Erasing the Line Between Gender and Sexuality in the Art of Postmodernism

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In this essay, it will be looking at the way gender is preserved in different ways within modernism and post-modernism within art. The structure of gender is one of the controversial subjects within sexuality. Referring to texts By Stephen Whittle, ‘the epistemology of gender is contained within the language and we have no language to go beyond the binary.’ Showing/ depicting the balance of both modernism and postmodernism within the binary and non-binary structure of thinking within art history. The characteristics of both modernism and post-modernism. Laura Mulvey ‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male passive/female.’ in relation to the way in which the body is perceived, judged, reconstructed, and reimagined within modernist and post-modernist views on sexuality and gender. I shall be using artists like Yasumasa Morimura, Titian, Mary Kelley, and views proposed by Judith Butler to investigate body metamorphosis and how the gaze disrupts what we know to believe is true about gender and gender roles. Contrastingly to some of Lacan’s beliefs on biological theories, I shall be exploring not only his theories on language but that of social learning and psychological changes within the body at birth to back and oppose gender biology. Finding the balance between the image and pleasure and what makes a piece of artwork sexualized?

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This leads to a line of inquiry via the binary way of thinking that of male and female, husband and wife, boy, girl, femininity, and masculinity. This could be a very modernist point of view because when using Whittle knowing what gender one’s self is, the binary language is something that does not need words. Furthermore, to the point of differences between the two acclaimed biological genders, male and female, there is still a lot of controversy within femininity and masculinity. For example, the art industry be a male-oriented world in relation to Laura Mulvey’s The Male Gaze Theory Argues that the masculine viewer is the main audience/ producer of visual art were women are seen through a white male’s point of view.

Concerning this quote, it can be found within art and the sexual desire were the art is there for men to look at for pleasure. In the piece ‘Venus of Urbino’ by Titian 1538. The piece clearly shows the goddess Venus is all her beauty and glory, showing how perfect and pure Venus is as a deity that has not been tainted so she is in her most perfect form. It is clear to see that the artist thought that the poses and the body type is his ideal perfect body. This clearly shows an aberrational goal of the perfect form or what the artist preserves is, this is very typical of the time period were women are toles that are there to be used. The style of the painting as well as the topic is modernistic, everything about this painting is very typical of its time.

The Gaze by Lacan goes into the psychoanalytic relation to what the artist is observing the subject that they intend to use not just looking at. It’s lacking in all the light the way things are positioned around the subject of interest. The eye is always drawn to one within/area within a painting, which has not changed within modernism or post-modernism. Every piece is made for the viewer to get pleasure if that be by seeing and just enjoying the artwork or if that be by desire. Laura Mulvey states ‘Pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object’. Regarding a modernist viewpoint, the following quote could be such, not just within the art world but also as a cultural standpoint because of the belief that the world is created in the act that is, the world is what we say it is. Tradition could be argued to be Devils’ Advocate in this case because proof over the years has been found to be, generationally speaking, hard to break. However, there are more than just males and females, transgender, bisexual, non-binary, intersex, etc. With all these different genders which break the mold of the modernist point of view, relating more to post-modernism which is relevant to the idea that past views on gender structures are becoming more blurred through both biologically and artistically, how does this change the way we perceive the perfect body? And a constant pressure and reminder of gaining an impossible achievement do we as humans achieve the perfect body?

What is seen as the perfect body? how do you achieve the perfect body? Stephen Whittle looks at transsexuality and how it is seen in society of the pains and struggles that one’s goes through with being transgender and trying to achieve the perfect human body. The ideal form and how to achieve it, ‘The Sex Reassignment Surgery Staircase illustrates the idealized medical process of the transsexual journey and the role of medicine in achieving a perfection of gender.’ This looks at the view of achieving the perfect human body/ to become more conferrable in their own skin. Some would argue that trans person is desecrating their own bodies to become a different gender, changing the natural balance of nature. This is a very modernistic point of thinking.

With all this scrutiny this is a very one side point of view, even with this trans see themselves leading a new way by putting their stamp within history. “We are tasked historically with the role of creating a new culture,” Clearly this is a Post-modernism movement. This shows that they are wanting to be remembered for changing the status quo. The subject matter that has been presented has shown that is changing people’s point of view with the more posy-modernist thinkers and were the view is more open to a different ideal.

Yasumasa Morimura ‘Olympia’ 1999 it could be argued that this work is a mixture of both modernism and post-modernism. It could also be said that its true origins originate from ‘Venus of Urbino’ by Titian in 1538. This is quite common were artists will take inspiration from past work throughout history to make something new. Morimura changes the way the body is looked at/ portrayed as; he puts himself into the picture as the center subject. This keeps the viewpoint/ gaze the same he changes the aspect of the work just by changing the gender. This blurs the lines between the male and female figures within the painting. The piece is still very sexualized. Morimura pushes the topic of queer identity and drags by impersonation, by using the ‘Venus of Urbino’ as his sores.

Using ‘The Male Gaze Theory’ in the way Mulvey intended is just not possible with the ‘Olympia’ 1999. The whole point in the way men see women but when they portray a man, they make them more masculine and fuller of power. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that Mulvey did not think of what Yasumasa Morimura did with his work. Following with his ideas with the transitioning with genders has anything achily changed with using a male body? Sourly with both figures from ‘Venus of Urbino’ and ‘Olympia’ being is the same position and both being nodes they would be looked at the same way with that be through the male gaze or just the gaze?

With more than a 500-year gap it is understandable that they are so different otherwise ‘Olympia’ would just be another copy of a classic painting. Which would put both paintings under modernism, nevertheless with the ‘Olympia’. This is not the case the whole depiction of this piece is telling is nothing like the ‘Venus of Urbino’. Changing the genders, it challenges something that is very controversial not just because it looks at sexuality or suing a man but due to the fact. He is blurring different aspects together, of taking his ideals of queer identity and drag by using his own image. It could be argued that he is shunning the ‘Venus of Urbino’ by putting a man in the same position. Arguing the fact that men be seen the same as women if not more sexualized. Even though Mulvey points out the in the art industry, the world is seen through a male’s eyes. Yasumasa Morimura is arguing that isn’t his work seen the same as Titians’ Venus of Urbino’ which reflects the beauty and purity within the work.

An artist’s goal is to get people to admire and look at their work, but it’s just as important if not more so to get the viewer to remember it and talk about the meaning behind the piece if there is one. It is said the bested way to do that is not just by reading about the work and its significance but by viewing it “…people remember visual culture vividly.” There is nothing more important/ influential than the visual. The influence that is within the ‘Olympia’ is quite exponential it stands out on its own it forces the spectator to see/ depict things in a contradictory way of thinking.

Judith Butler looks at self-awareness of gender and how it is developed by breaking it down by the ‘naturalness of gender roles such as the social learning theory. This is where a child learns from others such as their parents, the concept of different genders. Correlating to a binary gender, the child learns even without knowing it. Arguing that this is a modernist view when thinking of male and female (mother, father). However, when thinking of different genders and what the child is learning/ experiencing not just from their parents but others as well. This changes completely from modernism to post-modernism; within modern society, it is very common to see same-sex couples not just together but starting their own family.

The child is taking things in therefore already having a basic understanding even without knowing it. The cognitive-developmental theory is the grasp of different gender roles this comes down to the child’s development as they grow and age. The mirror theory by Lacan can be used because the child is able to mimic or understand things such as same-sex couples because the older generations are not acting in a so offensive way they themselves are not so opposing to different ideas log gender and what they represent. Hence, leaning more toward post-modernism, people are more willing to work with alter, so they develop more understanding. Lacan argued children can recognize themselves within a mirror ‘The human offspring, at an age… when he can nevertheless already recognize as such his own image in a mirror’ pointing towards how children are influenced and take things in. Lacan’s mirror stage is shown to be key to this argument, human beans learn by watching and doing.

Mary Kelly Post-partum document 1973, the work shows the mother-child relationship by documenting everything for 6 years. Kelly did don’t document things in a normal sense instead she chose to use everyday things. Nappies, baby grows, toys, napkins, wipes, etc.… All the things that are needed to take care of a baby and all the different stages that follow. Documenting this is not that strange if anything it is a very normal thing to do, mothers often document their baby’s development from crawling, walking, talking, and the first tooth. This general idea of wanting this remembered is very modernistic. Considering this Kelly’s choices not to do things in a controversial way she did not use photography or film to remember and document key moments, but rather the objects themselves.

Mary Kelly did not want to use any images because she wanted to stay away from the stereotypical image of women and take away from the actual point of the work. She felt that a picture would just be to trite, she did not want it to be sexualized taking away the purity of the development of mother and child. The artwork shows the positive side of femininity not just the side with the women taking care of the children well the men go to work. work does not show that at all it shows a mother proud of what she has done for her child.

Sexuality and gender when arguing it is important to understand that throughout art history, depending on the time of when the artwork was created. This refers to the ideals of the different periods of history. Modernists theorized tend to be Binary thinkers argue that art should be straightforward. However, even with this way of thinking there has been under looked by postmodernist thinkers/theorists argue that that are outside the discipline and structure of art history. Led to most of the authority within the communication of modernistic theorists of art.

In conclusion Modernistic binary role determent the basic structure of the different characteristics that lies within the exploration of gender and sexuality. Artist uses their work to push boundaries to ask the questions of those that would not dear to even think it. The work gets people to ask themselves why. Femininity and masculinity are both underlining players in the perception of gender roles and sexuality in addition of how they have developed within society. Laura Mulvey argues that women are just seen as objects just there for the pleasure of men and not much else. This is a topic that has been argued for generations. Titian’s work the ‘Venus of Urbino’ fits perfectly with this argument and shows why it’s right, however, it must be stated that is not much of a balance. It is key to take into fact that history is something that is very important, without it there would be no way to document/ there would be no way to explore and change people’s ideas. There has always been a more controversial topic that needs a certain character like Yasumasa Morimura to question the male gaze and turns it on its head, making it obsolete with his work the ‘Olympia’ 1999. However, Mary Kelly chooses to embrace the role of the woman and what it means to be a mother. This argues that the male gaze theory may also but women in a bad light/ make it difficult for women to feel happy/ proud of themselves for staying home and raising a child. Throughout art history there has always been controversy of were artists stand they determent this by their own artwork. If it is modernistic art or postmodernist without them both it would be hard to determine/ separate the blurred line of gender and sexuality. So, arguing if they play an important part would be shored. Both modernism and post-modernism both play manner role within art history but also determine the blurred lines within gender and sexuality. essentially determining were the blurred lines stand it is clear and has been demonstrated throughout this essay.

Bibliography:

  1. Sexuality: Book,2014, Stephen Whittle Impossible people: Viewing the self-portraits of transsexual person//2004 pg200 //Queer, performance, embodiment.
  2. ‘The Sex Reassignment Surgery Staircase illustrates the idealized medical process of the transsexual journey and the role of medicine in achieving a perfection of gender.’
  3. Sexuality: book,2014, pg76, Mary Kelly, No Essential Femininity: In Conversation with Paul Smith// 1982https://forlackofsomegoodwriting.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/susan-stryker-and-stephen-whittle-eds-the-transgender-studies-reader.pdf
  4. Book: The Transgender Studies Reader. Edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, 2006, pg25 file:///F:/uni/Essay/laura%20mulvey/mulvey-visualpleasure.pdf
  5. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Laura Mulvey
  6. [bookmark: _Hlk37271019]Pg62. In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male passive/female.
  7. [bookmark: _Hlk37273386]Pg67. (Pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object)
  8. Book Sexuality, 2014 Laura Mulvey Fears, Fantasies and the Male Unconscious, or ‘You Don’t Know What’s Happening, Do You Mr Jones?’,1972//pg69
  9. [bookmark: _Hlk36830169]Laura Mulvey Refers to The Way Visual Arts Are Structured Around A Masculine Viewer and Describes a Tendency In visual Culture to Depict. The World and Women from A Masculine Point Of view.
  10. https://monoskop.org/File:Harrison_Charles_Wood_Paul_eds_Art_in_Theory_1900-1990_An_Anthology_of_Changing_Ideas.pdf
  11. Art in Theory 1900-1990 An Anthology of Changing Ideas
  12. [bookmark: _Hlk37270141]Pg609. The human offspring, at an age when he is for a time, however short, outdone by the chimpanzee in instrumental intelligence, can nevertheless already recognize as such his own image in a mirror.
  13. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/18/transgender-art-trans-hirstory-in-99-objects
  14. [bookmark: _Hlk36831112]“not to feel like what we are doing is pointless,” “tasked historically with the role of creating new culture… and people remember visual culture vividly.”
  15. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/05/art-and-sexuality/
  16. www.welldoing .org/article/psychology-gender-what-are-different/perspectives.
  17. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=89KpDwAAQBAJ&pg=PP22&lpg=PP22&dq=binary+thinking+artist&source=bl&ots=zYElz3vGnQ&sig=ACfU3U3EJARwF8wY29Ec7hutwK2abVz6mA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjFjJTVitnoAhWLiFwKHVx9A34Q6AEwEXoECAwQLA#v=onepage&q=binary%20thinking%20artist&f=false
  18. Norma Broude Impressionism: A Feminist Reading: The Gendering of Art, Science, And Nature in the Nineteenth Century.
24 May 2022

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