While feminist art critics have for decades pointed out the shortcomings of the “male gaze,” the post-#MeToo reckoning with the art world’s systemic sexism, its finger-on-the-scale preference for male genius, has given that critique a newly powerful force. And the question of the moment has become: Is it still an artistically justifiable pursuit for a man to paint a naked woman?
I remember some 30-odd years ago reading John Berger's Ways of Seeing and the two pages displaying female nudes, looking back at the viewer who is looking at them. Male nudes have never figured as much, except, as one of the quoted artists observes, Jesus naked on the cross.
The article, by Michael Slenske and Molly Langmuir, is in two parts. The first interviews male painters who continue to paint female nudes while the second enlists seven female artists to talk about men and women painting nude women and the effects of current -- or in the case of Judy Chicago, past -- events.
But before you read, scroll down to the third part, titled "Duelling Gazes," and study the gallery of female nudes. No artist names are attributed to the pictures. Instead, you are asked to guess who created each image: a man or a woman? Most all of the paintings are discussed in the article so you will eventually puzzle out who painted what. I wish I had done that before reading this article, to see how my own biases are calibrated.
I liked this quote from Marilyn Minter, whose paintings ran afoul of anti-pornography feminists in the last decades of the last century:
“I was a traitor to feminism, but my side won,” she says. “Now it’s the return of all that.” Her larger point? “There are no safe places: This is the world, it’s pretty awful, and it’s pretty great at the same time. But the minute you try to pin down sexuality, it’s going to spit in your face. It’s totally personal, it’s fluid. Trying to make rules is a waste of energy. Progressives can take each other apart — we do it all the time — when the bigger enemy is these neo-Nazis. That’s where the energy should be, not trying to police fucking paintings.”