Dirty Old Men 2

An addendum to my last post.

Take a look at this; (I’ve pixelated the image because WordPress forbids images of genitalia; when it was posted on Facebook last year FB deleted it and there was no end of brouhaha; it’s very easy to find the unadulterated version):
L’Origine du Monde (Origin of the World) was painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866, oil on canvas, 55cm x 46cm, and currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris:

Now, this is ART, right?
A very great painter, a leading exponent of Realism, which rejected, among other things, the idealising of the female form inherent in academic History Painting and the hypocrisy of erotica/porn masquerading as moral edification, creates something ‘honest’.
Technically, it’s brilliant. Look at that foreshortening! The brushwork.
It hangs in full public view in a ‘proper’ gallery.
The frame! Wow, that frame! Only Art deserves a frame like that.
And it’s got a portentous ‘mythic’ title!
Of course it’s ART!

Then ask why it was painted.
It was commissioned by an Ottoman diplomat for his – ahem – ‘private collection’; that is, the wealthy man’s version of a secret stash of jazz mags. It is an aid to masturbation. If you’re really rich, like Mr Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner, hell, you don’t need the images, you can surround yourself with the real thing.

But it’s by Courbet! It’s ART!

So, if a ‘split-beaver shot’ (I believe that’s the technical term) is beautifully rendered by someone famous, it’s no longer ‘pornography’, it no longer denigrates women? Somehow it’s more acceptable and less exploitative than a well-thumbed copy of Razzle?

You may argue that the painting marks ‘progress’, in that it shows women as they ‘really are’. Actually, it was merely ‘racy’, more arousing to appetites jaded by anodyne representations of Diana with her tits out; pornography, to continue its appeal, must always go that ‘one step further’. (Wonder what Ruskin would have made of it, with his apocryphal horror of pubes?) You can then think about that ‘progress’ and ask yourself why,150 years on, women are more paranoid than ever about eradicating every stray hair that marks them out as equal, grown-up members of society, if not to conform, still, to a male-engendered ideal of how the female of the species should look.

The ‘male gaze’.
The look that continues to insist:
You, lady, are not Like Me; you exist only in relation to me and my desires; I don’t even need to see your face; I don’t care who you are, only what you are.
And so powerful is this gaze of mine, it’s got you looking at yourself in the exact same way.
Woman as c*nt.
Woman is c*nt.

This painting: Edifying? Transcendent? Art?
Dress it up (in androcentric discourse?), but I don’t think so.
How about you?


22 July: Just discovered this ‘Electric Alarum’ anti-masturbation device for men. Seemed apposite. 😉

And just in case women think they’re blamelessly getting away scot free, an excellent post from M.K. Hajdin:

5 thoughts on “Dirty Old Men 2

  1. There isn’t any way to show a female body that doesn’t objectify and dehumanize it. Some artists don\’t seem to realize this, and their works have an innocent quality. Unfortunately this ignorance, however charming, only reinforces society’s view that the male gaze is entitled to unrestricted access to all female bodies. Courbet is of a different kind: the artist as blatant, brutal, intentional pornographer. However different the style, the message is the same: women aren’t people, they are decorative penis holsters.

    I dream of the day where an image like this will be recognized as offensive as readily as, say, a white person wearing blackface. Unfortunately there are too many lefty-liberals who (deliberately, I think) conflate feminist objection to images like this with conservative prudery, and consider themselves very broad-minded and tolerant for accepting it. Even women who identify as feminists get sucked into this trap.

    • Thank you, MK: to the point and eloquent, which is no less than I had come to expect.
      Ian’s first words on reading this post were, “Well, that’s me told.”
      I said, ” Yes, dear. It is.”

      • It’s a very good post.
        If I had tried to write it, there would have many many more swear words and castration metaphors.

        I was at HuffPost Arts and some other place, the lair of Tyler ‘LOL’ Green, Blouin Art Info today. And was bitterly reminded of why I avoid those places in the first place. HuffPo has a special women artists’ ghetto! Just like the Daily Fail, only at least it isn’t festooned in pink.

        Someone at Blouin thinks there’s such a thing as a “female gaze” and that watching movies about male strippers empowerfulizes it.

        There’s only so much patient explaining of the fucking obvious that I can do in one day.

        • HPO winds me up on a daily basis. And they are far from alone. I have them all on a ‘Cockheads’ list because I work from the basis that I ought to know what’s out there. Yes, it’s wearing. Tedious.
          I try not to be aggressive and confrontational – for me, a ‘male’ mode of discourse which relies on shouting down the other, and which frankly doesn’t work: people just stop listening; status quo unchanged.
          The ‘female gaze’?? It can surely only be directed at herself in the mirror where she wonders and worries if she’s ‘good’ enough.


          • A detached, impersonal tone is probably best, though faced with that level of willful ignorance it’s hard to maintain one’s zen.

            Even in front of the mirror women are looking at themselves through male eyes. It’s all we know how to do.

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