Thursday, July 9, 2009

Women Who Read = Dangerous

My mother-in-law owns a really great book called Women Who Read Are Dangerous. The book is a compilation of artwork (mostly paintings) that depict women reading (or holding books). I think that the idea of this book is really fun, and it made me (jokingly) think about the plausibility of creating a Washer Women Are Dangerous book!

I particularly am struck by how many of these paintings fit into the idea of rejecting the male gaze. There are so many paintings that depict women actively involved in the act of reading. Instead of inviting a (male) viewer of the painting to look at them, these women are completely absorbed in their books. They deflect the gaze of the viewer and move the focus of the painting to the book or letter. Curiously, a lot of the reading women appear in profile view, which is similar to Barbara Kruger's Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face (I've written more about Kruger's work and the male gaze here). Fun stuff. It's also fun to think about the male gaze and think about another photograph in this book: Eve Arnold's 1952 photograph Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses (yes, Marylin actually was reading that classical piece of literature!). In some ways, I think one could argue that the pin-up actress was rejecting the male gaze in this photograph.

Anyhow, here are a couple of fun pieces that also appear in the book:

Carl Larsson, Karin Reading, 1904
(Not only is she rejecting/deflecting the male gaze by being in profile, but her hand is covering part of her face!)

Pieter Janssens Elinga, Woman Reading, 1668-70

Tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine, c. 1204

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Reading a Letter, c. 1663-64

Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Prophetess Anna (Rembrandt's Mother), 1631

Walter Launt Palmer, Afternoon in the Hammock, 1882
(FYI - The greens in this painting are a lot more vibrant than in this reproduction)

There are a lot of other great paintings in this book that don't have reproductions online, since they belong to private collections. You should get this book and check these paintings out, whether you are or aren't a "dangerous woman" that likes to read!

What do you think about the idea of the male gaze in connection with these paintings? Do you have other favorite works of art that depict women reading?