I skimmed an interesting article from the Guardian this morning that suggests that whereas art often depicts life events, childbirth has not been well-represented by artists. I hadn’t really thought about that. Women have been regularly depicted in art as domesticians, as sexual beings, as dancers, as objects of beauty. What is not domestic, sexual, dance-like, or beautiful about childbirth? Why is the image of a slim naked woman (commodified) so desirable in contrast to the burgeoning of life from a woman’s body (abjectified)? What is not attractive about a body blooming from pregnancy?
I decided to look for [childbirth art] and ["childbirth art"] via Google and was surprised by the number of irrelevant hits. A few things that piqued my interest included:
- A Childbirth and Breastfeeding Webring (who knew those still existed!?!)
- Artwork available via CafePress (such as this piece) and other poster sites
- A post from 1994 mentioning the lack of childbirth art
- Making your own birth art during pregnancy (which is still not exactly what “qualifies” since this act is usually a private or semi-private experience)
- And most intriguing, a book – The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy
Childbirth in Renaissance Italy was encouraged, celebrated, and commemorated with a wide range of objects, from wooden trays and bowls and maiolica wares to paintings, sculpture, clothing, linens, and food. This groundbreaking book examines for the first time the appearance, meaning, and function of these childbirth objects. It also describes the social and cultural context in which they were created, purchased, and bestowed. In doing so, the book offers many insights into Renaissance daily life.Jacqueline Marie Musacchio draws on surviving works of art as well as contemporary and largely unpublished inventories, diaries, and letters, to illustrate the strong bond between the art and rituals of childbirth in Renaissance Italy. She describes a family-centered society seeking to rebuild itself in the wake of the catastrophic population decline wrought by the Black Death. Birth objects were symbols of fertility that encouraged pregnancy. But they were also rewards for procreation that congratulated the new mother. To demonstrate this, Musacchio investigates how objects were given, lent, bought, or commissioned as part of marriage and birth rituals, and how particular images and objects were regarded as aids to pregnancy and birth. For a variety of reasons, she concludes that childbirth objects served as necessary mediating devices between the real and ideal worlds.
In contrast, women who have suffered cesareans (not to suggest that all women who have had a cesarean feel like they suffered) have created some incredible artwork. Click here to find related images. I assume that cesarean art falls into the “abject” arena. Furthermore, pregnancy and the birth process haven’t become mainstream depictions of the female body in art. I hope more artists will be interested in changing that.