in women’s magazines and mass media in general. The same definition which guides editors/designers to Photoshop celebrities into our culture’s ‘ideal’ female form. Non-subversive art does that to me. :sweat: It’s conflicting because being in that position needs decisive and assured reasons as to why you’re editing someone in that way…and I can say I’m not a very decisive person. :sweat: I mean I know Artgerm does a lot of pin ups and I know they’re supposed to be exaggerated-ly attractive. People like looking at pretty things. It’s totally normal. It just feels….hypocritical of me and wrong to like it when at the same time I dislike some pieces for using sex too much to sell itself. I don’t really know how to feel towards a piece that’s really just an overly sexualised figure, no matter how great the background or effects is, but I can definitely appreciate the technique and skill behind it. However, I don’t think I can really fully love something without regarding the sexualisation used.

At the same time, I enjoy sexy armour in games and such; I like having a pretty avatar and getting awesome armour that just looks good. Example, I have a Diablo 3 wizard which had the skimpiest armour for a time…granted she’s now fully decked out with a pretty sweet set so it’s all pretty realistic now (kudos Blizzard). But honestly, I never thought to myself ‘omg I hate my avatar because she’s just TOO SEXY‘. So from this, perhaps people like sexy avatars because it’s basically just like an rpg element? Whereas with art, it’s more of just the artist’s context with no interaction from the viewer…resulting in a disconnect between the two. I’m sure some would argue the only reason some women are against the sexualisation of females in art is because of jealousy (you know like with ads where they make men want something for it’s purpose, and a woman want to be like the woman in the ad). But I really think there’s more to it than that. It’s the use of the female form to sell something that feels wrong, and I’m talking about all media here not just fine art.

Maybe I’m just looking into it all a bit too much….but it’s something that’s always bothered me. I don’t know about anyone else but whenever I see art that’s really just a female with bedroom eyes I always ask why? I’m on deviantART a lot and there’s almost always a semi naked girl on the front page, whether it’s nude or drawn..and I just think is that all it takes for people to appreciate something? Maybe deviantART isn’t a very good example….but again, a publication such as Juxtapoz mag has a section completely dedicated to ‘erotica’. Which obviously consists of sexy female pin ups. Again, I know there’s a market for this, I’m just saying, for me personally I don’t think I can ever fully love a piece of art without determining the intent of the use of sex in the piece. Then again, I guess I could also ask the question, why do we even bother drawing anything at all, if not for the sake of beauty? The female form is beautiful. I think sometimes, it’s just cheaply used with hardly any artistic merit…and honestly I hope I’m perceptive enough to decide what’s tasteful and what’s not. But I’m just one person, I’m just writing what I think here and as a whole I think this topic is quite interesting to think about. When I see posts on tumblr and such criticising the portrayal of females in media I usually think ‘but collectively, society likes beautiful things and females are beautiful. It’s just human nature’. Going back to two thoughts; that is sex is powerful and yet sex is also demeaning and cheap. In art and design in general, it takes great skill to balance between using an exaggerated human form in an artistic way and not overtly objectifying them in the same breath- something which I think is extremely rare to come by. This is the main reason why I really dislike advertising in today’s environment. There’s the odd  kooky ad every now and then but for the most part I think ad agencies still have a long way to go when it comes to using sex to sell something.

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