The Female Representation of Power

Throughout history, art style and meaning has changed drastically, with conventions such as composition, art movement and subject. When art historians study past and present works, there is a wide range of ideas and perceptions that can be uncovered. Along with art style, the world has become more progressive and ideals have changed. This blog will assess the numerous perceptions of femininity and being a woman in art, from Leonardo da Vinci’s convention of female to Delano Dunn’s powerful representation of women in power.

We begin with the High Renaissance. For Leonardo da Vinci and many other artists of his time, the female form represented reproduction and motherhood. For this reason, women were depicted reserved in their posture and grace. The Mona Lisa became a standard for which women should be depicted; portraits of women with a slight, aloof smile, hands crossed on their laps and their hair pulled back in a net. In a quite literal sense, she is reserved and elegant, with her hair pulled back and tidy. This was the standard for which women were expected to live. Their role was not part of the outside world but to be kept in the home, taking care of children. Artists in Leonardo’s world used muted colors to present their figures in this way. As much as women should stay reserved, so should the colors they are represented with.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, artists like Erich Heckel, a German Expressionist artist, had their own take on the representation of women. Woman as a seductress became a broader topic of discussion. Along with this idea, came certain iconographic elements. The color red, for instance, is associated with seduction and often used when depicting women who are temptresses and prostitutes. Heckel’s muse, Franzi, was a thirteen-year-old girl he often depicted in his paintings. She was often portrayed nude and modeled in a seductive manner. In these works, it is clear she is mature for her age, however, to what extent do women, even young girls, have to be sexualized?

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Here we are in the 21st century and, thus far, representations of women have mostly been reserved and held back to display their expected roles or sexualized to a questionable degree. Contemporary art strives to create new conventions for women. Delano Dunn is featured in the exhibit “Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love”. His prevailing piece Where Neon Bends depicts powerful women who travel back in time to destroy the patriarchy. This piece holds an entire new convention for women. These women are portrayed in powerful stances in order to assert their dominance. They are not reserved or holding back from their destiny, they are fighting back with strength and authority. Dunn was inspired by the Jackson Five’s music video Can You Feel It and the science fiction film, Tron, to create a radiantly neon atmosphere. Here, women are not portrayed by one color, but their powers are augmented by the brilliant colors Dunn uses. This piece does not hold back from depicting women in a position of power. In the past, art depicted women in a way that dictated where they belonged in society. Now, that convention has been slashed in order to claim that women are able to break their stereotypical roles in society.

Lisa Noll



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