‘The Restoration of Venus, The Nude, Beauty, and Modernist Misogyny’ by Kay Kane
The Restoration of Venus, The Nude, Beauty and Modernist Misogyny
Presented by Kay Kane, Griffith University
‘This paper takes up Wendy Steiner’s argument in the Exile of Venus that the history of twentieth century art is one of resistance to the female subject as symbol of beauty. Steiner claimed that, following Kant’s theory of the sublime, the identification of feminine beauty with impurity was taken to extremes by avant-garde modernists who aimed to destroy beauty. In contrast to Steiner, I argue that the quest for purity in modernism took art in two different directions, one toward an ideal of purity in increasing abstraction and minimalism, the other toward the deliberate portrayal of ugliness based on an assumption that reality was, after all, not beautiful, truthfulness demanding this be reflected honestly in art. Needless to say, the female subject fared ill in either mode. The refinement of beauty in abstraction eliminated the female form (and all forms) altogether. More pointedly, the rejection of beauty in self-consciously ugly art implied and encourage d a misogynistic denigration of woman that led to a century of pornography, shock and alienation. The question addressed in this paper is whether the problematic power of female beauty, now widely used and debased in popular culture, can any longer be used for artistic purposes without appearing a retrograde or repressive enterprise. Referencing my own work – in particular five large painted panels deploying multiple nudes integrated into a rainforest landscape – I answer this question in the positive, the image of restoring Venus implying a reaction to, and rejection of, the misogynistic modernist tendency.’
Kay Kane: DFA (Lon) BFA (Lon) DVA (QCA, Griffith University)
Kay studied fine art at Central School of Art and Design, London and after obtaining her degree practised as an artist in London with several one-woman shows and major gallery exhibits. She now pursues her career in her home state of Queensland, Australia, where she is a founder member of Salisbury Studios Inc. and Vice President of the Royal Queensland Art Society. Kay also teaches life drawing at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University where in 2010 she gained a Doctorate in the Visual Arts, painting.
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