I have always been annoyed at the predominance of the objectification of the female form in art. Even today. Not because it is condescending to women but because it is not socially acceptable for the male form to be treated in the same way. People walk down the street with Kate Moss on their shirt or silhouette nudes. It is hard to fathom how the sexualized outline of a male on the mud flaps of a female’s ute would go down. Then if she wound down the window and called out “Give me a piece of that!” to a young man minding his own business on the side of the road? Who knows how people would react?
The female artist Cherry Hood paints image after image of males. These large portraits are mainly the torso and upper half of young boys. She is based in the southern highlands of New South Wales and works in quite a luxurious yet isolated studio. I was reading an article about Hood’s work today in GW magazine and was really irritated that she didn’t paint more of their bodies. It also got under my skin that these works are so controversial, that people often associate them with evil and negative feelings. For example, some people are reminded of their difficult childhoods, while others think of pedophilia.
Half way through the lengthy article I found what I had suspected all along. Hood was actually interested in the male form but there was a reason she didn’t paint it in its entirety. Society places so many restrictions on freedom in the creative arts. Even a friend of mine said to me that she thinks there should be some sort of line where artists just choose to show the pretty aspects of life because sometimes it can be too confrontational and disturbing or upsetting.
Hood had been struck by the fact that nudes in contemporary art referred only to the female nude. She was ridiculed in art class when she asked for a male model, although the teacher did acquiesce.
“In the early ‘90s, Hood held a student exhibition where she copied paintings of naked, pre-pubescent girls from books and added a penis, transforming them into boys. The police closed the exhibition and ordered her to cover the penises with brown paper…
It was so ridiculous. After all the fuss, I decided I didn’t want to make politics, I wanted to make art, so I’d just paint boys’ faces.”
(Hawley, Janet. Good Weekend March 21-23, 2008, p 44)
Is this a cop out? Does it still further the cause of creating a balance between males and females? Is it just a part of art that the audience is reactionary and the artist has the responsibility to deal with the reaction because she or he created the work?