Is this painting sexist? Or a mirror on contemporary life?

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Weekenders, a painting by Czech Republic artist Pavel Pangrac has proven to be controversial! When the painting received the emailed comment– “This is really offensive work! Outrageously sexist and disgusting,”  I thought I’d like to analyze the work a little bit. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions in a comment.

My first thought, was that a reclining antique nude or the cliche of the scantily clad odalisque on a museum wall would hardly bring such a comment these days.

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So what are the upsetting aspect of the paintings Weekenders?  Do the women depicted in Pavel Pangrac’s painting represent a contemporary type of female image ubiquitous as trees in forest? Perhaps the painter is bombarded with unreal images of women via advertisements and media and his painting is social commentary? Perhaps it just hits a little too close to home to see aspects of ourselves depicted this way? Do we find the women–their stylized clothing and movements–set in contrast to the natural surroundings unsettling or disconcerting? Is the painting tell us to look beyond the superficial, to the real woman standing nude in distant background?
Does the strong response the painting Weekenders received indicate that there is a powerful message in the work that the viewer has reacted to?  The artist, Pavel Pangrac, himself says that the work has many layers of meaning. He asks the vital questions, “Is there in painting – and I mean especially in depictive painting-  only the purpose of imitating something real? Something that is easy, at first sight, understandable and easy to interpret?” All this begs the questions, should painters stay clear of controversial subjects and paint only what is considered comfortable for others to take in? Should artists craft their depictions with regard to what is politically correct? Or is it the artist’s duty to provide us with food for thought?
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10 thoughts on “Is this painting sexist? Or a mirror on contemporary life?

  1. If the artist is not challenging the viewer to expand their vision, than what is the point of creating? Yes, there are many layers of meaning to that painting, and some of them are conflicting. But now, isn’t that pretty much the way life is?

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    • Right, I don’t paint the human form, but I know when I see a painting of people that aims to please and one in which the figures do not. There is bravery there. It’s easy to go with the acceptable.

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  2. Dare I say, it’s not sexist per se…but not very good imo.

    One wonders whether artists love this type of discussion because it puts their work on the radar and gets people talking. In short, its great PR. I’d love to hear one artist say, “Yes, this is purposefully sexist because I knew it would cause a stir. Thanks for the interview.”

    But to take it a step further, when I saw the title of your email “Is this painting sexist?” I knew right away, it was a depiction of a female. So isn’t that a problem to begin with? That we have to ask so many times, “Is this sexist?” when it ONLY applies to women? If you have to ask, isn’t that part of the problem?

    Your questions also framed this in a way as to suggest that it isn’t sexist. That you have already decided its not sexist. There’s that issue as well: framing beforehand so people agree with your implied point of view. I’m sure it wasn’t intended but it was there.

    Yes, nudes have been around since painting began–but there’s a level of respect, adoration, that went into them before. Not treating them like an object. There’s a very big difference between the example paintings you choose.

    One feminist postulated a good method re: how to determine whether something is sexist: could you replace males in [fill in the blank] and would it seem weird, disconcerting…offensive? Would you ever see males depicted like this? No…you wouldn’t. So in that regard, yes this would be sexist. Because the male artist wouldn’t put men in his paintings in this way, I’m guessing.

    Here’s an example:

    http://theoatmeal.com/blog/spiderwoman

    Thanks for the discussion and keep up the good work.

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    • Hi Beth,

      The artist was shocked and upset by the response received that his work is sexist. So please don’t make the assumption that this is any kind of ploy. This is real. That really happened.

      What would you do if someone destroyed your work verbally? You would have to respond in some way.

      Of course you knew that “sexist” in my headline would refer to female–are white males in our society oppressed? I think that there is a lot of sexism in this world, and I’ve encountered it personally. I am asking questions in my article. An image of women in our time in contemporary clothing is more shocking to us than an antique image in clothing of that era. So there is personal recognition as a strong factor. Are you the viewer responding (aka disliking) the painting Weekenders due to other factors that you are unaware of? It would be nice if you would think about the painting, look at it and jot down your own thoughts and feelings. Analyze them. Dig deeper.

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  3. As social commentary, I find this pretty tame, not offensive. However, I do believe it presents a stereotypical (male) view of contemporary women. Though I don’t agree with it, he has every right to express his view.

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    • Hi Sue, Thanks for your comment and opinion. Yes, I was all amazed that the painting was called “disgusting” and “sexist” by a gallerist. Yes, “tame” compared to say Piss-Christ or other controversial works.

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  4. I salute each person who has responded with intelligent observations. Yesterday I read an interesting article about slavery in Mauritania. (See “Freedom Fighter” by Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, September 8, 2014, pp.38-46.) What is interesting about it is not that slavery continues to exist in this society, but how deeply embedded it is. The article featured the work of Biram Dah Abeid to free slaves and change the culture of his country. His chief complaint about the way slavery is embedded in the culture is through Islamic texts. He claims that when one goes back to original writings about the religion, slavery is unsupported. Yet in the sacred texts used in Mauritania, it is condoned. His solution is to burn these texts, the act of a heretic in his society.
    I am suggesting that sexism is as deeply and completely embedded in societies (Europe, the Americas, Asia) as slavery is in Mauritania. It’s not OK to paint nude women, or scantily clad women, in suggestive poses, and it never has been. Just because it’s been done for hundreds of years will not ever make it OK. Updating it does not make it OK. This genre objectifies the female form and that act is a primary means of telling one half of the human race that you are not equal to the other half. Objectification says to everyone that women are sexual things first, and always for the pleasure of men.
    The idea of imagining naked men painted in the same way naked women are as a yardstick of determining sexist content is a funny and facile way to think about this genre. Here’s another fact that has less of a through line of illumination: “Only 11 of these 73 ads are for solo shows by women, about 15 percent. This isn’t an anomaly. In last September’s Artforum, only 13 percent of the 81 New York ads were for solo shows by women. Again, it’s important to remember that these full-page ads are not representative of the entire art world. A quick perusal of nearly 100 Lower East Side galleries reveals that more than 25 percent of the shows are solos by women. That’s not great, but it’s still twice as good as the image of the art-world Establishment we see in Artforum. The magazine is telling us that the top two-thirds of the art world are mired in self-perpetuating, self-replicating sexism: More art by men is shown and sold in large galleries because more art by men has been shown and sold in large galleries. And the result is not just about what gets shown, but what that teaches us about what is worth showing: the art world as seen in these ads is much more comfortable digesting strange, weird, surprising, and even insane work from men, but gets squeamish whenever women try to show at all.” This is Jerry Saltz, get the whole article here: http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/artforum-september-issue-whats-wrong-with-art-world.html
    This discussion is not about whether someone has a right to express an opinion or general viewpoint in their oeuvre of artwork. And it’s certainly not about the rich layers of meaning an artwork can have. It is about how completely insidious sexism is. I am suggesting that when one thinks about the deep ramifications global sexism perpetuates, then the way it is lodged in the art world begins to help us understand how unacceptable certain work is. The million dollar question is, unacceptable to whom?

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    • Thanks, Karen

      I’ve read a bit of feminist writing, and I’ve had my poetry published in feminist publications. I’ve felt sexism personally. We can trace the history of sexism back to ancient Egypt. There is still in existence an ancient temple in Egypt that has a painting of women on the ceiling that are the last remnants of matriarchy. Some feminist organizations have photos of this painted temple ceiling and have published these photos and written about this temple. So there was a time when a matriarchy ruled and it was squelched and destroyed and the practitioners systematically wiped out. What we call sexism is the repression of any rise of women by men fearful of losing their power–literally. Today, some men are aware of why they repress all things female and some men have these repression tactics ingrained in them without knowing the origins. In other words, some really believe women are inferior while others are afraid of women regaining any kind of power. This is a summary of details that I’ve stated in other situations. I personally believe that combined male-female energy is required to wipe out sexism. Both sexes Working together. There are also many ancient symbols of this, the yin yang most commonly known today. In India I attended a special museum exhibition of ancient half-man-half-woman sculptures brought in from all over India. The symbol of the circle with a dot inside is a symbol of combined male-female energy. Are contemporary men in favor of combined female-male energy in the world? No. They don’t want to relinquish dominance.

      When we look at anything as an us vs them–women against men–we will find tons of examples of male dominance of women. We can expect to see this since we do live in a patriarchy and have for many centuries. I have long campaigned for a 50-50 ratio of representation of men and women’s creative work. The truth is that females make up 52% of the population and males 48%. So women are even more under-represented if you consider the true ratio. But I think that the mistake is in looking at visual art or creative writing in an us or them way. If we combine our male-female energies and remove the adversarial comparisons and look at Pavel Pangrac’s painting Weekenders, if anything, the painting points out the superficial images of women found in the media. This painting asks us to see this and think about this when we are numbed, complacently thumbing past these images in ads in magazines and such. When contemporary women, such as super models and Kim Kardashian are willingly making these images and making tons of money to boot! We categorize these images as commercial. Once these images of women move into the realm of fine art, then we apply the term sexist. Therefore, the fact that these acceptable everyday images have been transplanted to a painting makes the sexism visible. Gives a voice to this discuss on the contemporary portrale of women, something that makes many uncomfortable. We’d all would rather go about our lives and not talk about this, perhaps waiting for things to change. As I stated, the artist is brave in his painting. Why do we cry sexism in art yet we are surrounded by similar images of women in advertisements and cry nothing. Is it that painting is an intellectual activity and product? The painting brings sexism to the attention of the intellectual, so therefore is anti-sexist. I think the problem is that a male painted the painting. If a woman had painted the painting it would be more clearly understood as an ironic portrait of sexism. Just as there is a well-known African-American painter who paints images of a “Black Elvis”. This artist lives in Texas, a traditionally racist region of the US. (I tried to find his name but there were too many references to black Elvis!) The irony is clear. Elvis sang rock songs and ballads written by black men and women, and so there should have been a black Elvis singing them and making the millions of dollars from the celebrity. The African-American artist is pointing to this in his work not the white male artist. TO bring attention to sexism, there should be more women pointing out sexism using their art. Using sexist images ironically. As I mentioned, the fact that a man has (in this painting under discussion) is brave. He has gotten the ire of women. I say that if you are angry, then do something, paint your own paintings, write your own articles. Once you do, things will shift! You will receive nasty comments. Yes, I know from personal experience as a published creative writer. I’ve received many attacks for writing about myself as a woman. The subject of woman herself is in itself controversial. If you do take on these subjects, get ready to do battle. But all that you do will also make a difference.

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