Preliminary exercises with Venuses

As one can guess, I’m going to write about the mirrors of Titian.

And it will be a correct assumption, though the wrong one, too. Yes, I am planning a few postings about the mirror paintings of the master, but this one will be somewhat different; I see it more like a warm-up exercises.

When I decided to write something about the mirrors of Titian, I obviously started to look around, in search of what was told about the issue already. I soon bumped into a small project by some one Jessie Busch, who seemingly also wanted to write about Titian, more specifically, about his Venuses. It was in 2008, and it became fashionable back then to start a blog for your project, and she got one (Titian’s Venetian Venuses). She even wrote something there (not the the case for the majority of blogs) – we can still find a study plan, a bibliography, some draft slides (the picture above is a compilation of several slides from her presentation). Surprisingly, this blog is not lost, usually these things quickly turn into digital ruins; it is not supported, but at least it’s not not erased either (as of January 2012).

I do not know what has happened with her work, whether it was finished and the thesis successfully defended, or it was abandoned for some reason; there are no traces left. A typical student work, not even completed; why even bother? But it is this drafty status of this work that somehow triggered my thought experiment.

I imagined what would happened if I would be sent this work to review? Or, let’s say, I am listening the presentation at the defense, and supposed to produce something in a genre of constructive criticism – what would I mumble?

It is not that unimaginable situation, by the way; I did write some reviews of the students’ work in the past, and even now I continue to be engaged with academia, although on a much smaller scale (though, of course, in a completely different area of ​​expertise, so to speak).

What can I say about this project, after a quick look at the slide show and reading the text (quite short, about five pages)?

Ok, my first observation would be that Jessie Busch took for analysis not an authentic Bellini, but its contemporary remake:

The real Bellini looks more like that:

But that’s okay, I would not (yet) get into such rebukes. I’d instead read more about the goals, objectives and methodology of the work.

This is how they are declared by the author:

“I plan on using formal analysis as a means of analyzing the choices Titian makes in his portrayals of Venus and the ways in which they both diverge from and converge upon past traditions.

“The social and historical context of renaissance Venice will be incorporated to shed light on the meaning of the works to a contemporary audience as well as the ways in which the Venuses stand in as representations of (or even as anti-representations of) women in Venetian society.

“Thirdly, I plan on using a feminist approach to explore the issues of any possible misogyny, sexual exploitation / objectification that surround depictions of female nudes created by male artists …. Is Titian generally being sympathetic to women? Does he offer insight into their psyches? Or is he more concerned with their physical appearance?

Such is the program; and the text, more or less corresponding it.

In short, Titian could catch his breath; his paintings are not a complete pornography, but highly artistic and complex narrative about the diverse and multi-faceted Venetian woman. That is, Titian is more sympathetic than exploiting. But I would not start from this when talking about such work.

What I would like to do is not to cast doubts about the applicability of, for example, the feminist approach to the creations of Titian, but create an intervention of some sort so that these doubts appear in the author’s mind. How to make her to raise the question like, And what if this feminist approach is an example cargo cult (a reverse one, to be precise)?

I have to mention that I have nothing against the feminist approach (FA) per se; the work can be also done using Marxist paradigm, or psychoanalysis, or structural semiotics and so forth. I would still have exactly the same issues with it.

So how would I do so? Basically, not simply chat one more time about how applicable – or not  – the FA to Titian, but do some exercise, in such a way that people feel, ‘on their one skin’, so to speak, that general dependence of the concepts – any concept – on the place and time of their origination? and very limited applicability beyond those? I was looking for some simple, but sill moving an exercise.

Here’s my version.

It is necessary to write the work in a way that it would be written by, for example, your grandmother – when was herself of your age, and at the time of your age.

For example, what would the girl on the left picture would write (then and there – Moscow, 1950) about the girl on the right one?

(Note – this is not my grandmother, but in principle she is not that far away. By the way, perhaps instead of ‘grandma’ one can also use ‘grandpa’, there are two examples walking over there).

An important note – one must not just “imagine” such work, but actually sit down and write it, a good, large piece. Trying to imitate the language of that time, using the sources available there, imagining the relevant reference groups, evaluation criteria and so forth.

You can probably arrange a more complex exercises – for example, what if on behalf of the girl would write Jessie Busch? and I’d got the role of her grandmother?

Or may be you can make an exercise on the side of temporal spectrum – forget about Titian for a moment, and write a comparative analysis of these two Venuses:

Both are perfectly contemporary works, and I’d wouldn’t even hesitate a second about the applicability of FA to them (and neither of the formal analysis, for that matter).

Only after such exercises (and with the hope that some transformation would happened in the heads) it is possible to write about Venuses in the early 16th century Venice. Oddly enough, the resulting text may even stay the same, more or less. But it would be important to know that the person who wrote it went through such exercises.

If you have other ideas about similar exercises, do share them, please.

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