Jack Vettriano – The Necessity of Misogyny

Game OnA love of art comes with a love of exhibitions, in their many forms. However, I have a terrible tendency to leave going to art exhibitions to the very last minute. So, in traditional fashion, a couple of weeks ago, one week before it closed, I visited the exhibition Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective at Kelvingrove Art Gallery on a very, very busy Saturday afternoon.

I went in with an open mind, having never been exposed to much of Vettriano’s work. Nonetheless, the first bay of paintings proved to be very familiar, most depicting scenes of windswept couples or groups on the beach in 1940’s/50’s clothing. Moving quickly on, having been fairly un-enthralled, the next bay seemed to focus more on portraiture, in claustrophobic, dimly lit settings. I would say the paintings were sultry, sometimes verging on the seedy. However, as I came to realise on moving into the next room, the ‘red room’, this was merely meant as preparation for Vettriano’s most controversial and erotic work.

I felt like I was entering some kind of brothel, an experience which provoked some excitement, an excitement which certainly didn’t fade on deeper observation of the paintings which surrounded me. All of the works within this room consisted of either couples involved in sexual play, or nude females prior to or after such action. One of the most controversial paintings, entitled ‘Game On’, pictures a female pressed up against a wall by a man, whose has one hand holding her wrists while the other strokes her inner thigh.

Suddenly, from being fairly un-enthralled, I was exhilarated. What a fantastic and very real display of the heterosexual relationship today. For me the paintings exhibited the reality of male domination in sexual pleasure, and of the female role as supplement. So, I left the ‘red room’ and I continued wandering round the exhibition, still feeling extremely excited but also satisfied with the effect of Vettriano’s work and what I saw in it.

You can imagine then how disappointed I was when I came to watch a video interview, a few rooms later, in which A.L Kennedy insisted that Vettriano was in fact not a sexist, despite what his critics say, because the women in these paintings are sexy and want to feel sexy. How is it possible for Kennedy to see sexual empowerment in these paintings, when all I see is the reality of ingrained societal misogyny?

Now I wouldn’t go as far to say that Vettriano was a misogynist or a sexist. He very evidently doesn’t hate women, or hold any contempt for women kind; on the contrary, he idolises them. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that, more often than not, his erotic paintings depict scenes of male domination in terms of sexuality and sexual pleasure. In my opinion, to label these depictions empowering for both the women in them and the women observing them, is to simply veil a harsh reality.

And it is for this reason exactly that I believe the critics are wrong in dismissing his work. Indeed, Vettriano’s most provocative paintings are an example of the necessity of art in societal discourse. He has painted scenes which have provoked his male counterparts into calling him a sexist, and his female contemporaries into denying the sexist nature of his work. The art itself reveals so much about the reality in which we live, but so does the peoples’ reaction…

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6 thoughts on “Jack Vettriano – The Necessity of Misogyny

  1. Pingback: A Funny Mood | fojap

  2. Why should male domination / female submission be a sexist or misogynistic when it is well known that many women (and more than a few men) desire and seek out dominant men (or women), and enjoy submitting to them?

    Submission is not the same as being coerced or exploited against your will.

    Submission is simply means (temporarily) relinquishing (degrees of) agency, and placing trust in someone else’s hands. You could argue that submissive/ dominant sex tends to be more consensual and empowering (for all concerned) than vanilla sex because the dominant/ submissive roles tend to be negotiated more openly and ‘pro actively’ (often before things get steamy), as opposed to vanilla sex where the whole evening’s interactions are often negotiated through vague, unspoken cues and assumptions which always have the potential to be misinterpreted.

    Of course we don’t know the state of mind of the people in the painting, but that is true of any image. The fact that they appear to be in a hotel room and she is wearing a black dress and stockings suggests it is a consensual interaction between two consenting and horny adults.

    For anyone to assert that the scene is sexist, or misogynistic (or that it is sexist and misogynistic for a man to paint such a liaison) is to impose your own ideas about how she should behave or what ‘acceptable behaviour’ is for a woman. And that is a form of domination which is NOT consensual.

    • I think I agree with almost everything you’ve said in your comment… Re-reading my post and then your comment has forced me to re-think through my ideas and opinions, which is always a good thing. So thank you!

      I’m not trying to say that submission is a bad thing, on the contrary, if it’s consensual and enjoyable, which I deemed it to be in these paintings, then it can only be a positive interaction.

      What I was trying to get across was that these paintings, for me, communicated the reality of heterosexual sex. This reality, more often than not, involves a dominant male role, which isn’t a necessarily a bad thing (obviously as long as its consensual). However, I believe that these normative sexual roles are the result of misogyny, that is, prejudice against woman.

      I think here I’m using the word ‘misogyny’ in a very broad sense and certainly not in an accusatory manner. I’m using it as a descriptor for the society and culture we are all part of and implicated in. I wanted to get across that these paintings are playing a positive role in portraying the reality of heterosexual sex and sexual roles, hence why I would never call Vettriano a sexist or misogynist.

      My gripe with A.L Kennedy was that she was assuming there was a message of empowerment in the paintings, whereas I simply saw the reality of heterosexual sex. Whether that reality included a feeling of empowerment or unwanted submission was besides the point, and, as you say, would be to impose my own prejudice upon the painting.

      I hope that makes some kind of sense/you see where I’m coming from?

      Also, thanks for the comment, I found your points on vanilla sex really interesting!

      • I didn’t realise I was commenting on the same blog twice! Not trying to spam you – I was just browsing tags.

        Well I’m glad we agree on some things anyway 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I think there IS a lot of negative imagery and themes out there when it comes to depicting women (and men)….. don’t get me started on pop videos! But I found that painting to be straightforward, honest and ‘believable’.

        What I mean is there’s no contradiction, no mixed signals, no ‘cognitive dissonance’.

        It is what it is.

      • Haha, that’s no problem. I always appreciate comments!

        And if you find yourself browsing for tags like ‘feminism’ and the like, you’ll probably come across some more of my posts in the future 🙂

  3. My wife and I travelled up to Glasgow to see the exhibition. She is an artist and likes visiting exhibitions even though she may not like the artist. One of her tutors told her that some while ago. I hope I have successfully suppressed my sexism, I think that I have. I had misgivings about his subject matter within most if not all his paintings. I have reconciled my liking of his art against the horror it SEEMS to portray by accepting that he is a product of his time and culture. He is just a couple of months younger than me. We both have many parallels in our lives. I believe he is depicting one facet that appeals to him as an artist. Art, and I’m something of a Philistine, represents culture, religion, hierarchies, war and idealised times and places. I doubt he thinks life is in any way as he has painted it. He has the benefit of my doubt and certainly not because I like what he does.

    Best wishes Eddy.

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