Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art

Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art

Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art

Erotic Ambiguities: The Female Nude in Art

Synopsis

Art is always ambiguous. When it involves the female body it can also be erotic. Erotic Ambiguities is a study of how contemporary women artists have reconceptualised the figure of the female nude. Helen McDonald shows how, over the past thirty years, artists have employed the idea of ambiguity to dismantle the exclusive, classical ideal enshrined in the figure of the nude, and how they have broadened the scope of the ideal to include differences of race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability as well as gender.McDonald discusses the work of a wide range of women artists, including Barbara Kruger, Judy Chicago, Mary Duffy, Zoe Leonard, Tracey Moffatt, Pat Brassington and Sally Smart. She traces the shift in feminist art practices from the early challenge to partriarchal representations of the female nude to contemporary, 'postfeminist' practices, influenced by theories of performativity, queer theory and postcoloniality. McDonald argues that feminist efforts to develop a more positive representation of the female body need to be reconsidered, in the face of the resistant ambiguities and hybrid complexities of visual art in the late 1990s.

Excerpt

There is no such thing as the ideal female body. Even the old masters would have agreed that an ideal is a concept not a thing. Some of the famous nudes in art history were thought to be near-perfect configurations of the ideal female form. For instance, Venus de Milo was sculpted for the citizens of Ancient Greece according to the Classical ideal of bodily perfection, and nearly 2,000 years later, Botticelli's Venus of Urbino was painted as a Renaissance version of this ideal for the Medici princes. Executed in a representational style, both works of art served for centuries as interpretations of the ideal, and were endlessly copied in art. Popular fashion and pornography provided a succession of specific cultural fantasies of the female body, which ran parallel to and intersected with this high-art industry. in being sanctified as art, however, 'the nude' became singular, academic, historical and exclusive, a myth that was disqualified as a standard that might be applied to living bodies.

In our own century, the goddesses of the silver screen displaced this high-art tradition, adding voice, movement and the illusion of a closer link to real bodies, while seducing mass audiences on an unprecedented scale. Despite their international fame, few stars from this glittering constellation stand out or are remembered as approximating to the ideal. This may be because movies fracture the woman's body to focus on the face or some erotic part, or because even film stars are condemned to be victims of changing fashion, tarnished with the aura of mortality. Occasionally, as in the case of Marilyn Monroe, who was acclaimed as the ideal of her day, personal tragedy and premature death confirmed this aura. It was as though the designation or symbolisation of a woman's body as ideal forced recognition that her body was only too real and particular, a material fact that would soon 'turn to dust'. in spite of this - or perhaps because of it - Marilyn's image achieved the status of a myth. It was repeated in the prints of Andy Warhol and simulated in the performances of Madonna, thus spawning ever-new formations of iconic, feminine beauty.

Though nudes may belong to history and film stars may be destined for the graveyards of the rich and famous, now fashion magazines, video clips and other forms of popular visual culture dominate unchecked as the purveyors of body image. the 'ideal female body' has become a marketing strategy, and as such

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