Search
  • Asa Ana

Linear Techniques Exploit the Women as a Muse

Linear perspective techniques in art and its impact on Western culture dehumanized females by using women as model and object; women as canvas and the three-dimensional figure; and the contemporary interpretation of performance art in Western culture.

The women as a model and object Metabletic phenomenology challenges us to confirm that our cultural world is a part of us as an interpretation. Linear perspective techniques in art remove the body from the eyes, thus making the case that what we see by the human eye and our world views are interchangeable. The interpretation of the object changes over time. Therefore, the way we see gender has changed over time as well. In art, the women model as an object removes her humanness, her living reality as a mere object to be painted or sculpted. This denial of humanity makes objectification immoral (Holla, 2018 p. 254). Reality is inseparable from how humanity envisions it, mirroring the way in which the age of being understands itself. The way women are painted over time tells us a lot about how we view women in our own realty. The model as an object rather than a real human.

As male artist paint women models the relationship between the two humans, is one according to removing oneself in relationship to each other. The further removed one is from the world the better one knows it, (Romanyshyn, 507) increasing distance becomes greater

knowledge, but one could argue the opposite is true. Instantly the veil creates a physical barrier between the model and the artist thus creating a space to limit interaction. If linear perspective makes the body dispensable, an eye of singular vision, an eye that has withdrawn itself from the world, and at the time only of not all men were painting women (and other men and other things in the world), the relationship between the genders changes.

In addition, the 15th century artist sees the women model through a veiled eye not only through symbols and meaning but a physical veil if the artist choose to paint with Leon Hattista Alberti’s “velo”. Fifteenth century linear perspective as a psychology of infinite distances places us in a world in away that becomes fixed visionaries who gaze upon the world as an object. The role of the male artist, painting an human object like the women figure may then psychologically distance themselves from any empathetic or emotional relationship. Romanyshyn argues that since the 15th century we have increasingly lost touch with the earth as we continue to interpret through a detached perspective. Much in relationship the medical student and the cadaver, the cadaver the specimen, should be converted into an “object” in the students minds. Only then can it be dissected (Robbins, pg 152). The artist objectifies the women model, only then can it be painted.

Objectification of the women and the display of the model in paintings can be riveting to audiences. Édouard Manet painted “Olympia” in 1865 in the famous Paris Salon is an appropriate example. The Paris Salon was the most important exhibition of its time in France. The painting displays a nude women lying on the bed with a servant behind her as if to bring the women flowers. The controversy came at the way the nude women was looking directly out of the painting with her head straight, as if she was looking back at the viewer. In the painting, a number of items identified her as a prostitute. The items painted around her included pearl earrings, bracelet, and oriental shawl, common garb for prostitutes at this time. Also, the title “Olympia” was a common reference for prostitutes in the 1800’s.

Audiences were shocked how confrontational the gaze was displayed in the painting. It was not her nudity nor the servant that upset the viewer. The French Government seized the painting from the Salon. Here, the model as an object challenges viewers to see the model as a subject by the way Manet positions her eyes, looking directly at the viewer. Prostitutes were often used as models in this era, yet in this case the model was in fact a women artist. The model was Victorine Meurent. She was a model since the age of 16-years old, part of a family of artisans, and a well-known, recognizable women artist in the 1860s.

For objectification to weaken in the relationship between the artist and the model, the model must be treated as a passive participant, not denying autonomy and acknowledged as a subject (Holla, 2017). Who know what the relationship was between Manet and Meurent. As an artist herself she could have positioned herself as having full autonomy.

Women as a canvas and the three-dimensional figure in art There are ways in which the model evolves and begins to relate in a wholeness as a human with emotions as it relates to the model as a “muse”. Shakespeare references a “muse” a number of times in his plays and sonnets. The “muse” refers to one of the Greek goddesses said to represent the arts of literature, music, visual arts and theater. The muse humanizes psychological emotions like inspiration or by provoking love or attraction. At times the “muse” arouses frustration. Shakespeare reveals the importance of the muse in Henry V, “O, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention”.

A muse provokes the emotion of motivation for an artist. Many muses endure romantic relationships between the artist and the model. Rather the model who becomes a stationary object for an artist to paint, the model’s relationship to the artist changes when the role of the muse becomes evident. This psychological emotional trait turns the model into an attraction of the body, no longer just an object. As it is for medical students understanding the relationship of the cadaver and the donor, it gains the status of being a subject, the emotional connection by way of a muse moves the model from a specimen to be painted and then one with an emotional attachment. (Robbins, pg 152).

“A muse is anything but a paid model. The muse in her purest aspect is the feminine part of the male artist, with which he must have intercourse if he is to bring into being a new work. She is the anima to his animus, the yin to his yang, except that, in a reversal of gender roles, she penetrates or inspires him and he gestates and brings forth, from the womb of the mind. Painters don't claim muses until painting begins to take itself as seriously as poetry,” Germaine Greer, an art critic for The Guardian, said.

The importance between the women as a muse flourished in the 19th century. This becomes evident by reviewing the works of John White Alexander interior paintings in the late 1800s. He used many women models who ultimately became his muse, popular of this time.

Along with idealism in philosophy, a rarified ideal of women in the arts took hold in America toward the close of the 19th century. "Never in our previous history had painters and sculptors concentrated so much on the feminine," Lloyd Goodrich wrote in 1966. "With the idealism that was so deeply ingrained in the nineteenth-century American mind, they pictured women as being finer and purer than the male, not only more beautiful physically but representing ideals of spiritual beauty."' Similar observations were made by Arthur Jerome Eddy who, in 1914, championed the virile schools of Cubism and Futurism over the feminine sensibility of fin-de-si6cle art. The romanticism of the school of Wagner, Baudelaire, and Flaubert he saw as "the identification of the idea of beauty and the idea of woman (Springer, 1986).

In the 21st century the muse continues to be an important role for artists, by way of humanizing the model as a subject, less as an object. For this essay I explore the relationship between the male artist and the female model as a way to understand how models are objectified. I try to extrapolate the idea that a muse begins to create a psychological effect on the artist, thus making the model less of an object, more of a subject – a human.

The role of women in performance art For centuries, a majority of visual artists were men, by the mid-20th century more women were becoming artists, this was in direct relationship to the changing roles of women in society. Many women artist used their own body as a way to express the reality of wholeness or womanhood. The women object comes out of the canvas and acts in performance, while using their own bodies as a canvas. This change in the way art is viewed challenges notions of objectivism. In the 1960’s and 70’s the role of women in art changed. Marina Abramović is a conceptual and performance artist who her work explores feminist art and body art using her body as a canvas. She’s famous for using her body as art in her work to test the limits of the body.

In her work titled “Rhythm 0”, completed in 1974, she tested the relationship between the artist and the audience, again, redefining the role of the artists as both object and subject. For this work of art, Abramović set 72 varied objects on the table. With some direction, viewers were allowed to use them any way they chose. The directions also indicated that they held no accountability for what they do with the objects. Abramović sat in the gallery space for six hours allowing the audience to do what they wish to her with the objects. She was cut, drawn on, and her clothes stripped. Acts of aggression were put towards her. Here we see by audience participation that the subject reverts back to being an object as the audience becomes the artist. The women is objectified by the action of the audience, possibly seen as a model. Further studies of Abramović’s work explores the concept of the muse humanizing the model with her creative partner Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). In this scenario Abramović and Ulay become the subjects, objects and muse. They created what they defined as “relationship works”


using their bodies in performance as the artwork. They worked in collaboration for a decade together, ultimately falling in love (both the muse) dressing identically and behaving like twins. The two did not concern themselves with gender lines.

For one work in 1977 called “Relation in Time”, the two artists sat back to back with their ponytails tied together for sixteen hours. The audience was able to view the two sitting in a gallery space, as the artist’s tried to “feed off “the energy from those who viewed the performance. This work allowed the two to be artists, models as objects, and subjects, as a performative gesture. Abramović said, “In the beginning, I was a painter, but the moment I stood in front of the public and expressed my ideas using my body as the object and subject of the work, immediately it was clear that this is my best medium.”

In their final collaboration, as a way to finish the “muse” relationship identity, Ulay and Abramović would march, each, from one end of the Great Wall of China to meet near the center. Once they would meet, they agreed to part ways and never collaborate again. The (muse) relationship can offer a creative artist both inspiration and a means to express that inspiration. It is almost as if the creative artist need hardly finish a thought, so completely and intuitively does the performer grasp it and find ways to express it. The relationship can be so strong that one can hardly separate the roles of the participants; it is impossible to tell the dancer from the dance (New York Times, 1996).

Another evolution of the women artist moving beyond the role as model – muse – subject is the activist work by the all-women arts collective the Guerilla Girls. The group formed in 1985 with the goal to raise awareness of gender inequality in the arts. The group publishes research about gender issues in the arts by making public appearances, designing

posters, books and billboards to raise awareness of the importance of these issue in the art context. The members wear gorilla masks and use pseudonyms that refer to deceased female artists.

The artists implemented a research project to study gender inequalities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They counted artworks on display revealing the male-to-female subject ratios. Research gathered from the museum’s public collection in the Modern Art Department determined that women artists had produced less than 5% of the artwork on display, while 85% of the nudes were female. The research effort confirms the objectification of women as a model in the arts. Doreen Garner’s performance art work at Pioneer Works in New York in 2017 links art, women objectification, death denial, and the relationship of humans to the cadaver in one complete symbiotic analysis. Garner worked with Kenya Robinson, a sculptor, to create a silicon cast of J. Marion Sims, a gynecologist who conducted experiments on enslaved black women. Sims believed that black women did not feel as much pain as white women and use no anesthesia during the procedures he conducted.


In the performance that accompanied the sculpture, black women preformed the act of dissection on the cast of Sim’s “body”, preforming the same operations on “him” that he performed on enslaved women. Unlike the medical students, she and her fellow artists dissected the cadaver knows the history and relationship of the person to the cadaver. The performative aspects of this work challenges the notions to perceive the body through the technical practice of dissection and to witness it as an object, and to engage with the “patient” is to witness a subject. This work is an interpretation of both the cadaver being a subject and an object. Because the dissection is happening to a cadaver that in essence is a representation of the embodiment of a human subject both Sims himself and a representation of the women for whom he performed the surgery on, he is also the object of technology as a specimen to be dissected (Robbins 152).

“Skin of Poneros”, 2017, silicone, 75 x 32 x 33.25 inches, artist Doreen Garner As the role of the artist and model evolve in contemporary art, women activists reveal the relationship between the role of a women as a model. Artist Michelle Hartney added additional plaques that accompany artworks by men in the Metropolitan Museum of Art revealing their relationships with the model depicted in the work. Next to Pablo Picasso’s “The Dreamer” Hartney installed a museum label with the same font and style of the Met’s plaques noting a “Performance/Call to Action”. The note highlights Picasso’s illegal affair with an underaged girl and as a model. In conclusion, I attempt to draw upon the aspects of how linear perception in art changed Western culture in by doing so objectifying women. This is defined quite effectively in the research delivered by the Guerilla Girls and the depiction of the nude women in contrast to men. Further studies of that same period could look at the relationship of “mutability” in art. Though there were far more women nude painting than men, using the linear perspective, further inquiry could review the relationship of women in the background (small heads) in relationship to a male figure in the foreground (large heads). The three dimensionality of paintings and the personhood could look at the way men are position within the linear perception. Further studies could conclude how many men versus how many women appear on the horizon line.

I attempt to conclude that metabletic phenomenology’s claim that reality is a reflection of human life and humanity’s life is visible as the specific concrete historical things it create of an age (Romanyshyn, 2008). The interpretation of the male gaze through art, which were predominately painted by men, shape the way women where objectified throughout history. I also state that tools used to help with perspective in artmaking like Alberti’s veil, help dehumanize the human object, which were predominately women. Leading scholar’s in this field like Jan Hendrik Van de Berg provides examples of the visibility of the human experience and the relation of participation between humanity and the world. Further studies could understand the visibility of the relationship between a man and a women and the relationship between their humanity and the world. Samuel Y. Edgerton makes the point that masters of the early 15th century shifted their paintings away from the sensuous charm of the of the surface to a more intellectual contemplation of the pictures holy surface (Romanyshyn, 2008), which means to indicate as the artists became more mechanical or technical, using mathematics as a way to understand perspective of a scene, sensuality of the work was lost. This interpretation of the loss of sensuality in the relationship between the artist and subject must conclude with further research that the relationship between man and women became more mechanized, meaning structured or distant. The veil is a tool that an artist literally installs in front of a model, acting as a window to see an object.

I make an attempt to examine the role of the “muse” as a way to make the object of the model human. I do this by examining what a muse is and the psychological and emotional relationship between an artist and his muse. I claim that the artist moves the model from object to subject when these emotional attitudes exist between the two. Throughout history, the relationship of the muse humanizes an object used as a model for art, then becomes a subject of desire. I use Dr. Brent Robbins research about the challenging ways medical students see the cadaver as an object or a subject to create a parallel between how the artist sees a model.

I complete this essay by providing a contemporary vision about the relationship between men and women artists. The final part of the essay jumps over a lot of historical art experiences and the relationship between men and women to looking at performance art as a lens to understand the evolution of the role of women as a model, object and subject. Evaluating the works of Marina Abramović, I share examples of her work as both a subject and an object. The complexities of that role are many as to see how some of the audiences reacted violently when introduced her using her body as a canvas. I argue the audience becomes the artist in a way, Abramović becomes the canvas. As the tools to create on her body as a canvas was presented the relationship was a vicious one. I see parallels to 15th century artists and the advent of linear perception and tools to understand depth and perception as a way to further distance themselves from a women model, ultimately losing some sense of humanness towards the model herself.

I add the Guerilla Girls in this essay less about their performative actions, though they are monumental in terms of understanding the relationship between men and women in art, yet more about their research into the women nude model and the men who painted them in the modern art context. Further research could be relevant into the psychological effects museum attendees or staff have on the fact that more women nudes are presented in these settings than men. There is systematic and wide spread sexual harassment in the art world. Artist such as Chuck Close, British gallerist Anthony d’Offay and art collector François Odermatt have been accused of rape or sexual harassment. As a testament to raise visibility of the harassment in the art world artist.


Andrea Fraser had sex in a hotel with an art collector she had never met and videotaped the encounter. The video tape was presented in a gallery and sold to a collector. Further studies could conclude the relationship of women in art and how they are treated as a person working or creating in varied art and museum settings.

I finish the main points of my essay with the work of Doreen Green. I believe her work “Skin of Poneros” encapsulates all of this semester’s readings to date. The work is powerful because it address racial inequities in the medical field, the relationship between the cadaver the dissector, and the role of women as a model or object in art.

References Holla, Sylvia M. (2018) Aesthetic objects on display: The objectification of fashion models as a situated practiced. University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Feminist Theory, Vol. 19(3) 251– 268 Robbins, Brent Dean (2018) The medicalized body and anesthetic culture, the cadaver, the memorial body, and the recovery of the lived experience, Palgrave Macmillan Romanyshyn, Robert D. (2008) The despotic eye, an illustration of metabletic phenomenology and its implications, Pacifica Graduate Institute Smith, Dinitia (1996), How creative artists court the muse, New York Times, June 30. Springer, Julie Anne, (1906) Art and the feminine muse: women in Interiors by John White Alexander Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2

3 views0 comments