Egon Schiele (1890-1918) was a man concerned with issues of sexuality and death. Like other members of the Expressionist movement of the early twentieth century, he was fascinated with making his mental processes visible through his art. He wished to express his feelings about sexuality directly, rather than alluding to the subject as so many artists had done previously, artists such as Manet or Ingres. Instead, he took his cue from the influences of Rodin and Gustave Courbet, dealing with his subject directly, as he does in the piece Nude with Green Turban (1914).
But unlike Courbet, who dealt with his subject in an effort to shock and influence the staid French Royal Academy, as in the case of L’Origine du Monde, 1866 (at right), Schiele explores the issue of sexuality in an attempt to express his own fascinations with the subject, irregardless of the opinions of others. In Nude with Green Turban, the subject is placed in a blank space. She is seemingly alone, so alone that there is nothing in the world of the piece except her. It’s as if the viewer is meant to become part of the immediacy of her moment.
Indeed, this may be what Schiele intends, having become lost in his own moment of artist to subject. Schiele owes much of this immediacy to Rodin’s innovation of the continuous line drawing, and Schiele employs the method here. He has sketched her quickly, capturing her in her moment before going back to fill in the details. However, he has only completed the details selectively. Her shoes are well rendered, as are the shadows and fullness of her thighs and hands. In the turban as well, he has completed the small details of a knot, and filled it with the same color as the colors he’s used as emphasis to the shadows her hands create.
But her face is hastily done, her nose and closed eyes mere triangles. Her mouth is only the symbol of a mouth. She’s as if she’s a puppet, expressionless with no individuality. In so doing, he has removed the humanity from her, making her merely a body upon which her hands, and presumably the fantasies of the artist and viewer, play. I’m sure an argument could be made about how this is an example of the objectification of women within the early twentieth century and before. History has certainly shown repeatedly how women in art are mere objects for the male fantasy.
What makes this different is how Schiele has not created her as a prize for whomever owns her, but has created her as an outlet for his own fantasy (and, I should hope, for hers). However, today I don’t believe Schiele would be able to create such overt expressions of his fantasies without cries of outrage from the feminist community. Since the 1960’s, women have progressed away from being objects and possessions, giving themselves a face and a voice within the western world. Today, Schiele would be forced to give his model a face, and perhaps a name.
While much of today’s art is as direct in its subjects as Schiele’s art is, the mere suggestion of objectifying a woman in a sexual act is taboo. Instead, if Schiele were to give her a face, a name, and place her into a world other than the blank canvas of the viewer’s mind, she would become, in effect, “real. ” In becoming a “real” woman, she would become an expression of femininity not being afraid to be feminine. She would become part of the world women inhabit, able to be claimed by women as one of their own.
As she is now, she is a fantasy, a creature of male sexual expression. Much of the art today seems to be concerned with issues of fantasy versus reality. With the advent of the internet, more and more people are able to express their internal fantasies upon someone else. In this way, Schiele’s work is extremely contemporary. People want to lose themselves within images, feeling the ideas of the artist, but I do not believe that most art patrons want their art to be as obvious as Schiele’s.
That said, I believe that Schiele’s themes of fantasy and sexuality would be more subtle today. People want the slow glow of accomplishment that they receive in correctly interpreting a piece of art. Direct sexuality is outre and today’s public seems to prefer a more subtle approach. Nude with Green Turban is a prime example of Egon Schiele’s objectification of his subject, not out of line with the schema of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, portraying women as sexual objects of the male fantasy.
With the women’s movement of today, this theme would be handled in such a way as to include not only the male fantasy, but the female fantasy as well, by removing her objectification. She would become more real. In addition, the sexual subject would be more subtle in an attempt to reach all viewers, introducing an intellectualism that appeals to the female mind as well as the male, creating eroticism out of perceived pornography.