Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 343: Artists Seem Fascinated by Women Who Are Fasciated By Themselves

Having googled "mirror + art" about three dozen times since the beginning of this project, I've grown fascinated by the fascination male artists have for women who are fascinated by themselves.  Oh, I should have spoken more clearly: there are a heck of a lot of paintings and photographs out there featuring women staring at themselves in the mirror.  Is it simply that men like looking at women, and women like looking at themselves?  I imagine that these dude artists were all like, "Hey lady, can I paint you?  What pose could you hold for hours?" and all the women decided they could look into a mirror for hours.  I give up. What do you think?  Here are some examples:

Italian Renaissance
Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror  (1515Giovanni Bellini 
Woman Before a Mirror (1877) Edouard Manet  
Nude standing before a Mirror () Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Pablo Picasso (1932) Girl in Front of Mirror

Fernando Botero (1986) Woman in Front of a Mirror
While all of the above paintings are all certainly important works, none of them speak to me the way this piece did when I saw it for the first time.   I was taking  my first Women's Studies class in college, and was starting to contend with my own body image issues.  I was thinking a lot about our culture and its effects on women, but only beginning to take seriously the ways that women oppress each other. This photograph and its message blew me away.  
Mirror, Mirror (1987) Carrie Mae Weems
Thoughts?  Comments?  Anybody else kind of blown away?  Who answers when YOU ask the mirror "Who's the finest of them all?"


  1. Hey Kjerstin: you should check out John Berger's "ways of seeing" if you haven't already - he has some interesting ideas about the use of the mirror in classical art, as well as about the way the nude is presented in general.

    1. Renee - Oh, I remember reading passages from Berger for the same class that introduced the Carrie Mae Weems piece.

      "Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

      Again, kind of blew my mind in the way it "clicked".

  2. Whats also very interesting, is that all these women are kindof fat, or at least modern-world fat. Also kind of an interesting message men must be sending to women....

  3. Personally, the Botero painting speaks to me: she is in front of the mirror but not looking into it. I think lots of women recognize themselves in this act of seeing but not seeing. Somehow we manage to get dressed and put on makeup (not you, of course, Kjerstin!) while looking in the mirror but without actually seeing the big picture of ourselves.

    1. I like this... see the above quote from John Berger's "Ways of Seeing". There's definitely something there.

      Also - the Botero is one of my favorite paintings... very few contemporary artists still work with fleshy women's bodies without making their flesh seemingly grotesque or sad... In this painting it's meant to showcase a normal woman doing a normal, everyday thing..

  4. In the case of the last photo I think it's a statement on how a woman appears to the world versus how she sees herself when she looks in the mirror, though she is not looking directly into the mirror. In the other cases, assuming the artist is male, I think it gives the artist a rare glimpse of the front and back view simultaneously. When you look at someone you see only one side, unless it's in front of a mirror.

  5. Just a thought - for a few painters, I believe it was/is probably a great
    challenge to paint a reflective image - however, that could be accomplished
    without naked women looking into mirrors! In my photographs (ie. snapshots)
    I loved to catch a reflective image of a sunset or a mountain, a bird flying
    over a me the attraction is in the reflection, perhaps not so much
    the subject matter.

    Are you getting excited for your party? I know that I am. So looking forward,
    and happy to see your parents once again. Do you need any help? or is everything
    taken care of (cannot end in a preposition, so I'll add on this mindless comment).

    Love you,


  6. I find it interesting and just a bit ironic that four of the women depicted would be considered overweight or obese today. Is it possible that something as simple as an art history class with an emphasis on women models through the ages could impact our body image issues in a positive way?

    1. Gosh, I think that's a fabulous idea! Young women these days see so very few "real" naked women.... just photoshopped images and maybe one or two adult female relatives... I wonder if a good body image project couldn't be an art-history lecture or field-trip (ooh, field trip for sure - much more fun!) featuring female nudes across the ages. I love it!

  7. Whoa, that last one is a shocking image, although I wonder if it is so true any more. I know that nowadays I am just as likely to take fashion cues from African American women as from women just like myself. I cannot speak to African American's internalized self-image.

    I wonder if artists imagine that they are catching a woman in an unguarded moment when she looks into a mirror. Or perhaps they are not thinking beyond the stereotype of the vain woman.

  8. This is a fun read and speaks of truth at the same time. Most women are fascinated of themselves, although there are some who actually worship themselves. As for me, I often go whole day without looking at the mirror and then when I come home, I find some black shade under my eyes, proof that my eyeliner has ran. But it doesn´t bother me at all. I make sure I look presentable before I leave the house and that look holds for the rest of the day.

  9. This goes to the top of my "something that's interesting but which I'd never thought about before ever" list.

    Here's a boring technical suggestion. Maybe it's about perspective more than about self-regard: by painting a figure looking in a mirror the artist gets to paint his (sic) subject from two points of view in a single work. Bolero, for example, gets to paint the woman from behind, but also paint her face.

  10. I was just watching an episode of Six Feet Under where the character Brenda has an anonymous semi-sexual encounter with a stranger in a clothing store. The moment he noticed her was when she was holding up a skirt to her waistline and regarding herself in a full-length mirror. It made me think about this subject, which is what prompted me to search it on line and brought me here. I think it could be an innate voyeuristic satisfaction that men get from watching a woman look at herself in a mirror. The way a woman candidly reacts to her own image is a revelation of her self-confidence (or lack thereof), kind of like having a peek at her own private thoughts about herself. To me, art that embodies this concept is the artist's way of capturing an intimate moment that they observed and sharing it with others. But that's my own take...I'd love to hear what men have to say about it.

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