This course will show the diverse ways in which women have been portrayed in Western, Asian and Japanese art, from the earliest Egyptian Graeco-Roman depictions of beauty to the goddesses of myths and legends in Japan and China; from the entertainers of theatre and the heroines of wars to the educated poets and writers of the aristocracy; from stereotypes and the perceived ‘slavery of beauty’ to individual freedoms and liberation depicted in tattoos and ‘body awareness’ throughout the world and in different cultures from Japan to Maori to Africa.
Questions such as ‘What is the truth in beauty?’ will be addressed through a wide ranging selection of images that will inspire participants to think about how we perceive beauty, how it is portrayed in history, in the mass media, and what that means in today’s multicultural societies.
“Delightful course: enjoyed this very knowledgeable lecturer (research and Japanese language), good handouts, perfect PowerPoint presentation and very good choice of slides with captions. Thank you so much Suzanne”
Images could cause fear, as in Kali, Goddess of Destruction, or engender love and compassion, as in a Christian Madonna or Tibetan Tara. Famous beauties in the ancient world still fascinate us: Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, Helen of Troy in Graeco-Roman times – is their legacy still valid?
The cult of beauty started in the Renaissance period (1400-1500s) when religious painting was at its height in Europe, with artists like Giotto, Michelangelo and Raphael decorating churches and palaces. Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (1486) is famous for its beauty and purity, but does that depiction of beauty travel across time and cultures? “Bijin-ga” – “pictures of beauties” – were widely circulated in Japan during the 18th and 19th centuries as woodblock prints, making the printed image available to everyone and creating a mass market for “beautiful women”, which is still being created to this day.
Portraits can depict not only the sitter, but offer a window into their state of mind. Power portraits were specifically made to project the influence of the subject, as with Queens Elizabeth I & II, Queen Victoria, Empress CiXi, and Aun Sang Suu Kyi. Accessories and settings gave the sitter an important role to play, whether or not they were up to the part.
Florentine artist Artemisia Gentileschi painted realistic narratives from a woman’s point of view, something no male artist had achieved. Her powerful images show the plight of women in a man’s world. In the early 20th century art movements changed their focus away from the traditionally accepted forms of Salon painting, and showed greater individuality, as with South African artist Irma Stern who was associated with the German Expressionists, and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who developed a unique Primitive style to depict her own narrative.
During the 20th and 21st centuries escapism and fantasy have become the hallmarks of popular culture from the 1950s onwards. Photography became an important part of artistic expression, with many artists using technical advances to manipulate images in new and exciting ways, as with the work of American artists Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura defied gender-specific subjects in art by creating a surrealistic sub-text of gender politics in traditional and contemporary settings.
Women have often defined themselves by what they wear, and designers have sought to change the shape and style of the female form far more than the male form, as with designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Hanae Mori. Virtual reality games and videos have taken the place of traditional movements in art, pop culture and music. This has created a whole new genre of culture for the younger generations of enthusiasts who dress up in their chosen fantasy “hero/heroine” costumes, called “Cosplay”, and gender-fluidity is a hallmark of the outfits and costumes that have become their favoured style of expression.