“How can there be other without self?” – Alan Watts
By appreciating the other we can define the self and thus gain understanding – with understanding of the self we can then see the other more clearly.
Vive la différence. I am a male painter who often paints the female figure using the classical tradition of light and shadow. I am not interested in portraying our day to day reality (I know that women fart but I don’t have to make art about it). I am carrying on the Renaissance concept of ‘God made us – let’s celebrate the best about humanity and therefore we honor God’.
I didn’t care so much about drawing female humans at first – because I was terrible at drawing them. I wanted them to look as awesome as the illustrations in my childhood fairy tale books but found that drawing the alien and the grotesque is far far easier than drawing anything classically beautiful.
It took a long time for me to get my art to the point where I am happy with it but it was worth it. I may not work from a model like a classical painter (my method is far more of a synthesis like Paul Gauguin used rather than Vincent Van Gogh’s observational one) but it is fine art in the same fashion as my ancestors and it pleases me to have dedicated this life to following in their footsteps.
“You paint too fast” says Paul Gauguin to Vincent Van Gogh who then replies (in the brilliant movie Lust for Life) “You look too fast”!! Often art can creatively tell the truth better than mere documentary evidence ever could!
Just because we use the figure as subject matter here and now in 2017 doesn’t make the results less important in the gestalt of art history. When you make the figure the subject matter in your work you are adding to the glorious legacy of work that started thousands of years ago ! You are a peer to Praxiteles!! You could have discussed art over coffee with Cabanel and Courbet (and like anyone with an ounce of coolness in their soul, then dumped off Cabanel at L’Académie and painted the town red with Courbet all night haha)!!
You have a common language that transcends culture when you make the figure the subject matter in your art. All détente starts with commonality. Sadly there are still cultures that cannot handle art with people in it – oh well can’t please everyone!
Some of my favorite figurative art comes from female artists. Look at the wonderful Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge by Mary Cassatt. We see the woman as one of the pretty flowers in the field, she’s not flirting or being coy she’s just showing her beauty because it is appropriate to do so.
A female painter starts from a different set of memories and feelings than males do about our common first love (our mothers) and by our second loves who are our sisters, aunts, grandmothers etc. Paternal love, brotherly love, the love of our peers and comrades also affects how we will see art with the figure in it of course but we all have a common first contact with the figure.
Sisters will have a different feeling about girls (competition perhaps) than someone like me who is an older brother and (naturally) feels protective to them. A parent will see a child in a different way than a person without children and a grandparent will have yet a different one on top of that. Obviously there are many variations of families and interactions that create each persons general view about our most basic archetypes of life and these all influence the work we do but how much of that you use is up to you.
Another female painter that painted women and girls so well was Madame Vigée Le Brun. She, like Mary Cassatt, brought out the beauty in all her subjects, she painted to inspire and to make people happy.
Madame Vigée Le Brun was one of the painters in the court of Marie Antoinette if you want to have a general time frame for the life time when this was done.
You can (still) go to the link below for a website with tons of information and the lovely art of Elisabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun http://www.batguano.com/vigee.html
Her autobiography is also available for free in its entirety, and its worth a look! (I quoted some of it below)…
I will begin by speaking of my childhood, which is the symbol, so to say, of my whole life, since my love for painting declared itself in my earliest youth. I was sent to a boarding-school at the age of six, and remained there until I was eleven. During that time I scrawled on everything at all seasons; my copy-books, and even my schoolmates, I decorated with marginal drawings of heads, some full-face, others in profile; on the walls of the dormitory I drew faces and landscapes with coloured chalks. So it may easily be imagined how often I was condemned to bread and water. I made use of my leisure moments outdoors in tracing any figures on the ground that happened to come into my head. At seven or eight, I remember, I made a picture by lamplight of a man with a beard, which I have kept until this very day. When my father saw it he went into transports of joy, exclaiming, “You will be a painter, child, if ever there was one!”
I mention these facts to show what an inborn passion for the art I possessed. Nor has that passion ever diminished; it seems to me that it has even gone on growing with time, for to-day I feel under the spell of it as much as ever, and shall, I hope, until the hour of death. It is, indeed, to this divine passion that I owe, not only my fortune, but my felicity, because it has always been the means of bringing me together with the most delightful and most distinguished men and women in Europe. The recollection of all the notable people I have known often cheers me in times of solitude.
~I had the following below on a separate page but it is essentially the same theme as above so I will include it here – Daz~
I like to paint allegorical figures.
I was asked by a fellow artist what my fascination with the female form in art is.
Im not sure I have any particular fascination beyond the traditional ones, appreciation of beauty, sexual interest, that feeling of protection, pride and potential we get from seeing mothers and children. It is an innate pro-human solidarity in a multiverse of creatures! I like organic lines and shapes and the emotions we get from faerie tales where we can live happily ever after if we just believe!
One of the most interesting things about being human is how multi-faceted our minds are and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out what pushes my buttons.
That exploration of psychology is another part of what I find interesting in art and the female figure is often the most complex motif to decypher. We all see the figure through the filter of our life experience.
Luckily my experience with females has been mostly positive, so my figures reflect those experiences in some positive way.
The main reason I paint the female figure though, is because it is a tradition in art, the ultimate motif to master and a challenge for me to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors.
I like the idea of using a female figure to represent an idea.
For example the concept of ‘truth’ has been traditionally represented by a nude female. Truth is probably the main allegorical figure I use, I see a truth and represent it. For example the truth being represented in this painting below is that girls often feel a need to spontaniously pose. Obviously there is a biological and sociological reason why females show themselves off, but more than that, it is art in the purest form.
I was driving by the park near my home when I lived in New Jersey and there was a group of young people chatting , one of them happened to jump on a rock, make a momentary pose and then jump off. It was totally spontaneous and for one brief moment she was the star, her friends were the audience as was I. It was a moment of art that transcended the everyday and I wanted to pay homage to that moment in a painting. The other figures represent things too but it is obvious who is the center of attention!
A theatre group asked to use that art and they made the following!