By Cat Jones
Discarded limbs and faces, evidence of autonomous being, must pop like bubbles in the backs of minds, somewhere back in art school. Is it that these parts are more difficult to draw than the more favored bits of flesh – the boobs and bellies and venus mounds – that one finds, out of context, littering public spaces and private walls, and sadly masquerading as “art”? An accident of history, perhaps, in which some long gone tumbling force knocked off heads and arms from some well known ancient work now emulated through time for the sake of appearing “master”-ful? Or is it, as I suspect, an unconscious rendering of the secret reality hidden behind high foreheads and glassy eyes… A dismissal, an erasure, an ignorance of the importance of any other parts than those?
Why so many naked, headless, powerless women’s torsos? What more is there to say through such cliche? A hundred years ago some untalented hack painted it and hung it in a bar. And a hundred years before that. And yesterday, some frat boy in art school just did it again…no doubt congratulating himself on the smooth lines and curves he found beneath his brush. And what were they saying that had to be said? What burning question did they ask or answer with their “art”?
I walked through a gallery near the building where I live, and found a whole wall filled with the cast bodies of women. Yellowed and rubbery, gaping, headless necks and stumps, grisly victims of one man’s hatred on display. (And I know this man, so I can say that.) This is a pornography of spirit, of art itself. Obscene, not for depicting nudity nor even for displaying the “artist’s” own masturbatory impulses juxtaposed against his fear and hatred of the women who wore those torsos once, but rather in the sense of offering “utterly no redeeming social value,” part of a definition of obscenity once offered by a judge, bless the irony.
And just to be clear on that point: I don’t really care about obscenity. Nudity, pornography, they are what they are and I’m not here to judge the sad, sweaty, little memes that come and go. What I am here objecting to is bad art. The objectification of woman parts, ad nauseum, and still masquerading as art, no matter how over-done, no matter how poorly rendered, no matter how lacking in originality or creativity. How many ways are there to render the same headless torso, the same thoughtless mannequin, the same social pathology? Why pretend, still, that anything original is being said? Who buys this crap? Really?
And if I’m honest, it isn’t only that. It’s this misogyny that will not go away. It’s this impulse to tear off any individuality, to erase appendages and behead those uppity girls, and then wrap it up as homage, as an obsequious “worship of the beauty of woman,” as I have heard it described by straight-faced hacks in justification of their work. It’s not just that men make this crap, over and over and over again…. It’s that people BUY it. It’s that galleries HANG it.
In a world where the vast majority of gallery and museum space is taken up by men, where women still have to work ten times as hard as men for recognition, where women’s works are still routinely valued far less than works by men, and where women have to fight so much harder for so little wall space… How can we justify taking up so MUCH of that space with the same tired, unimaginative, mind-bogglingly banal reiterations of the decapitated and de-limbed beauty queen?
Brothers, please. Just grow up. If your works are to crowd out mine on gallery walls, please, at least just think of something new to paint and draw and sculpt and scrawl.