Editor's Note: Jay Bailey, excellent guest from our Nelson Goodman discussion, has been good enough to help us make sense of some of the art references. -ML
Jenny Saville, Shift, 1996-1997, oil on canvas
While the four of us brought up many examples of art (Nascar is exempt from that classification because I still don't understand that nonsense nor the people who enjoy it for that matter), I felt it best to highlight the artist with whom I declared as being one of my favorites. Her work is certainly not foreign to the eyes of art students, but unfortunately she is generally unknown to the greater public.
Jenny Saville's work is interesting to me because it is so painterly. I like to use the phrase "material honesty." The paint is obvious in its drips, brushstrokes, and color layering. Her paintings are obviously paintings, which isn't always the case with other paintings. In contrast to that understanding, they seem so real. They seem so much more real than the pigment on canvas that make up their being.
Her subject matter is also of great interest to me. Like many people I am very fond of bodies. Human bodies have been at the center of artists' minds since the beginning of object making. Saville follows in that tradition, but her work is obviously influenced by our own 21st century world. I am one to argue that her work could not exist before things like plastic surgery, contemporary pornography, digital photography, video, and modern feminist thought. We, as the audience, could also not see her work for what it is without being informed by that same world.
I encourage everyone to do image searches for her work. Consider it. Love it. Hate it. Converse about it. What else is all of this art stuff for?
Josh Davis says
On the same day that you posted this, the spoof news source The Onion posted a picture of a topless woman on Facebook. In the 40 minutes it was up, it got about 500 comments, thousands of “likes”. I noticed that the comments were mostly from males, a ratio of probably twenty to one, of which nearly all had something approving or “witty” to say, while a large percentage of the few females that commented disapproved in one way or another. I actually thought it was funny/audacious at first. The longer it stayed up, I began to offended by it. I tried to post a few negative remarks, but The Onion censored them immediately, so there’s no telling how many other people were actually offended. After The Onion took it down, they posted a survey: “Would you vote for a naked woman in the primary?”, showing that it was just a stunt. At that point, I found the whole event mildly amusing.
The thing I like about art like this is that it forces people, male and female, to take a step back. What the onion did hardly counts as art. On the other hand, what could be more taboo than desexualizing the nude female? They appear to be corpses(?) . Is America ready for this sort of art?
This has gotten me to wondering what kind of reactions I would get if I put such a print up in my apartment.
Seth Paskin says
Wow, what a great comment Josh! I could argue that the overexposure of the “sexualized” nude in media is resulting in the desexualization the nude female. We are bombarded by images of nude and partially nude females which purport to be sexual (e.g. porn), but which simply put the female body on display ‘as such’. It is implied that either the female form is inherently sexual, or that engaging in acts of sex sexualizes it. I’m not sure the latter is necessarily true.
The body can be sexual, but it can also be grotesque or non-sexually aesthetically beautiful, among other things. No doubt there is some statement to be read into this work – and America better be the kind of place that it can be said.
I imagine the kind of reaction you’d get depends on who you are having visit and for what purpose…
Jay Bailey says
The Onion is fantastic art. It is often too “true” for our own good.
Josh Davis says
Thanks seth. I think I should explore more porn in order to get to the bottom of this.
Seriously, though. I think that, even if i had the spare change to buy one of these, i wouldn’t. If someone gave me the painting for free, I would put it up. The “tabboo” nature of the piece wouldn’t deter me, just paying for it. There seems to be a tension between what i want in a piece of art and what the artist wants. For example, O’keefe i know has a good reputation, but i find her oversized flowers to be mind numbingly boring and ugly. The whole thing is wild and fascinating and foreign to me. That say Triptych 1976 by Francis Bacon sold for 86 million dollars. You look at it and you’re like “so this is what an 86 million dollar painting looks like.” Another related question would be to what extent the artists personality is connected to the value of the work, how much good art is out there, to what extent the popularity of a piece affects its value . . .