Thursday, November 29, 2012

Channeling Emotions Through Art

Christine de Pizan, Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, Claude Cahun, and Kara Walker are well-known aritists who chose art as a medium to illustrate their emotions and their beliefs. Some of these women, like Christine de Pizan, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Frida Kahlo were lucky to get exposed art and education because they were either into a wealthy family or their father or husband was a painter. Others, like Claude Cahun and Kara Walker were either inspired by their father or wanted to make a statement. Nonetheless, they all challenged men, pain, and societal norms in one way or another through the form of art.

Christine de Pizan was one the most famous women writers of the Middle Ages. She was born into a wealthy family from Italy. Her father, Thomas Pezano played a huge role in shaping her education as she was growing up. She was able to read and write as well as getting exposed to other areas of education like philosophy and Latin that were originally taught to men. She had strong belief in the equal rights of women. She wrote Cité des Dames (City of Ladies) in response to Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus. Boccaccio believed that women were talent-less and that it was very rare to find women who had talent. Pizan went on to refute his remarks by creating City of Ladies to challenge him. According to Chadwick, City of Ladies was based on a metaphorical city in which great women lived safe from slanders of men (35). Within the text, Pizan offered evidence of women's great achievements and was able to use examples to prove her point against Boccaccio. (Her point being that women are capable of being talented.) City of Ladies was a "defense of women in the face of centuries of misogynist writings" (36).

In this painting from the Book of City of Ladies portrays women being at work and taking charge.

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1630s

Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1620
Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of famous painter, Orazio Gentileschi. She was raped by her father's apprentice, Agostino Tassi at nineteen in 1612. Her case was taken to trial and afterwards, Artemisia Gentileschi assumed autonomy of her life as a woman. One of her famous works was Judith Slaying Holofernes. According to the Guerrilla Girls, it was based on the biblical story of a Jewish woman who decapitates an Assyrian general, an enemy of her people, by pretending to seduce him (37). Gentileschi's touch on the painting was different than of the traditional paintings of Judith where she was depicted as weak in her action of decapitating Holofernes. Gentileschi's version of Judith Slaying Holofernes portrayed action and bravery in the face of carnage and death. She believed that women should not be painted as passive weaklings. She believed they should be painted as being in control and taking charge of their own actions. Therefore, Gentileschi painted the right facial expressions and course of action in the painting. It can lead a person to draw a parallel between the expression painted in Judith Slaying Holofernes to the anger she felt when she was raped by Agostino.

The Memory of the Heart, 1937
Frida Kahlo was most famous for her self-portraits. The unique aspect of her paintings were that Kahlo was often the subject in her paintings. Also, she depicts emotions, usually painful emotions in her portraits. These were a result of the trolley accident that Kahlo experienced at the age of eighteen. The severity of the accident led her to be crippled for the rest of her life and undergo about 32 operations throughout her life. She channeled her emotions and the pain she felt into her artwork. Kahlo inserted her everyday life experiences into forms of paintings. The Memory of the Heart depicts the betrayal she felt from her husband, Diego Rivera cheating on her with Kahlo's youngest sister, Cristina. The big heart in the picture depicts the amount hurt and betrayal she felt. Kahlo dressed herself in European clothing with shortened hair to spite her husband who liked seeing her in indigenous clothing with long hair. Most of her portraits are similar to this painting in which they contain a lot of symbolism and emotion despite the fact the Kahlo's face is always expressionless.

Claude Cahun was most famous for taking pictures of herself "in a range of gender-bending stereotypes. She began taking pictures of herself by the age of eighteen. Cahun works offered a broad exploration of gender, sexuality, and the representation of female nudity in art. Her photographs challenged gender roles. In this autoportait taken in 1929, two Cahuns are separated by a wall. The Cahun in the mirror seems strong and rebellious. The Cahun upfront is boldly drawn withing shiny hair, deep colored lips and pointed gaze. Cahun's reflection portrays two different people in which lets us get a chance to assign the genders based on what we see.

The End of Uncle Tom

Kara Walker was inspired to become an artist by her dad at a very early age. Her works are based on creating narratives of the blacks in the "antebellum South" by using large-scale silhouettes. Walker's plan in using silhouettes was to weaken the "preconceptions about the past" by exploiting stereotypes (Chadwick, 492). This caused a controversial issue because some saw it as negative stereotyping and reminding viewers that "racism is subtle and persistent till present day. The End of Uncle Tom is a visual that retells Harriet Beecher Stowe's, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The amazing aspect of all five artists is that they were able to challenge society and men as well as putting emotion throughout their artwork.

Work Cited:

The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print. 

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1990.Print.

"Frida Kahlo." Frida Kahlo, Frieda, Paintings, Works, Photos, Drawings, Sketches, Biography, Books, Films, Chronology, Bio, Art, Self Portrait, Painter, Mexican Artist. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>.

Barber, Jeremieh. "Always A Multiple: Claude Cahun at the Jeu De Paume." Public Media. KQED, 02 July 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>.

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