Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist

By Deborah Barker | Go to book overview

5
Kate Chopin's Awakening of Female Artistry

I

CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, IN HIS ESSAY “THE PAINTER OF MODERN Life” (1863), praises the role of the artist as a “man of the world,” as the “flâneur” the “passionate spectator” who can move through all areas of the city, observing the women he encounters. Women, however, play a very different role in Baudelaire's conception of painting. The woman functions as

that being towards or for whom all their [men's] efforts tend; that awe-
inspiring being, incommunicable like God (with this difference that the infi
nite does not reveal itself because it would blind and crush the finite, whereas
the being we are speaking about is incommunicable only, perhaps, because
having nothing to communicate); that being … for whom, but especially by
whom, artists and poets compose their most delicate jewels; … woman, in a
word, is not for the artist … only the female of the human species. She is
rather a divinity, a star, that presides over all the conceptions of the male
brain. … [S]he is the object of the most intense admiration and interest that
the spectacle of life can offer to man's contemplation.1

Baudelaire describes the female as a silent cipher into which the male artist pours his own desires and visions of beauty, thus exemplifying the argument put forth by many feminist art and film critics that the visual representation of women reflects the power of the male gaze to appropriate the image of woman and commodify her. As Griselda Pollock explains,

the flâneur/atist is articulated across the twin ideological formations of mod-
ern bourgeois society—the splitting of private and public with its double
freedom for men in the public space and pre-eminence of a detached observ-

-120-

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Aesthetics and Gender in American Literature: Portraits of the Woman Artist
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 7
  • Introduction 9
  • Reproducing Culture 25
  • 1: Cultural Reproduction and the Female Copyist 27
  • 2: Domesticating the Sublime 39
  • 3: The Riddle of the Sphinx 64
  • 4: Louisa May Alcotts Women Artists 94
  • 5: Kate Chopin's Awakening of Female Artistry 120
  • 6: Edith Wharton's Portrait of a Lady in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 142
  • 7: Authenticating the African-American Female Artist 162
  • Notes 199
  • Bibliography 239
  • Index 255
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