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Elevation, Critique and Processing in Art

December 7, 2010

“The Perfect Woman” – oil on canvas by Shellie Lewis

I found a small cartoon image online titled “The Perfect Woman”.  I’m hard pressed to think of anything visual that is as absolutely repugnant and as degrading toward women as this image is.

There is a lot in the image that is telling: that there can be a perfect woman, her best manifestation is solely for optional penetration, the nudity implies this availability is immediate and constant, that she is not only ethnically white but super pale white white, she is young as there are no hallmarks of aging, and she is thin.

I had a lot of strong emotions about finding this image, and I eventually committed to making a large oil painting of it.  This image is something that disturbed me and after a great deal of deliberation I brought the image into my art for processing.  If you take something that is not art and express it in traditional art media, you elevate to the the realm of art; yet my motivations for doing this are to draw attention to the existence of this image, and the ideas behind it, for criticism.

This painting is 24” x 36”.  I skipped the black cartoon outline around the figure that appears in the original to make my version more resemble a painted portrait.  The colors and contrast are a lot richer in person.  The original cartoon implies the brushwork of a fine art painting and odalisque or reclining posed nude portraits.  I really wanted these two elements of brushwork and classical nudes reflected in my media through using oils.

I have to wonder what the hell was going through the mind of whomever created the original.  This cartoon is not funny.  I can guess maybe there could be a chuckle over getting penetrative sex on tap and a lack of arguments or sustained conversations with a woman about things a man may not find mutually interesting, but this level of insult and degradation cannot be turned back on its source.  I tried for weeks to think of some manner in which a man may be insulted or degraded on such a visceral, physical and sexual level and cannot.  The best thing I could come up with is the idea of using men as a source of money, but that still puts the power of income -and the agency and autonomy that comes with income- in the hands of men.  I absolutely cannot think of anything degrading toward men that would be equivalent to this image; I cannot think of a counterpart to the original cartoon that is this demeaning.  I can’t understand how so much demeaning, derogatory and damaging imagery using women proliferates to the extent that it does in these current times.

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