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  • Writer's pictureJules

Masculine and Feminine in art making

I was listening to an audio book the other day on story writing, and how in order to create a really interesting story you need to have both masculine and feminine elements.

They described the masculine elements as the plot and the action, and the feminine elements as the characters and the poetry of the writing/dialogue. Structure vs emotion.

This got me thinking to paintings (as most things usually do!) and if this applied to creating an interesting piece of art. Now with art, there are always exceptions that prove the rule, and for every example you can possibly think of, there will be an equal and opposite example.

However, overall I would say that the masculine elements are shape and composition, and the feminine elements are texture and pattern. Subject matter, would probably fall into either category.

So in order to make a really interesting artwork, if it has really strong graphical elements or shape, then it would need to ramp up the feminine side of it, for example texture. Think perhaps of Rothko's minimal paintings, very bold with design and shape, and heavy on texture. It might also work for Eric Carle's hungry caterpillar collages, in that they are very strong on shape, and equally so on texture.

I think Nicholas Wilton would describe this as the loud and quiet conversation in a painting. The loud conversation are all the really strong bold shapes, and the quiet is the delicate softer overlays of colour and texture.

Now, at the risk of being completely swayed by confirmation bias, I'm trying to think if there are paintings that work where it has been strongly swayed towards one type, and still worked. Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol's pieces had very little texture in them, but were very strong with composition and shape. I wonder if here, their subject matter or colour choices have helped feminise the paintings.

Indeed there are instances where you might want to sway the balance one way or another. Soviet Russia or Nazi propaganda posters about war might want to suggest the power, strength and masculinity of the state. Whereas a little painting of a cottage surrounded by flowers may well want to express a gentle, feminine side. Does that make them any less successful?

And indeed, on this podcast, they stated that there's nothing inherently wrong with swayed to one side more than the other. Masculine-weighted stories make great action films, and feminine-ones tend to make great chic-flicks. But neither of these are viewed as amazing pieces of work.

The same can be said with architecture. We went to Canberra recently and the architecture there was brutal-looking and very masculine. What it lacked was the softening effect of plants and flowers around the building, to help ease it into the landscape. In my opinion, often the most successful landscaping has a good mixture of both hard- and soft-scaping.

The audio book also said that everyone has a natural inclination towards one or the other, and it influences how they write. I wonder if the same can be said of artists? Are the most successful male artists the ones that soften their masculine sides through method or subject? And are the most successful female ones the ones that bring power and strength to theirs? (Although, defining what is and isn't successful probably is so subjective that it's a moot point).

Have you had any experience of art being described in this fashion? And do you agree?


The audio book is Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald

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