“A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness”

The title of this post is a quotation from German Expressionist, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and it has made me think about an issue I had recently.

I visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Liverpool and found myself irritated by one particular painting: Nude Reading


Now, before anyone jumps down my throat and accuses me of being prudish, understand this, I thoroughly admire the female form in a state of undress; I have studied this art form at length, and in fact, one of my most favourite paintings of a nude is by Matisse:


This odalisque is beautiful, the brush sweeps across her curves and her relaxed pose and deep stare out of the canvas is truly sensuous. So, it raised the question in me, if I can appreciate and love a work showing a woman whose role is sexual, why was one of a woman reading so frustrating?

As a woman who has/had body issues, the reason for my dislike of Lichtenstein’s is down to its idealised form. “Hoorah”, we should all cry; she is at least reading a book, but actually, the fact that she is depicted with just those few lines as ‘perfect’ made a mockery of the idea that Lichtenstein was looking to subvert the stereotype of assumed gender roles. Kirchner seems to have answered my question with his premise of ‘objective correctness’. Did Lichtenstein fall into that trap?  Did he succumb to what was/is seen as ‘ideal’?

As always, I go to the books and picked up a great book on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to look at his nude paintings and what did I find?  They feel real!! Yes, he used the newly developed ‘expressionist’ techniques (I mean, blue skin!!)  and you could argue that they are not realistic because of this, however, just look at them? They are not ‘plastic’, these girls have not been surgically enhanced.

These women, many of whom were girlfriends of Kirchner and the other artists in their circle, or models who they inevitably slept with, are perfect because they are not. They look like us; uneven breasts, prominent nipples, round of hip, soft bellies, vulnerable, but more than anything else, they look like real women; they look like most women and they will feel like real women!  Something that we forget to celebrate in our desire to create a socially false concept of what a woman (and let’s be honest, men too – they are just as much victims of this problem) should aim to look like.

So, in this girl’s humble opinion: Step away from the surgeon’s knife and celebrate what it is to be real!