Thinking through the Body!

It’s deja vu all over again as Gala will be out guide next week on this article, which I found very stimulating! Here are a few questions to begin the dialogue.
1. What does the author mean when she uses the term “incarnational” thinking?

2. We have discussed the “schizophrenia” induced by the counterpoint of Eve and Mary. However, the Virgin Mary is also rich in contradictory messages. How did the Medieval thinkers deal with the Virgin’s dual nature? The Catholic thinkers? The Protestants?

3. How did Feminists of the 1970s interpret Mary’s dual persona? And does this change in the 1980s and later?

4. I was so excited to see Bernard of Clairvaux in this article! What ingredient does he add to the Virgin? And how does Christian theology get around it?

5. ”In Catholic imagination, women’s roles exist along a continuum suggested by Mary….and Mary Magdalene.” Discuss.

6. The positive reading of the female body had numerous fans in early Feminism from Woman House to goddess cults. What happens in the next decade to alter this?

7. Is the debate between the “essentialists” and “deconstructionists” over?

8. Consider the works by the artists discussed in this article (Hannah Wilke, Barbara Kruger, (briefly), Renee Cox, Kiki Smith, Janine Antoni, Petah Coyne, and Lisa Yuskavage). Is there a “Catholic” sensibility that unifies these artists? Whose work resonates the most with you? Does Catholicism provide the “visual language for reimagining oppressive roles and assumptions?”


4 responses

  1. 8. As a female Catholic art student, the works of Renee Cox, Kiki Smth, Petah Coyne, and Lisa Yuskavage really resonated with some aspect of who I am. I had seen any of these artists’ works before reading this article, but a lot of aspects of their works read as very familiar to me.

    I do think that there is all of the artists listed do share some kind of Catholic sensibility. Or perhaps they just share a common background set into place by being raised in a particular religion. Regardless, I think it is undeniable that these artists are drawing from their Catholic heritage.

    In terms of the oppression of women within the Catholic Church, I think that Catholicism does provide the visual language for reimagining roles and assumptions in the way that it is powerful to use symbols of oppression in the move to take power back and shift the ideologies associated with those images and symbols.

  2. I enjoyed this article. It quite thoroughly explained the source of the virgin-whore complex and then brought up some artists who seek to subvert it and the restrictions on women that were coming from it. I have a better understanding of religious art that came out of the Catholic tradition.

    Incarnational thinking channels creativity through the body as a source of knowledge. According to Heartney (and my understanding), it comes from the Catholic idea that God is present in the world, which transfers physical experiences to a spiritual realm: Pain and pleasure experienced in one’s body brings them closer to God and parallels Christ and His suffering for mankind.

    I find it interesting that both Mary, Christ’s mother, and Mary Magdalene have mythical/pagan origins and that they have been drawn out of original Biblical context. In the virgin Mary’s case, she develops a dual paradoxical nature (fertility, creativity, female strength &power, and perfect motherhood meets eternal virginity, purity, passive submission) that isn’t even present in the Gospels–she had other sons after Jesus, including epistle author James! It draws mainly from eastern, Roman and Greek goddesses of fertility/chastity, including Tammuz, the Babylonian Queen of Heaven, Diana, Artemis-Hecate-Selene, water goddesses of nature cults…
    As for Mary Magdalene, her story gets conflated with that of Mary of Bethany, with the anonymous adultress, with the woman who poured oil from an alabaster box–even becomes known as Jesus’ lover! (which I have heard before).
    Roles for women exist between this sterile, unattainable perfection of purity and (pro)creative power, and the idea of a redeemed harlot. Key word here, r e d e e m e d– Women cannot take ownership of their sexuality without being demonized…

  3. Lisa Yuskavage, Renee Cox and Petah Coyne resonate most with me. I studied Yuskavage and Cox for a self-portrait series last semester; I am drawn to their representation of the female body, nude, with sensuality as a source of power.
    Petah Coyne creates these abstracted altars, votive statues of imperfect perfection embodied in Virgin Mary…nice way of looking at the spirit made flesh idea…

    Interesting that women and their bodies were associated with humanity–divine humanity, and what it means to be vulnerable, mortal, nurturing and bleeding, which Kiki Smith explores in detail.

    The debate between essentialists and deconstructionists isn’t over; I just think they may have declared a temporary cease fire

  4. Bernard accredited women with a “pure in spirit” sensuality…in his description, Mary becomes the Bride of Christ (oddly incestuous?) who He kisses as a symbol of union and the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of that bizarre Venus-Cupid painting by Bronzino…

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