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ECCC Submittal – Written Public Discourse November 7, 2011 Lori Walker-Kalbfleisch PSU ID 942601932  

    An Artist’s Lens on Victorian Morality: Women of the Lower Classes and Women of Color The word “Victorian” refers to a period in time when Queen Victoria reined over England (1837 – 1901). “Victorian Morality” refers to the refinement of people’s attitudes and societal views that were quite conservative and rigid during the mid to late 19th century, while at the same time, there was also a certain level of social acceptance of things like child labor, and prostitution still existed. Still heavily influenced by British culture, Americans observed more sterile, conservative culture in the 19th century. Due to this dichotomy of values, a great number of movements and establishments came about, in an effort to bring about social change for those living in less desirable situations. During the Victorian period, gender was the basis for identity before anything else was considered, regardless of class, race or any other differentiating factor. The fact that the artist was a woman predisposed any opinions about who a person was as an individual, regardless of that person’s social or political standing. Victorian morality typically held female artists hostage to the opinions of men, and society in general. Obedience and a devotion to family was the norm for most women. If a white woman from the upper/middle class chose not to be obedient, and not take care of a husband and raise a family, she was outcast by society. Even a trip to the local store for bread was not considered acceptable unless accompanied by her husband. Women were not permitted in places such as an art gallery or theater, much less a saloon. Domesticity was the norm for upper/middle class women, because it was understood that her husband should make enough money to take care of all her needs otherwise. There were only a few women who were able to push the stereotype and became well known and appreciated for their work in that age. But the main reason for their ability to break through as artists was due to their social class and upbringing. For example, Rosa Bonheur’s father was an artist and she was raised in a utopian community of people who believed in gender equality. She saw no obstacles in terms of her art. Another artist, Mary Cassatt, benefitted from her social class, having been raised the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, which afforded her the means to pay her own way to Paris and receive formal instruction. In both cases, these women enjoyed brilliant careers as artists in the mid to late 1800’s. Bonheur pushed just about every societal restriction she could, being bold enough to cross-dress in public, and claiming she did so “in order to facilitate her work” (Guerilla Girls, 1998, p. 48). Rosa’s painting The Horse Fair (1853) brought her European acclaim, despite her non-traditional lifestyle. Mary Cassatt also ignored traditional womanly behavior, choosing to leave her Philadelphia

ECCC Submittal – Written Public Discourse November 7, 2011 Lori Walker-Kalbfleisch PSU ID 942601932  

    home on her own in 1866 to pursue her work in Paris. In Paris, her work was compared to that of the male Impressionists (Guerilla Girls, 1998, p.56). This essay will examine the work of other female artists who, like Rosa Bonheur and Marry Cassatt, exemplify the female artist’s plight. Examples of their work will be cited and defended as to why their life and artwork is important, and whether, or not it should be considered feminist art. Sonia Delaunay: Sonia Delaunay’s work was not generally viewed as feminist art, but she should be considered a feminist, because she did not follow social expectations in terms of just taking care of her husband and son. Her husband got credit for being the “genius of the two” in the development of their theory on color (simultanism), but Sonia was just as much a creator of it, accepting of the fact that much of the spotlight was cast on her husband. Sonia also had great success with other projects aside from the work she did with her husband, such as opening her own boutique, and designing rugs, tapestries, costumes and various performance stage sets. After he died in 1941, Sonia continued to paint and had her own exhibitions (Guerilla Girls, 1998, p. 60-61). Claude Cahun: The work of Claude Cahun would most definitely be considered feminist art, because it called upon all who looked at it to question the stereotyping of women, and the difference between being an object vs. subject of sexual desire. According to the Guerilla Girls website, her real name was Lucy Schwob, but the pseudonym Claude Cahun seems to be her choice to avoid gender labeling. The way she portrayed herself on camera projected an image of gender bending as well (Guerilla Girls, 1998, p. 62-63). Hannah Hoch: Getting her work to be included in the first Dada exhibition, in 1921 took some exhibitionistic effort of her own, but Hoch did get into the show, and she soon gained notoriety. Her photomontages would most certainly be considered feminist art. Critics appreciated her portrayal of “the new women,” promoting the gender in a more independent sense to society. Similar to Cahun’s attempt at gender bending with her self-portraits, Hoch’s photomontages offered images of androgynous figures and same-sex couples (Guerilla Girls, 1998, p. 66-67). Frida Kahlo: Frida Kahlo was known for her self-portraits, which were in essence, a biography of her life. She endured horrific tragedies, painful physical suffering, and devastating emotional turmoil for much of her adult life. Like most of Frida’s individual works, Henry Ford Hospital is focused on a specific theme, or life-changing incident. What the Water Gave Me is a collage of Frida’s many life experiences and feelings. It is also a combination of imagery from her other paintings,

ECCC Submittal – Written Public Discourse November 7, 2011 Lori Walker-Kalbfleisch PSU ID 942601932  

    miniaturized and set into a dream-like scene. What the Water Gave Me painting is my favorite of all her work, because it embodies everything about her life, and offers an excellent example of surrealism, despite the artist being ignorant of the concept as a bonifide art form. Using the water in the tub as a metaphor, Frida offers a reflection on her own life from beginning to end. Dreams seem to follow that sort of imagery. Frida’s naked full image is central to both paintings, with circumstantial aspects of the situations encircling her. In Henry Ford Hospital, Frida is floating on her hospital bed, trying to hold on to the enormity of the experience of the miscarriage, in a sense, keeping it from happening, or maybe not letting it fade away. Each aspect of the miscarriage is tethered to the umbilical cords extending from her hand out to each image. Meanwhile, in What the Water Gave Me, Frida is precariously floating on the surface, as if all the aspects of her life are holding on to her, and keeping her drowning with rope intertwined around her neck and torso, connected to all the points outward. She seems to have given in to her life and is just waiting for it to end but no matter what happens, it doesn’t end. Sexuality is also a thematic aspect of both paintings. In Henry Ford Hospital, there is an inference to sexuality symbolized by an orchid that Diego must have given her, which she somehow relates to her own femininity. In What the Water Gave Me, the orchid is seen again, floating in the foreground next to an image of Frida laying naked with another woman, perhaps depicting her bisexuality. Like many of her paintings, Frida’s work in these two paintings seems utterly filled with sadness.

ECCC Submittal – Written Public Discourse November 7, 2011 Lori Walker-Kalbfleisch PSU ID 942601932  

    The film on Frida Kahlo’s life entitled, Frida, presents her as a successful Hispanic woman artist, but more importantly as a survivor, who used her art as a coping mechanism. Despite missed opportunities to tell the audience more about her success as a painter, I was impressed with the way Frida’s own art was used to tell the story. For example, in the scene when she cuts off her hair, the movie transitions to Frida’s painting, Portrait With Cropped Hair. Another example is the scene where we see her toes peaking out of the water in the bathtub, as Frida is reflecting on how their time in New York was cut short due to Rockefeller’s decision to destroy Diego’s mural when he refused to remove Lennon’s image. This scene is reminiscent of her painting, What the Water Gave Me. One scene that particularly stood out in terms of Frida’s success as an artist was her first exhibit. The movie documents this time in Frida’s life fairly well, using the irony of the timing of her the leg amputation and her fist exhibit. In this scene we are told of the importance Diego placed on his wife’s success as an artist above his own. As he is telling the crowd that showed up for the exhibit how proud he is of his wife’s work, Frida is wheeled in to the room, laid out on her four-poster bed so that she didn’t have to miss the exhibit. There were other opportunities missed that could have incorporated more about Frida’s success as a Hispanic artist within the film. For instance, the scene where Frida is painting alongside Diego’s scaffold in Rockefeller Center, and a reporter walks up to her asking if she is a painter too, could have been expanded on her discovery as an artist in the United States. Or, when Frida and Diego provided asylum to Leon Trotsky and his wife at their home, there was a scene where Trotsky and his aid were viewing Frida’s work, commenting on how great it was. This scene could have easily transitioned into more about her success. Instead, Frida is portrayed almost doubting her own talents as an artist, which did not equate to the real Frida. Although she did not necessarily boast or brag about her abilities, she was quite aware of her artistic talent. As evidenced in her bio, Frida was very confident about her work as an honest expression of who she was. There were times however, when she would downplay her work compared to the master surrealists, because she did not consider herself to be at the same level: "Really  I  do  not  know  whether  my  paintings  are  surrealist     or  not,  but  I  do  know  that  they  are  the  frankest  expression  of     myself.    Since  my  subjects  have  always  been  my  sensations,  my     states  of  mind  and  the  profound  reactions  that  life  has  been    producing  in  me,  I  have  frequently  objectified  all  this  in  figures     of  myself,  which  were  the  most  sincere  and  real  thing  that  I  could    do  in  order  to  express  what  I  felt  inside  and  outside  of  myself."