The Decorative Human

It bugs me to think that my art may objectify women. My go-to subject for drawing is a beautiful woman from my imagination. I’m both drawn to and unsettled by art where women’s sensual features are accentuated. It triggers an ongoing debate in my mind.

Seemingly at odds here: my aesthetic for sensual beauty, and my desire for equality.

Can I convey personhood and sensuality at the same time? Is there a way I can draw so that people will see both? I would like to think that when I draw one of my characters, even if my drawing is just about her being beautiful and sensual, that the beauty and sensuality can belong to her. That exuding those things doesn’t take anything away from her, least of all her humanity.

Then I think of how women are overwhelmingly the subjects of art. Every now and then I draw a male figure in the same way, trying to train myself to more variety. But it’s more natural to me to draw a woman for two reasons, one which sucks and the other which makes sense.

  1. The sucky reason is that like most people in our culture, I’m pretty well conditioned to see women as ornamental. Even though I’m attracted to men, I usually have to be looking at a man to be moved to draw male beauty, whereas female beauty– even the notion that beauty itself is a feminine quality–is an ingrained concept.
    The “beautiful woman” archetype is shoved down our throats, even in memes meant to be empowering. The “goddess” archetype exists to be worshiped; her power is to inspire us. Conversely the “god” archetype is there to shape the world, and doesn’t gain or lose power by our regard of him.
  2. The reason that makes sense is that I’m a woman, and art is largely self-referential. This reason makes so much sense that I could leave it at that–were I not uncomfortably aware of the former.

I’m not writing this to condemn or excuse myself or try to police my art. It remains for me an open question.

I know I’m not so powerful a creature as to single-handedly overturn a cultural archetype, nor to eradicate its influence from my subconscious, even as I am aware of it. When I’m just drawing, I’m going to draw whatever comes to mind. I’m not going to throw out my old artwork. I’m not going to deny myself a subject that compels me because it happens to be sensual, or female, or conventionally pretty.

But a little at a time I’ve come to discern when I’m really using the female figure as an avatar versus when the point is decoration, despite that the line is often thin. And the more I go, the more I create, the less satisfied I am with just drawing pretty faces.

 

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