Recently I met an ambitious artist-curator who is hard at work planning an exhibition to coincide with International Women's Day next spring. The show is called She Views Herself: Emerging Women Artists and the Self-Portrait, and explores themes of gender politics, women's roles in societies and globally variant standards of beauty. I'm talking heavy stuff. Instagram selfies these ain't!
Being a card-carrying phylogynist, and a member of the more privileged sex, it is sometimes easy for me to ignore the uphill climb toward equality and identity that women have had to negotiate since antiquity. Men have had no societal marginalization to rebel against, no systematic disenfranchisement to suffer through and there's no record I can find of any widespread cultural misandry.
So I got to thinking, what sort of themes would an exhibition comprised of exclusively male self-portraits explore?
Egotism? Vice? Sexual Conquest?
And then it hit me: A Chronicle of Men's Grooming Practices Throughout Western History. So join me on a tour of our virtual Brooklyn Grooming Gallery...
This brooding chap is Ivan Kramskoy, Russian painter who completed this self-portrait in 1867 at the tender age of thirty years old. But with that scraggly statement beard and decidedly uncombed pageboy, I'm pretty sure I saw him (or his great-great grandson) in Williamsburg the other day.
Here we have Renaissance German painter Albrecht Dϋrer in his self-portrait well known for the straight-on, forward-facing orientation of his body. In 1500, when this painting was completed, that was a pose relegated to religious figures in paintings, particularly the Christ.
But with a beard that sweet and those luscious Milli Vanilli twists, I can understand why he might be experiencing a mild messianic complex. It was the new millennium, and his initials were A.D. after all.
And finally, meet Paolo Veronese, Italian Renaissance surrealist who in 1573 was summoned before the Inquisition for painting buffoons and dwarves as extras in a commissioned rendering of The Last Supper. The transcription of his trial proves he was as his facial expression here would suggest: a quietly self-assured artist with a broad intellect and an even broader 'stache.
As you may have noted, these artists lived centuries ago, yet their hair and beards are eerily modern. So the next time you see or hear any drivel about beards being "so last season"
or some news that "beards are back,"
you'll remember that in fact beards are universal and timeless. And as long as women so graciously allow us to walk this earth as though it belongs to us, they aren't going anywhere.