When I first realized I had to take art history courses in order to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Illustration degree, I was admittedly dejected. I just didn’t see the point in looking to the past nor did I understand how it would enhance my artistic skills. Now that I’ve taken four art history courses, I’ve come to realize that I am fascinated by art history and all that there is to know about it. It is so interesting to see how the sociopolitical environment shaped the works of artists, and how their own art education influenced their works and the movements that they were involved in. I also just enjoy looking at the different artistic movements and how postmodernism has such a unique portfolio of work due to the almost all-encompassing definition. I could list for days reasons why I love art history, but for now, I want to highlight a particularly interesting artist that I briefly learned about, and thus decided to research further.
During a week in my Art in the Modern Era class, we spent time learning about Surrealist artists. We talked of the more well-known artists such as Salvador Dali, although it wouldn’t be an art history class if we we didn’t discuss the lesser known Surrealists, or rather artists considered to be Surrealists due to the nature of their work (as they were not self-proclaimed Surrealists). One of those artists is Claude Cahun. Originally born as Lucy Schwob, Cahun changed her name to one that was fittingly gender neutral, and she took the last name from her grandmother, who was named Mathilda Cahun.
A great deal of her work are ‘self portraits’ of her exploring her gender and the way she was perceived. In some works, she presented herself in more masculine attire, whereas in others, she would wear more feminine attire. In some works, her clothing itself would appear more ambiguous or androgynous.
What is interesting to note is that these carefully curated images of herself were in essence a collaboration between her and her partner, Marcel Moore. Cahun would compose the outfits and pose for the images, but Moore would be the one that actually took the pictures.
Although I enjoyed learning about Cahun in class, I was fascinated by her work and felt the need to learn more. I really resonate with her work because of the way that she plays with gender and self expression, and it is something that I try to incorporate into my work when I can. I was enthralled to see that the New York Times had written an article about her, and through that, I found out that since her death, her work has resonated with many and there have been exhibitions of her work. In fact, some of her work is now housed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I do hope that one day, I might be able to see some of her pictures in person.