As art critic John Berger writes in Ways of Seeing that seeing and recognition come even before words, and the opposing manner in which men and women are culturally represented is vast. Representations of men and women in visual culture entice different gazes. I believe art illuminates, has the power to alter perspective, and thus society, for the better—even if it starts with one set of eyes. With this photo essay, featuring my work and the work of others, I am working in whatever small way to encourage inventive observation of the female figure and its peaceful significance to human life, perhaps beginning with motherhood.
I use quotes in my body prints from my own musings and from famous and infamous friend-artists and mother-artists, and some who have questioned my way of mothering and artistry: “Art was the only way I knew of coming to terms with the psychic shock of becoming a mother—a role that uncovered the angriest, weakest and most self-seeking, and in turn the most tender, gracious and devoted parts of myself. I knew that if I buried that creative urge in myself, it would only re-emerge in some ugly and distorted form; that it would not, in fact, make me a better mother but one full of bitterness and frustration—a recipe for martyrdom. Or, perhaps worse, turn me into a monster whose own thwarted ambitions have been transferred on to her children. Sometimes I looked at my baby and experienced his gaze as a challenge, as if he more than anyone would recognize all my terrible failings. I did not want his mother to be a woman who gave up, who didn’t strive to become all she might have been.”—Rachel Power
“Split Self,” acrylic and pencil on board; Sally Deskins, 2012
Someone once told me Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” was inappropriate to hang in my baby’s nursery. Today, children are flooded with images and stories of gender violence and female objectification. Artistic perspectives of the female that challenge such perspectives are refreshing and necessary. Life is fragile—instead of being afraid or denying this, it can save us.
The expressive act hurts no one, and can only do well by sharing, even if one person relates.
“Third Egg,” acrylic on board; Sally Deskins, 2012
What do you really see?
With my children’s craft and playful imagery, I connect with them through the literal process of expression, and its outcome. We paint and draw together freely and daily, abstract and sometimes more realistic. The artistic process then is also time for bonding. The resulting pieces are works of art we can together enjoy—the sense of conception and accomplishment, remembering fondly each stroke, each moment of creation.
Art by M.H & Sally Deskins
No matter how much we distaste it, our bodies are at root, bare objects. Underneath our layers of smiles, hairstyles, makeup and garb, we are at origin all naked humans trying to figure it out—the relation of our inside to our outside, amongst it all. Fifteenth century viewers of “Birth of Venus” are said to have had Neo-Platonist perspectives of the nude; when viewing it, they felt their minds “lifted to the realm of divine love.” When viewing Saville’s work, like “Mirror,” surreal, distorted, and new perspectives lift the female form to the celestial.
“Mirror,” Jenny Saville, 2012
Instead of turning up our heads to our bodies that we all have underneath various layers, let us look at them straight on—with inventive observation.
“POV Orange Blossom,” Wanda Ewing, 2010