If we’re pointing out the most pervasive tropes in art history, it’s difficult to get past the female nude. From Rokeby Venus, Velazquez’s sensual tribute to the Roman goddess of love, to Olympia, Manet’s 1863 rendition of a lounging courtesan, these naked women have long anointed as geniuses the Great Male Artists who conceived them.
And these geniuses weren’t just dab hands with oil paint! Their nudes were so masterly, they also sowed the seeds for a de facto femininity, one that cast women as sensuous nymphs for the taking or coy objects whose contours only appeared once a man imagined them into being.
As a teenager with a growing art history obsession, I scoured textbooks for paintings of female bodies that weren’t a projection of male desire but a reflection of the flesh-and-blood women I knew. The fact that my search yielded nothing was proof of a world in which a male expression of the female experience is considered more authoritative than a female expression of her own experience. God, it was so depressing.
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