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Monday, March 4, 2013

Male-Female Content

Boy art or girl art?
More than any other element in art, content is the first and most important factor an artists considers in choosing to do art. What shall I paint today? Shall I decorate or pontificate? Shall I shock or schlock. I have noted many times in my writing on this subject that all artists tend to paint (or recreate) that which is important to them. This first decision, coupled with one as to size, are the beginning of a chain of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of decisions making up the creative process from conception to signing. Two factors play a determining role in this decision. The first is gender. After forty years of teaching painting to people from 6 to 60, I've been an observer of male/female subject matter choices for quite a long time. And, I must say that what was true in 1972 when I graduated from college and began giving evening adult art classes for $3.00 per session (2 1/2 hours), isn't necessarily so today. The second factor, and the most interesting one to me, is age. Maybe not so much in the past, but today, age may be the most important determining factor in male/female subject matter selection.

Only in early elementary school does gender
not play a significant roll in content choices.
At the first and second grade level I've never seen much difference in subject matter choices between boys and girls. However as the child passes the age of eight, the traditional, expected, stereotypical choices begin to emerge. It is at this age that boys and girls are starting to explore their gender roles. With the girls, all is cuteness, sweetness, hearts and flowers (I know it's not politically correct, but that's the way it is). As expected, boys tend toward sports, wild-life, and violent subject matter. This continues to be the case until about the seventh or eighth grades when there is a more structured art program and the choices by gender seem to begin merging somewhat. At the high school level, there seems to be (now at least, more so than in the past) a tendency for girls to be attracted to traditionally male subject matter, though where animals are concerned, they prefer pets to wildlife, and female athletes to male. This undoubtedly reflects the broadening of female gender roles in more recent years. Conversely, boys continue to show little interest in traditionally female subject matter.

Syllia's Dream, Diane Ozdamar
At the adult level is where I think times have changed the most. Thirty or forty years ago female subjects included pets, still-lifes, florals, landscapes, and portraits. Male subject matter then often included wildlife, landscapes, portraits, sports, and large antiques (planes, trains, and automobiles). Today I find few women interested in still lifes or florals at all (except, perhaps, in the case of seniors). Today, the favorite subject of women seems to be women. For centuries, the female nude used to be the special province of men. Not anymore. Google "paintings by female artists," and it's like a nude deluge. Beyond content, and speaking just in terms of painting, there is also a much greater desire to mix media today than in the past with women seeming more likely to do so than men. Likewise, women seem to have fallen in love with abstracts in recent years far more than have men. The one new area of content for men seems to be that of fantasy art. Here again, age makes a difference. Younger artists tend toward the darker, Gothic realm of this genre. On a higher plane, the question all this raises is, can we, or should we, differentiate as to content by gender? In any case, it's getting more difficult to do so. Of course these observations are based largely on the work of amateur or semi-professional painters, but from my past experience, and in perusing the Internet, they carry over pretty well into the professional realm as well.
The Way, Truth, and Light, S. Williams (male or female artist?)

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