Although I don’t want to get bogged down with sociological jargon too much, I should probably briefly explain exactly what I mean by both “gender” and “gender expression” before I begin this article.
Quite a lot of the time, people use the terms “gender” and “sex” to refer to the same thing. However, I’ll be using the sociological definitions of these terms here – because they’re more interesting (and more accurate too).
In other words, “sex” refers to a person’s physical body, but “gender” refers to whether they see themselves as being innately male or female. Most people’s sex and gender are the same (so much so that they probably find the idea that there’s any difference between the two things to be puzzling) – but sometimes they’re not.
This brings us on the whole subject of gender expression – this refers to how a person expresses a particular gender (eg: how they look, how they sound, what they call themselves, their outward personality, how they dress, how they talk, their body language etc…).
And, yes, each of these genders has about a million different ways that it can be expressed- so there’s no “one true way” to be male or female. Be very wary of anyone who suggests that there is.
Again, with most people, the gender that they express when they are around other people is the same as the gender that they actually are. But sometimes due to subtle social expectations and/or ignorance, unfortunately, it isn’t.
Since I don’t want to turn this into an essay about gender, I’ll move on to why and how this is relevant to making art.
For starters, I’d like to point out that the idea that male and female people make “different” kinds of art is absolutely ridiculous. With six or seven billion unique people on the planet, the idea that the things we create can be easily divided into two simplistic groups is absolutely ridiculous.
Plus, generally speaking, if you look at a work of art – it’s usually difficult to tell whether a man or a woman made it unless someone tells you. For example, with a still life painting – a bowl of fruit is a bowl of fruit, regardless of whether it was painted by someone called Dave or someone called Laura.
Still, one of the great things about art is that it can be a form of gender expression if you want it to be. And the great thing about this is that not only is it not always easy to notice at first glace, but that it allows you to express your own gender in a much more nuanced way than you can do in real life.
The main reasons for this is that most people accept that art is something separate from “real life”. It’s something that’s completely imaginative where there aren’t really as many “rules” as there are in real life.
As such, you can use art to express your innate gender in a way that would probably be impossible (or very strange) in reality.
This can also be a surprisingly good source of inspiration if you’re feeling “blocked”. I mean, if you can’t think of anything to paint or draw, then just say to yourself “I’m going to make a really girly painting” or “I’m going to make a really manly drawing” and then just see what emerges.
Since your personal ideas and experiences of what is “girly” and/or “manly” will differ very slightly from everyone else’s, you’ll end up producing something at least slightly unique.
Not only that, since you have total control over how everything and everyone is portrayed in your art – you aren’t really subject to anyone else’s rules or expectations. So, for example, you can make things as stylised or as realistic as you want to in your art. In other words, you can express your gender in a realistic way or in an exaggerated way. It’s up to you.
What this all means, of course, is that if your inner gender is different from the one that everyone else expects you to express on a daily basis – then art is one of the few spaces where you can actually be yourself without attracting the wrong kind of attention.
It’s one of the few spaces where you don’t have to worry about what everyone will think. It’s one of the few spaces where you can be truly alive rather than having to act all of the time.
Ok, the previous two paragraphs probably aren’t relevant to most people who read this article. But, never underestimate the value of art when it comes to expressing who you are.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂