Has the pin up work of Gil Elvgren and the work and culture derived from
this throughout history portrayed a positive or negative view of females in todays society?
The female form, in many ways, naked, clothed, realistic, distorted; has been used throughout history over and over in the works of different artists, photographers, sculptors and general creatives. Artists in all different forms throughout history have used female muses to inspire their work, a notable case is Picasso's relationship, creatively, as well as romantically, with Marie-Thérèse Walter, a seventeen year old which a middle aged Picasso met, being instantly inspired by her physical features, he proceeded to create many works based on her, such as 'Le Reve'. Artists have always been inspired by the female body, and female form as an entity, and also have used this as an inspiration not only as a specific depiction of the female form but also by the use of just feminine themes in their work. The use of females as subjects is almost an idea we, generally as a generation of spectators, no longer question, it has become a part of art and popular culture, that now we, generally, are almost comfortable with within society, however, that hasn't always been the case, and there have been many ethical issues surrounding this. The work I will look at in the essay is the art of 'pin up girls' depicted by Gil Elvgren, and the works derived from this, how this work has influenced other works and culture throughout history and what the public reaction has been to this, has this work and the work and culture derived from this created a negative or positive portrayal of females in todays society?
'Photographer' by Gil Elvgren
Gil Elvgren was a male artist born in America in 1914. He has been described as 'the most important pin-up and glamour artist of the twentieth Century', and as stated in the book dedicated to the works of Elvgren, 'Gil Elvgren, the complete pin-ups', 'I believe it can be safely stated, without argument, that Gil Elvgren was and continues to be the best pin-up artist the world has ever known.' (Meisel, L. K., 2008.) . I agree on this statement as based on the sheer size of his collection of work which is a collection of over 500 paintings, and his popularity throughout time, its hard to find a competitor which would even come close. His career began in the mid 1930's after years of collecting images from magazines and books which inspired him, this extensive collection obviously inspired him greatly to work to perfection, as his hard work has truly secured him the established title of pin up favourite. He worked mainly creating these female pin up images; a master of portraying feminine beauty, but also worked for the likes of coca cola creating those famous images of the wholesome american family. Although his work was mostly commercial, the work for Coca Cola and for magazines such as the saturday evening post, his work has become increasingly seen as 'real' art within the art world being shown in museums and galleries around the world.
Elvgrens images of pin up girls are some of the most famous within illustrated sectors, but throughout history, the iconic images of pin up girls have been available in many different forms. 'Pin up' refers to a woman, or man for that matter, who is photographed, painted, or represented in some way visually. It was in 1941 that the term 'pin-up' was given to these images and the models within them, but the early pin ups date back to as early as the 1890's. The term pin up referred mainly to images of women, beautiful women, images of celebrities which were considered sex symbols, such as Betty Grable; she was one of the most popular pin up girls, images of her would fill the lockers of GI's in the midst of world war 2.
The illustrations which were 'pin-up', depicted how a beautiful woman should look, I guess here is where the issues come in to play. Who is to say what a beautiful woman looks like? Who is to say what is feminine beauty? It is argued that the first image depicting how feminine beauty should look is 'gibson girl', this was not one singular image, it was in essence a character created by Charles Dana Gibson, which embodied the feminine ideal, illustrated in pen and ink. Gibson created this character over and over in a series of different images throughout a 20 year period, these images were very popular, much like the work Elvgren was, being reproduced in different medias on merchandise and so on. It can be argued that Gibson was creating what he believed was an idealistic image of feminine beauty, but he argues that his creation was a representation of "thousands of American girls''. The argument that it does portray an image of thousands of american girls is a true fair argument, there is many visually beautiful woman in america, all over the world infact, but the opposing opinion to this argument is, is that how is one man, or woman, able to judge what is the standard for this?
There will always be the argument of what really is true beauty and whether it can be judged from within or without, whatever anyone believes, we will all have our own ideas and visions of what true beauty is. But based here on that image they are portraying is based on purely physical beauty, can we really argue with what these pin up artists are doing when we can look to todays society now and see how the images of size zero cat walk models, woman with fake hair, woman with plastic surgery, woman covering their natural looks with make up, are shown to females, some, who actually perceive this as the norm and how they should look. If we contrast this to the fuller figured, naturally pretty, natural bodied woman of these pin up images, although the illustrators may have an image of what they see as feminine perfection, it can not be as bad as what is expected of women in todays society, surely?
Bettie page was one of the most famous and photographed pin up girls of the 1950s. Modelling from 1951 until 1957 for a grand total of 6 years, she is said to be the most photographed model who ever lived. She began to model for Cass Carr initially as a popular camera club model in the field of 'glamour photography', she later modelled for photographer and film director Irving Klaw from 1952 until 1957, the photos and films she starred in featured many different fetish themes and sadomasochistic themes, many of the films and photographs were catered to specific clientle, featuring woman in high heels and lingerie acting out different scenarios. It is debatable and argued whether Bettie seen these photographs as sexual, whether she actually truly knew the image she was portraying in regards to her, what is perceived as, sexual behaviour. In an interview in 1996 she says "they keep saying i was some sort of sexual innovator, I never thought of any of my poses being sexual in any way, I never had any of that in my mind when i was posing" (FilmFanTV. (2007).) this shows Bettie as what she has been labelled as throughout time, a true naturist, suggesting that just because she is naked why must it be perceived as sexual? This can go for or against the argument of female rights within the adult industry, was Bettie being exploited? If she didn't see it as sexual, was it right to be marketed in that way? In the same interview Bettie refers to her devout christian views, "I didn't pose for them in the nude at first, I wore bikinis, and I never thought I was doing anything wrong when I started posing nude in the camera clubs, because after all I don't believe god disapproves of nudity" (FilmFanTV. (2007).) this to me suggests and aspect of purity, that Bettie sincerely believed she was just doing her job which she enjoyed and did not see the , Bettie was clearly proud of her work, and was not afraid to show her body, regardless of who would see it.
Bettie page photography by Irving Klaw
A view which is obviously quite important in this argument and discussion is that of the people who are involved within the feminist movement. However we may see the feminist view as a view which oppresses sexual behaviour for females, a sense of that feminists see sexual acts degrading in some sort, the true feminist view is infect the complete opposite. Feminists from the very beginning have been very clear on that their intentions are to make it so if their way of living was used by the whole population, it would make life easier ethically, so that both genders would not be fighting against each others roles and 'rights' within society, in the book ''Feminism is for everybody' the author poses "Imagine a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos of shaping our interaction". The feminist view has a very open view on who women choose to be sexual with, it a females choice, just the same as it would be a males choice. The view which I, and generally most of society, is led to believe was that the view of the feminists, is that of the small minority. The view of what have been described as generally 'sexually conservative' feminists who are not open to speak about sexual acts or sexual behaviour, that they believe this way of thinking and acting (sexual freedom for women) is wrong. This minority of feminists believe that sexual acts which are perceived as dominating or submissive go against the ideals of feminism. This, I believe goes back to the photographs of Bettie Page and the way in which she approached this, her work often featured implied sexual situations of a submissive or dominating behaviour, but as a woman in a time where patriarchal views were the norm, doing a job where men were paying her, a job which she had chosen to do, and enjoyed, and quite obviously felt liberated by, this to me suggests on the greatest of feminist attitudes.
Bettie Pages images of the 1950's came under fire as they were perceived as pornographic, Irving Klaws work stopped short after the legal battle and there was a new wave of censorship over the media. The adult industry today has obviously evolved from the kinds of work which was created in the 1950's, these sexual images look almost innocent compared to what is available today. Which ever way it is viewed by the individual, there are negatives and positives of the adult industry, there is cases where women work happily within todays adult industry just as there is also cases where women are being exploited and feel trapped within an industry that its debatable do we really need? Although this seems an almost all negative direct derivation from the pin up girl works of the 1950's, this is not true. The current burlesque scene which has been revived in recent years is another part of the adult industry which we do not perceive to have the same seedy connotations of pornography. The whole career of Dita Von Teese is based on her passion for hollywood glamour, a style in which many woman are looking onto in recent times. The idea that women are used as sexual objects in the current burlesque scene is completely obliterated, when questioned whether se feels as though she is being used as a sexual object dita states "I`ve been called anti-feminist before and it makes me really mad. I don`t do my job for men, I do it because I love the make-up, the costumes and the history of showgirls." (Bang. 2008.) This shows Ditas clear passion for this work and a positivee influence the early work of pin up artists and models have had on her.
So, has the work and culture derived from the 1950's pin up girls portrayed a negative or positive portrayal of females in todays society? After looking at different views and works from the over the past 100 year, it is quite clear that like everything, negatives and positives have derived from the pin up girl images, however I believe the positives out way the negatives, many artists such as pop artist Mel Ramos, various clothing companies, modern day illustrators and performers have been inspired by these images which we now see as nostalgic. The idea that woman are seen as objects is not one I believe in within this genre of art and the majority of works derived from this, I believe, as the current burlesque scene is proving, these works have inspired a generation which are portraying the vision of a strong woman, a woman who is proud of her body and herself, true self awareness and feminine beauty.
Watkins, G, 2000. Feminism is for EVERYBODY. 1st ed. London: plutobooks.
Meisel, L. K., 2008. Gil Elvgren The Complete Pin Ups. 2nd ed. Koln: TASCHEN.
FilmFanTV. (2007). REAL Bettie Page TV Interview - Her Life In Her OWN Words. [Online Video]. 14 June. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Ynlp7sxZs. [Accessed: 24 March 2011].
Bang. 2008. BANG media international. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bangshowbiz.com/index.html. [Accessed 26 March 11].