Misty Copeland and Degas: Emulation at its Finest

Emulation is a challenging middle ground between imitation and invention.”

– David Mayernik, Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame

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(C) 2016 Hearst Communications. Harper’s Bazaar, Misty Copeland and Degas: The Art of Dance. Photographs by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, featuring Misty Copeland

It’s refreshing to see older works of art reimagined in a modern context, and the latest photo shoot from Harper’s Bazaar is a breath-taking example of a modern reinvention. Featuring the amazing Misty Copeland posing as the young ballerina of Degas’ celebrated paintings, this blend of paint and photography, past and present, puts a modern twist on the graceful, fleeting dancers of a century ago. Photographers Ken Browar and Deborah Ory preserve the earthy pastels and unique poses of Degas’ ballerinas while capturing the strength of Copeland’s movements and the power of her personality, revealing the transformation of the 19th century girl into a confident modern woman who has perfected her art. Continue reading

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4 Reasons Why Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Self-Portrait is a Feminist Manifesto

As I talked about in my post about Rembrandt van Rijn, self-portraits allow artists to create their own public identity, encompassing much more than their physical likeness. In fact, self-portraits don’t have to match their creator’s appearance at all! We each define ourselves by our character, our goals, our accomplishments, or even our failures. We want to be remembered for what we stand for, who we are.

That’s why Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, whom I introduced in my previous post, made several strategic choices in her Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, choices that would surprise and challenge her contemporaries. At a time when the art world was dominated by male masters and scholars like Jacques-Louis David, Lebrun was a female painter with impressive talent, astute social acuity, and a strong sense of personal pride in her work. Even though feminism was not yet a powerful social movement at the time, there are four profound reasons why Lebrun’s Self-Portrait undoubtedly embodies the spirit of future feminist movements:

Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, 1782

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Feminism in the Rococo

What comes to mind when you think about Marie Antoinette? You might associate this unfortunate queen and her entire retinue as the epitome of frivolity and naiveté, aristocrats with little awareness of (or interest in) the realities of the outside world. In many ways you would be right. But what if I suggested that this society of lavish luxury and Dangerous Liaisons also witnessed the early expression of some feminist attitudes?

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Mme d’Epinay, 1759

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Hunt or Be Hunted

Diana the Huntress of Versailles

Diana the Huntress of Versailles

Power is all about the game. In love, this game becomes a hunt, with most traditional stories depicting a male hunter chasing after the woman, his “prize.” But mythological goddesses are some of the most powerful women around, and they often don’t wait to be chased. Take the goddess Diana, for instance. Known for her beauty and skill as a huntress, the goddess of the moon was a uniquely powerful female figure among the repertoire of characters from history, mythology, and religion that constituted the Western artistic canon. For this reason she was adopted as a namesake by several powerful noblewomen, most notably Diane de Poitiers, who wielded formidable influence in the French court.

One of the most famous anecdotes of the life of Diana is her encounter with Actaeon, who saw her bathing naked with her nymphs while he was riding with his hunting party. When Diana discovered him, she became enraged and transformed him into a stag, and he was chased down and devoured by his own hounds.

This story has been represented in many ways over the centuries for decoration, education, and (mostly) delectation. As times have changed, so have artistic perspectives. How can an artist capture the power of a huntress? Continue reading

The Naked and the Nude

Today I want to go into a more difficult subject and talk about the phenomenon of nudity in Western art, particularly the female nude. Looking around at advertisements, music videos, television, magazines, and other popular visual “art,” I feel that feminine sexuality is a constant presence that is sometimes taken for granted, even though there are profound psychological implications on how women are viewed by society and by men and how women view themselves. I know this is a very broad topic, so I want to focus on a very interesting quote taken from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (featured in The feminism and visual culture reader, 2003):

“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself… Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.”

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