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Standing Female Nude

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Introduction

Standing Female Nude Within the framework of recent critiques by women art historians of traditionalist male theorizing about the female body, this essay explores the way that Carol Ann Duffy's "Standing Female Nude" can be read as a similar challenging of the gender biases that inform Robert Browning's defense of a Renaissance painter of nudes in his poem, "With Francis Furini." My purpose in the following essay, therefore, is to explore the way that these two poems constitute a kind of intertextual equivalent of the debate about the female nude currently conducted by art historians. I will thus begin by briefly outlining the major features of Nead's critique of Clark's study, and then go on to show how Browning's poem invokes tradition, arguing in favor of the artist. Turning then to Duffy's poem, I will show how she encodes and deconstructs the ideology informing such arguments, whereby her poem functions as a defense of the model. In contrast to Browning's "defense of the artist" stance, Carol Ann Duffy's "Standing Female Nude" focuses attention on the subject of art, the model. Whereas Browning attempts to expunge gender and class difficulties, Duffy's poem moves through what Linda Kinnahan calls a "process of self-deconstruction" (2), to reveal the model as situated within or mediated by social discourses. ...read more.

Middle

In a final turn of sorts, she then assumes authority by telling Georges that ultimately he is poorer than she, reminding us that both she and the artist depend on her modeling for survival, be it aesthetic or economic. Museums, of course, are a prime site of aesthetic commercialization and gender politics, even if they pretend otherwise - a point made by Carol Duncan in her study of the way that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has become masculinized because of the art forms it houses: while museums are supposed to be "public spaces dedicated to the spiritual enhancement of all who visit them," in practice "they are prestigious and powerful engines of ideology" (348). Although Browning's poem does draw attention to aesthetic politics, Duffy does so with a specific view toward historicizing the way that museums have been dangerous to the women being represented in them: Belly nipple arse in the window light I shall be represented analytically and hung in great museums. He is concerned with volume, space. It does not look like me. (2-28) In her discussion of the poem, Thomas has identified Georges as a Modernist painter, pointing out that his name seems to be evocative of the Cubist artist Georges Braque. In addition, we might note not only his concern with the analytics of "volume, space" but also the way that he seems to focus in Picasso fashion on "Belly nipple arse." ...read more.

Conclusion

Of course, there is a risk involved; you might not end up telling a fairy-tale with a happy ending, but at least you are the narrator and are in control of the means of narration" (82). Such verbal control, of course, is also the bottom line of "With Francis Furini," which enlists painting ultimately for the purpose of demonstrating the poet's power. In doing so, however, Browning also perpetuates the standard gender hierarchy: in essence he feminizes both painting and painter and presents the naked female body as something formless that most be given shape by the male artist, be it painter or poet. In contrast, "Standing Female Nude" negotiates a variety of seeming polarities: Cubist art and the formalities of a nude art tradition, "Art" and various "arts," the artist as powerful male and the model as powerless female. Similarly, by simultaneously working within and deconstructing traditional notions about the female nude, Duffy's poem creates a space where the model need not be locked into an unchanging and objectifying signification. Finally, by using an internal dramatic monologue, a mode often associated with Browning, Duffy reshapes that verbal form into a strategic platform from which the transgressive female body speaks about the violations done against it in the name of a High Art tradition, be it visual or literary. ...read more.

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