The word “gaze” when used in a sociological, psychological or philosophical discussion defines the relationship that someone has with their culture and how someone is forced into a particular role due to the power dynamics in that culture.
It is the misunderstanding of the basics of the phrase “the male gaze” that causes many people to stop listening when that phrase or many others like it are spoken.
This Facebook post by Gabe Sapienza is a very clear discussion by a man and an artist of that knee-jerk phrase of “the male gaze.”
Part of the reason I find it not just fascinating but also heartening that artists are starting to examine and experiment with the idea of turning the objectification of the feminine on its head, and view the masculine in the same fashion.
It caused quite a stir. Many of the commenters on his work questioned not just the work, but also his sexual orientation and even that illustrating what amounts to men in a “pin-up” style would negatively impact his career.
I applaud not only his willingness to experiment with the masculine cheesecake (obviously the second definition, not the food definition) images, but to also assess and analyze his own sexuality and reaction to the culturally focused gaze.
For me, this is what the artist’s gaze should be. In fact, I believe it is part of what any creative person’s gaze should be.
I’m not saying that all artists or creatives must suddenly focus on objectifying the male. What I am talking about is that a part of a creative’s impact on the world is the willingness for the creative to evoke a perspective shift in the consumers of his or her creation.
Yes, this is exactly the argument I often had with my ex-husband. He was frustrated that I felt there was any other purpose to creativity than simple entertainment. It boggled my mind because two of his favorite comedians were George Carlin and Bill Hicks, both of whom were well known for their comedy also being social criticism.
Look at many of the African-American stand-up comics (ignoring Bill Cosby, as I don’t want to get into that discussion right now). Richard Pryor, for example, was a very vocal social critic who is considered one of the most important. and influential comedians of all time (right up there with George Carlin). Eddie Murphy, whose work isn’t quite as controversial as Pryor’s, has also made quite a few heavy social criticisms. Hell, my childhood was affected by Redd Foxx’s work! I could go on and on – including Whoopi Goldberg, who has never been quiet about her social criticism.
In my own personal brand of art, I’m still working through many of my own issues. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some aspect of social commentary and/or critique. For example, my piece called “Renewal” (of which you only see a portion here) is not just about my subconscious looking at these last few years as a sort of rebirth (which explains the egg symbolism), but also a hope for a rebirth of what is considered “beauty” in American culture. While the woman’s body is significantly smaller than my own, it is not what is considered the “ideal” of feminine beauty. Her breasts are not perky, her stomach sags, and both her arms and legs show signs of sagging as well.
There is far too much that needs such social criticism that no single artist or creative could possibly exhaust all of the subjects that need focus. But, I am ecstatic that there seems to be a surge of interest in doing so in the visual arts.