The Troubles of Femininity

While I was writing my senior thesis last semester, I had the great fortune of studying photorealist artist, Audrey Flack. Though I had particularly looked at her Colossal Head of Medusa, I quickly fell down the rabbit hole that was the rest of her work. Flack was and still is regarded in conflicting manners, with many describing her style as ultra-feminine and others labeling her feminist with no reconciliation of the two sides. Flack herself never regarded either label in her prime, but later adopted them both. Her own career mirrors the turbulence of feminine existence that inspired her to create her massive goddesses and glamorous still-life paintings in the first place.

Flack’s goddesses are endlessly fascinating, not just in their sheer size and artistry. In an interview for the journal American Art, Flack herself reveals what makes her work so compelling. Her art is for the public and unabashedly honest, with not a hint of purposeful irony or cynicism. She claims that artists making public art have a duty to their audience that overtakes their own artistic liberty, and that an artist is obligated to give rather than take away from the public. Her social commentary is not negative but instead inspiring healing through beauty and positivity.

“The visual imagery we are bombarded with is violent and destructive. It’s dangerous to add to it. Even political protest artists must think in terms of transcendence. The work must do more than lie there in a dead, negative heap or scream in rage.” –Audrey Flack

Even as Flack discusses her goddesses’ appearances, her philosophy on public art shows. The particular work she discusses in the interview, Civitas, was crafted as a symbol of strength for a previously dying city. She works from models who are real and ideal, with all sorts of body types never insecurely presented. These women are posed as incredibly strong, and crafted into new archetypes of women as role models. While she focuses on the feminine, she intends for her art to reach both sexes in a nurturing and comforting way. She even talks about a group of delinquent boys who found comfort in the Civitas statue, demonstrating the encompassing effect her art holds.

Flack’s still-life works are also decidedly feminine, with cosmetic items that are so glossy and glamorous they look as if they came out of a fashion magazine. These particular works sparked the conversation around “feminism vs. femininity”, especially considering they were created in the 70s where this debate was essential. Personally I believe that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, and that Flacks ultra-feminized ideals can provide effective social commentary. I really enjoy Flack’s work and philosophy, and I hope to see more of the “feminine feminist” side of art in the future.

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