It’s well known that art has the capacity to provide solace, knowledge, therapeutic benefits, and lots and lots of viewing pleasure. But it can also affirm certain areas of one’s identity. For example, many women will find connection in the paintings of German expressionist Paula Modersohn-Becker, which boldly present many facets of female-hood and declare the strength of the female form. And no matter who you are, any number of works of art can reinforce parts of yourself. After all, fine art often acts like a mirror, reflecting parts of you that may be obscured to the world.
For many centuries, art (and art history) was a major boys’ club. That is, few female artists were able to attain the education and training that their male counterparts enjoyed. And when women were able to indulge their artistic instincts, they certainly couldn’t study the male nude form with their male peers, let alone examine the female body. But in the early twentieth century, along came a woman who not only dared to tackle the female form but also displayed it proudly, and in the nude. This woman, Paula Modersohn-Becker, deserves serious recognition.
In Modersohn-Becker’s paintings, the female experience is placed in sharp focus, and private, intimate moments are monumentalized and celebrated. Modersohn-Becker paints the female nude, yes, but her works are seminal because she, like her subjects, is female. She’s able to poignantly present moments that are at once universal and private. Her body of work is lush with images of nursing mothers and of the artist herself—quietly but brazenly standing without clothes. Modersohn-Becker affirms physical and emotional aspects of female identity. Her figures are reduced and simplified, so as to convey the subject’s sentiment and essence more than its exact appearance in the physical world.
- Invest in an art book. Get your hands on an introductory art history book—one that would be used in a survey class. Such a tome will offer you a broad selection of canonical works of art across time. While browsing through the text, think about things that you love about yourself. Through this process of looking while self-reflecting, certain images will begin to stand out to you as personally relevant.
- Choose an image. Pick an image that represents a part of yourself that you were focusing on. Maybe it speaks of your wild imagination, your romantic nature, your kindness, your independence, your fiery spirit, or your interest in travel and the exotic.
- Reflect. Honor yourself by studying the work. What, exactly, is it about the image that resonates for you? Write notes about the colors within it, the quality of the line or brushstroke, the style, and the subject matter. Go back to this work and meditate on it whenever you need to be reminded of your strengths.