Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Illustrations for excerpt from John Berger's "Ways of Seeing"

The Venus of Urbino by Titian (c. 1487-1576)

Olympia by Manet (1832-83)

John Berger, Ways of Seeing (p. 272 in Grewal and Kaplan): One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight...

In the art form of the European nude, the painters and spectator-owners were usually men and the person treated as objects usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women. They do to themselves what men do to them. They survey, like men, their own femininity.

In modern art the category of the nude has become less important. Artists themselves began to question it. In this, as in many other respects, Maet represented a turning point. If one compares his Olympia with titian's original, one sees a woman cast in the traditional role, beginning to question that role, somewht defiantly.

The ideal was broken. But there was little to replace it except the "realism" of the prostitute--who became the quintessential woman of early avant-garde twentieth-century painting..."

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