Visual Art History

This week we looked at the beginnings of body art, and how body is represented in visual art, it being used as a subject or seen as a subject or used as a material.

This module looks at theories about the body and uses examples from art and design. Essentially we all have a body and often take it to granted, most things you do is about the body and as they are commonly represented we commonly tend to ignore the details so for instance if we look around a room, everything is design in relation to the body, furniture, doors, handles, everything reflects the body. This module will not only explore how our body responds to things and operates things but questioning how our body is represented. What we look like? How our differences are represented in society? All these things play a role how we are defined in society.

Western Ideology of the body in art:

Often beauty is known as subjective, and only exists purely on the eyes of the beholder, nevertheless ideas of what constitutes the body beautiful are primarily values from society in which the beholder grew up in. So we aren’t born with the idealism of what beauty is, society nurtures us and tell us what to think what is beautiful. Visual art plays a key role in representing and reinforcing such values, so definitions of beauty as revealed by art is different from on society to another, and from one era to the next. so ideas of beauty change a lot through time and if we look for example at Rubens where women where curvier, whereas nowadays on the media how woman are represented as anorexic.


Vanessa Beecroft makes these installations of “girls”, she calls them, and she offers in one way an idealized view of beauty as they are fashion models, but the difference is that these installations are done in real-time and space so often these performances last for several hours on end. and in one way you could say that this could be criticized, by feminists and anti-capitalists, because a lot of the time these models will have designer product items and this is completely buying in to the fashion industry in the art market and the restricted views of how women should be. The thing she does is that these women stand there for so long that all of a sodden their bodies start to deteriorates in front of the views eyes. The constructed ideal of beauty cracks so that the real body becomes apparent.

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 by Guerrilla Girls

Since their inception in 1984 the Guerrilla Girls have been working to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world, and in the wider cultural arena. This poster asks ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ above a reclining naked woman who wears a gorilla mask. The image is based on the famous painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) entitled Odalisque and Slave. and accompanied by the facts: ‘less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female’. It really gets your mind thinking about it and how male dominated the art world is and how often the female form is depicted for the male pleasure.


Annie Sprinkle’s one-woman show Post Porn Modernist toured from 1989 till 2006. Her famous act in which she shows her cervix to audience members by using a speculum, entitled ‘A Public Cervix’. She invites the audience using a with a speculum and flashlight and in this way she demystifies the female body and revitalizes the sexual individual This really speaks out about the subject in which explores the ideas in which art and activism not only being the subject but also they were the object. Literally returning the gaze back to the viewer, so no one is making speculations of her and projecting that to a piece of art.

How has the body been used as an extension to create art?


What’s impressive about Jackson Pollock’s paintings is the action of him working and this vitality and this sort of heroic gesture. and these became through the medium a sort of statues of the artist and as a mythological and legendary character. For the expressionist painters at the time of the 50s had this heighten state of some sort of nobility. What’s interesting about this, is that it wasn’t much about the painting anymore, but the action itself.


Part of the Flux movement, Piero Manzoni created 90 small cans, sealed with the text Artist’s Shit. Each 30-gram can was priced by weight based on the current value of gold. It got to the point where people didn’t care about the value of the art piece, but wanting to posses a bit of the artist, wanting to know the statues of the artist, his commodity.

“It is a joke, a parody of the art market, and a critique of consumerism and the waste it generates.”

-Stephen Bury

Yves Klein was a judo expert and he believed the body was the center of physical sensorial and spiritual energy and he applied this principal to his work creating a new painting technique that involved the application of paint directly to the human body which became a living brush. On the late 50s, early 60s, artists were looking at different ways of applying paint to canvas, and this by sequence has made the body the subject but as well the object of the painting.


“I mopped the floor with my hair…The reason I’m so interested in taking my body to those extreme places is that that’s a place where I learn, where I feel most in my body. I’m really interested in the repetition, the discipline, and what happens to me psychologically when I put my body to that extreme place.”

-Janine Antoni

“Meat Joy has the character of an erotic rite: excessive, indulgent, a celebration of flesh as material: raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, transparent plastic, rope brushes, paper scrap. It’s propulsion is toward the ecstatic– shifting and turning between tenderness, wilderness, precision, abandon: qualities which could at any moment be sensual, comic, joyous, repellent.”

– Carolee Scheemann


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BA (Hons) Final Year Ceramics student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Love experimenting with material and techniques and work on a range of medium.

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