Sun 12/12, 2021, 2:00pm
Catherine McCormack with Jessica Ferri
Art, females bodies, and how culture shapes them both

When you think about the portrayal of women in classical and contemporary art, what comes to mind? Italian painter Boticelli’s iconic work, The Birth of Venus, depicts the Roman goddess of beauty emerging from the sea fully nude, with an impossibly elongated neck and long, blonde hair flowing over her flawless skin. Flemish sculptor Giambologna also depicted the nude female figure — carved from pure white marble — in its “perfect form” with long limbs and smooth features. Other depictions by male artists show women in the roles of mythical monsters or trapped in acts of violence or subordination. Have these depictions become so culturally ingrained that today, we can barely see them?

In her book, Women in the Picture: What Culture Does with Female Bodies, art historian Catherine McCormack describes how Western art has built cultural archetypes that bind women to the roles of Venus, bride, wife, mother, and monster. McCormack suggests that representations of women in art and imagery of the past and present have been restricted, and offers a counter to the portrayals of impossible beauty and acts of violence that are still echoed in fashion photography, social media, and ads today. Through the work of past and contemporary women artists like Berthe Morisot, Faith Ringgold, Suzanne Lacy, and others, McCormack broadens how we can view women’s identity, sexuality, race, and power.

Catherine McCormack is the author of The Art of Looking Up, as well as curator and lecturer in historic and contemporary art history. She is the founder and course director of the Women and Art study program at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and lives in London.

Jessica Ferri is a writer and photographer. Her work has been published in The Los Angeles TimesThe Daily BeastNPR, The Economist, and more. She is the author of  Silent Cities: New York (2020) and Silent Cities: San Francisco (2021), which chronicle the forgotten stories of urban cemeteries. She is currently at work on her first novel.

Presented by Town Hall Seattle.

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