Illustration by Ella Aspinall
Historically speaking, men and women have never been equal. As of today, in most cases, they still are not. Art has the power to represent societies and their values, perspectives, and beliefs, and it is often used to convey messages.
One interesting lens to look at art through is in its representation of women. In ages such as the Renaissance, women were represented either as visions of purity or distorted figures of hypersexuality. There was not very much representation of “normal” women; this was later named by the Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, as the “Madonna-Wh*re Complex”. This meant that all the women portrayed were either idealistic visions of purity or oversexualized frames of pleasure.
Only later on in the Victorian era did people more commonly start portraying women as powerful. A perfect modern example is that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When she passed away, people created a plethora of artworks depicting her as an individual of great importance, intelligence, respect, and poise.
Nowadays the artwork dedicated to her depicts her as a superpower in American government but back when she was doing much of her work, people saw her as too aggressive for a woman.
They thought she was too radical and even insane for fighting for reform in areas such as pay equality amongst professors. This is why it is important to note that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All people interpret art differently.
Especially in the case of women in art, but also in general, people tend to have strong opinions about their representation. Some find the female physique to be a beautiful image to be represented in art while others find it to be pornographic at times. The artist Jeff Koons is not only famous for his large balloon animal sculptures, but also for many statuettes portraying intimate scenes. Again, art like this is often very much up to interpretation as some see them as revolutionary pieces that reclaim people’s sexuality, while others see them as quite vulgar depictions of inappropriate scenes.
In the same way, strong opinions are formed about women in every other area of life. A prominent one today is women in politics. Most recently there has been a great deal of division amongst people due to the Supreme Court nomination. Some find the nominee Amy Coney Barrett to be an adequate addition to the court, while others strongly disagree. In the same way that women are portrayed and interpreted in art so harshly, women in politics are also criticized, poked and prodded. In all aspects of life, the background that people come from will influence their views. Those who grew up in conservative households will most likely see Koons’ artwork as overly pornographic and sexual, whereas someone else might find it to be a beautiful tribute to the human frame and physicality.