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21 March 2019Looking at Me, Looking at You

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Looking at Me, Looking at You Linda Smith Thursday 21 March 2019

A new study day, on how women have been represented in western art since ancient times. It presents a wide range of images of women, asking what the functions of such pictures were in their own times, and how we might read them today. In the process, many nuances and meanings are revealed, and changing attitudes to women, beauty and morality, are addressed. The theme of visual representation runs alongside a parallel theme which looks at the long history of how women have struggled for political representation, and what that has meant for their roles as subjects, and makers, of art.

Session One:  LOOKING BACK – From Antiquity to Renaissance

Session One examines the development of European artistic conventions, starting with some important images from the ancient world, before moving on to medieval Christian Europe, a period which saw the Biblical figures of Eve and the Virgin Mary profoundly shape attitudes towards women and their representation in art, but which also saw the rise of the more secular cult of courtly love.  From there the discussion moves on to Italian Renaissance portraiture, the rise of classicism and the return of the female nude to art.  The roles and importance of women as patrons of art, and as artists themselves is also introduced in this first session, plus the theme of women as subversives, trying to challenge convention.

Session Two:  LOOKING THE PART – Some Women in British Art c.1550-c.1900

The second talk narrows the focus down to British art, looking at the influence of those European conventions around images of women, and their adaptation to specifically British traditions in art and society.  Various factors are considered, including sumptuary laws, propriety, beauty regimes, and changing attitudes towards eroticism and sexual behaviour.  A wide range of women is covered: from all-powerful monarchs down to the ubiquitous Fallen Women of the Victorian era.  It moves on to pick up on the themes of women as artists and activists by looking at the rise of the Women’s Movement and the implications such things as the Cult of Beauty and the Rational Dress Movement had for the representation of women in art.

Session Three:  WHO ARE YOU LOOKING AT? – Twentieth Century Art and Feminism

The final talk starts by examining some late nineteenth-century images of women to show some of the ways in which the early avant-garde challenged and subverted European traditions in art, and discusses the parallel rise of the cult of Bohemia and what that meant for women trying to succeed as artists. This provides background for a look at the difficulties women had making their voices heard in the 1950s, and moves on to explain the confrontational strategies employed by feminist artists in the 1970s, comparing them with the more nuanced attitudes of more recent feminist art.

This SID will be held in the Bevan Room at Churchill College.