Still Life – A woman’s World?

Photograph by Ioanna Ralli

“When the Academy of Fine Art was found in France in the 17th century, a hierarchy of subject matter was established. Historical themes – along with mythological and allegorical ones- were placed at the very top. Second place was taken by portraiture. After that came everyday scenes, then landscapes, animals and lastly and very undervalued, came still life.

Over the course of their entire history, still life was considered an appropriate subject matter for women. In many countries, women excelled especially in painting flowers.

Is that pure coincidence?”

Today I read a small introduction text in Ioanna Ralli’s latest catalogue – book from her last exhibition STILL LIFE.

This book has sat on my shelves for about a year now. I must tell you that I really liked this exhibition and its photographs hold a very special attraction for me. Therefore I have to admit that although I have often taken the book off my library and looked at the pictures, I have never up to today read the intro. I really prefer images to words – coming from a blogger that sounds weird – and I rarely read all the “blubbering”. For me art is supposed to do the talking, not the artist or the critic with words. Yet I urge you to visit Ioanna’s site and read that intro because it contains a lot of interesting things that we can ponder upon.

The paragraph above resonated with a truth that has bothered me for a long long time.

It is true that still life is the child of a lesser God in the eyes of most artists and critics let alone art dealers.  It is also known, that women have always been drawn to still life and have excelled in every way to  portray their surroundings. It must have been only natural for women of the 17th century to paint their household artifacts, since at the time women were not supposed to do a lot of things that men could do, thus it was easier to depict things lying around their houses than paint a nude or go to the brothels and cabarets. Yet to this day we continue to see an ongoing relationship between women painters and still life (especially flowers) that has nothing to do with society’s moral – ethic values and evolution.

What is nagging me though is whether we women like flowers because there comes a time in our lives when we have to spend more time in our homes due to children and /or house chores or if there is a more important connection with mother Earth – Gaia?  Could creating beautiful images of flowers, mother nature’s most beautiful children, be a need to feel connected, part of a whole or plain and simple cradled in the arms of our mother, the most secure of all feelings humans experience at the start of their lives.

What do You Think? I would love to read your comments about our excellence in creating flower still life images.

3 comments on “Still Life – A woman’s World?

  1. timruane24 says:

    I am not sure why women are apparently drawn to paint flowers than men. It is curious and interesting, proof more, perhaps, of the difference between men and women. YOur topic is fascinating.
    You write: “It is true that still life is the child of a lesser God in the eyes of most artists and critics let alone art dealers.:
    You are probably here again too, but I have a theory of art: It is not what the artist depicts that matter as much as how the other depicts. For example, I have never cared much for landscape painting; however, when I look at some of Cezanne’s work, .. I don’t know what I amtalkingabout. Maybe things like stills and landscapes are inatley more attractive than, say, portraits. I have to think about this stuff. You got me thinking.
    You also write: “It is also known, that women have always been drawn to still life and have excelled in every way to portray their surroundings.”
    AS I just said, you got me thinking. I am a fine arts photographer, and I know that there are many women photographers who do not spend there careers on things like still life and flowers: Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Dianne Arbus. Thes guys–oops, girls; oops, women–depicted realisticall, sometimes harshly. In Dianne Arbuss’ work, the images are truly painful to look.
    I don’t know. Maybe your thesis is wrong. Maybe women are not inheently drawn to stiil ife and flowers. Maybe that this was only what was expected and permitted of them.
    I apologize if I have misunderstood your thesis. I read quickly, way too quickly, and sometimes draw conclusions whichare wrong.
    Thanks for your thoughts and your essays. They are the most thought-provoking words on WordPress I have ever heard.

    • fionazakka says:

      I love the fact that you answered and spoke your mind!
      This IS the precise reason I am blogging. I want to hear what others have to say and that means every thought and opinion they have interests me. You do not have to apologize i will not take offense if someone doesn’t agree with my thoughts. This is what sharing ideas is all about, if we all felt the same about a subject there would be no discussion, nothing to say.
      I want to know how and why and what, other people think about the things i read and make me think and think.
      And to continue this discussion…
      I also find myself liking art that i would not normally like as subject matter. For example I am not a fan of portraits and generally gravitate away from human form yet I see artworks that “speak ” to me! And the funniest thing about it is that if you saw the inside of my house you’d think i am crazy cause i have more nudes on the wall than any other subject…
      I think that subject matter is only secondary to great painting and the reason we like certain art pieces is how masterly the artist is and how accomplished his way of portraying a subject is.

      Women artists are capable of doing anything they like, same as any man artist. Your paradigms above are great and they have a strong eye for human nature and life-true life. I am not so sure that i believe that we are inherently drawn to flowers and certainly I do not believe that we are only good at that. What i meant was that we seem to acknowledge flowers as a worthy subject and we pursue it in contrast to men. And that is exactly my point we ARE so different than men.
      In older days that was the case , inability to express yourself the way you wanted to due to society’s rules, but this is not the case anymore and we still see women drawn to flowers and still life.
      Thank you so so much again for sharing your thoughts. Please come back again and let me know what you think about this or any other subject you wish to discuss. ;-)

      • timruane24 says:

        Thanks for your intelligent thought, fionazakka. I am working v. hard these days and would like to discuss these things with you, when I find time and energy. My eyes are sleepy. Let’s talk again soon. — Tim Ruane

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