Representation of Women

Up to now, we’ve been looking at many different images and analyzing them in class.
For me, the ones I feel strongly about are the ones that have women pictured in them. It all started with some beer labels that, even in 2018, were using the objectification of the women’s body as a sale strategy.

This usage of the women’s image has long been done, especially in European paintings. John Berger, in the BBC series and book of same title Ways of Seeing, says, “[…] men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (1977, p. 47, emphasis in original). This quote reinforces the idea that women are being portrayed for the sole purpose of having men stare at them and be drawn to the painting or product.

Fine art, when looked through the lens of hermeneutics, tells us the story of the “[…] human experience made visual” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 173) therefore, the number of images that represent the nude tell us a story of society at that time. From the images of Adam and Eve (Berger, 1977, p. 47) to the venus paintings.

When photography came along, the representation of society itself continued this time with a more realistic consideration. Unlike fine art pieces, photography “[…] persuaded people that when they looked at a photograph, they were looking at reality itself” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 190) which goes beyond a perceived interpretation of life and society to it being reality itself. “[…] [A] picture is said to be worth a thousand words” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 140) “but images are not words. […] They may show something, but the verbal message or speech act has to be brought to them by the spectator […]” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 139). So, the way people read images, be it fine art or photography, depends on their own background, but the lines get blurred when what they think what they are seeing is part of reality. The reality of the photograph just reinforces any beliefs that they might have had, “as it [the camera] is a mechanical recording device, it can only record the truth” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 190).

Understanding the images we see has as much to do with our own cultural and social background as the artist’s background. When someone creates an image, all their knowledge is transmitted through the image, whether they want it or not. But how the image is read depends on the viewer’s background. Some may say that they don’t consider contemporary art or performance “real art,” which, most often than not, has to do with their own background, what they studied and how much they know about art. Everyone can read images, but each person might have a different interpretation of it until they learn about the artist’s background.


Berger, J. (1977). Ways of Seeing. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Howells, R., Negreiros, J., (2012). Visual Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Mitchell, W., (2005). What Do Pictures Want: The lives and loves of images. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Visual Essay (strong images ahead)

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1. Adam and Eve – Albrecht Dürer – 1504 (Retrieved from

2. Europe supported by Africa and America – William Blake – 1796 (Retrieved from

3. The Birth of Venus – William Bouguereau – 1878 (Retrieved from

4. Luncheon on the Grass – Édouard Manet – 1863 (Retrieved from

5. Olympia – Édouard Manet – 1863 (Retrieved from

6. The Apparition – Gustave Moreau – 1876 (Retrieved from

7. Job – Alphonse Mucha – 1900 (Retrieved from

8. We Can Do It – J. Howard Miller – 1942 (Retrieved from

9. Weyenber Massagic Shoes Ad – 1974 (retrieved from

10. Interior Scroll – Carolee Schneemann – 1975 (Retrieved from

11. My Bed – Tracey Emin – 1998 (retrieved from

12. Victoria’s Secret Ad – 2017 (retrieved from

Published by Vitoria, no C

Instructional Assistant Professor at Illinois State University BFA in Graphic Design and New Art Media from the University of North Dakota MFA in Graphic Design from Iowa State University

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