compare mary cassatt’s “at the opera” with auguste renoir’s “la loge” (the theater box), 1874. same kind of public space but the woman in this painting is not a protagonist. she is passive, a spectacle to be enjoyed by male eyes.
in her analysis griselda pollock talks about the “territory of modernism” and how it deals primarily with masculine sexuality and its signs, the bodies of women – hence the nude, the brothel, the bar. she asks this terrific question: ” if it is normal to see paintings of women’s bodies as the territory across which men artists claim their modernity and compete for leadership of the avant-garde, can we expect to rediscover paintings by women in which they battled with their sexuality in the representation of the male nude?” obviously not. hence this structural, historical asymmetry.
men as the main producers, consumers and patrons of art automatically determine the canons of art history. modernity itself, as defined by paris and london in the late 19th c, described the experience of men. modernity was a product of the city – blurring of social classes, crowds, fast pace of life, consumption, stress, etc. in this fluid environment, public spaces (politics, govt, law, etc) were mostly reserved for men. women were relegated to domestic spaces only, whereas men could move freely from one to the other. so for example, women artists did not have access to brothels. a woman could not have painted the male equivalent of manet’s olympia. therefore, modernism became largely defined by a male point of view. what’s most interesting is how women artists conveyed some of the social constraints related to the new bourgeoisie – cassatt by refusing to “contain” women subjects in the pictorial space available to them, berthe morisot by compartmentalizing her paintings in order to delineate the boundaries b/w male and female spaces. how would we view modernism had it not been a representation masculinist myths – that’s the question.