Submissive in the Kitchen


Over at Eric Gelber's blog -- catch it before he takes it down again! -- he's been bemoaning how worthless online art writing seems to be. I'm sure he's excluding my brilliant exudations, but knowing Eric, he probably includes himself.

Ordinarily I let lousy art writing slip by without notice because, really, what's the point? But today this caught my eye and I feel it should be ridiculed as much as possible. And since, of course, the blog entry specifically states, "comments that fail to address the post at hand or issue disrespectful feedback will not be approved," that means I have to do it here.

Over at Art Fag City, invited guest artist essayist Martha Rosler -- apparently one of those artists who collages photos in stupid, obvious juxtapositions (George W. Bush and amputee veterans!) -- writes Woman in Kitchen, leading off with the following:

Women are represented in public and especially in private spaces; among the latter are images of domesticity. Of images of the domestic sphere, the most likely sites are, of course, the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen...especially -- in advertising -- the kitchen.

...The woman in the kitchen represents myriad sensibilities. She is a sign of bounty; of availability; of nurturance; of submissiveness; of drudgery and servitude; of ethnic Otherness; of mastery; of happiness; of pleasure; of loneliness; of outbursts of rage or gaga craziness (and of murder and even of aestheticized suicide); of sexual coyness or sauciness. And, of course, of creativity.

So, to translate: In photos, women are depicted both outside and indoors. Sometimes indoors, women are at home. Inside the home they can be in any room. Sometimes that room is the kitchen. A woman in a kitchen represents pretty much any fucking thing that you want it to.

I beg the disembodied spirit of Germaine Greer to tell me: Could this be any stupider?

Martha goes on: "Every image of a woman in a kitchen bespeaks an intimate personal relationship, mediated by rituals of food." This is so true, especially when you dredge for images on amateur porn sites. Except for, you know, the food rituals, which are usually absent. I guess you can get your images from Getty Images, then, in which case the intimate personal relationship is lacking, since stock photography is pretty much designed from the ground up to mean whatever you want it to mean.

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'sexy'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "sexy". This reviewer would call it "mildly creepy and weird". Also, I hope that nice young lady is making herself a sandwich because she sure could use one.

Which is great because, while Martha's actual art shows a complete and utter lack of creativity or talent, she's endlessly inventive when projecting her own feelings onto random photos. She lists a number of photos under the heading "Sexy" without so much as a YMMV -- I found them mostly uninteresting, and the one involving nudity to be mildly creepy and weird.

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'professional cook is happy, submissive, and bountiful'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "professional cook is happy, submissive, and bountiful"

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo 'submissive happy'

Martha Rosler subtitled this photo "submissive happy". Reader unhappy.

Then she lists two more photos with the word "submissive" -- where she gets this idea I cannot imagine, except perhaps from deep in her own bottomless well of personal issues. One shows a chef holding out a plate of food, which is, after all, what chefs do. My best friend, who is a male executive chef, once expressed to me that making people happy with his food is his greatest accomplishment. Is he submissive, or is he just doing his job well? The second photo is simply labeled "submissive happy" when there's nothing to indicate an even vague sense of submission beyond the fact that the model is female and in a kitchen. If Martha really wants to see photos of submission, there are some fine Websites out there designed to leave no doubt whatsoever. For example: Out of rope? Use plastic wrap! (Also, the SCARIEST CLOTHESPINS OF ALL TIME.)

Maybe the trouble is Martha was born just after World War II and therefore hasn't really explored the World Wide Web enough to learn what true submission is. Even if women in America were consistently portrayed as being relegated to the submissive role in the kitchens of the heartland, a brief tour of the Internet should make it clear that that -- the putative portrayal of women as subservient and kitchen-bound -- is really one of the least of the world's problems.

For example, there are know-nothing artists writing that a cup of coffee "represents the senses 'lower' than sight, such as touch, a sensuous haptic quality". Sure, a cup of coffee always brings up pleasant haptic associations. Check Starbucks ads for the fetish they make out of the feel of the paper cup, the gentle scrape of the stirrer, the gritty quality of sugar spilled on a table top...good lord, did anyone -- including Martha -- read this after she wrote it? I mean, mad props for dragging out a word more often seen these days in reviews of new mobile phones and applying it to a Titian, but come on.

Then, like some fantasy football fanatic intent on pitting her favorite players on her favorite teams against each other, regardless of reality, she has completely unrelated photos do battle:

The class issues...vie with the (neo)imperialist/consumerist ones, of First World consumers against (former) Third World producer countries and regions. Images of women in the latter situation serve more than one purpose. They provide contrast, of primitivism with our modern appurtenances, underlining our superiority...

Or they could be, you know, simple photos of life as it's actually lived, without your overlay of smug condescension, or whatever reverse-psychology version you're employing here on the audiences of these photos you've imagined. This logical fallacy is so common it has its own name: It's called the Straw Man Argument. You imagine your own opponent and then knock it down. It's a tactic often employed by the ignorant and intellectually weak, because any non-straw man couldn't possibly be even mildy discomfited by your spurious argument.

These are the kinds of artists who get career retrospectives. Ah, the 1970s. So fertile for pop music, so exciting for film, so absolutely fucking dreadful for art. One day I expect people to look back on the 2000s and say, ah, the Aughts. So fertile for premium cable channels, so exciting for reality TV, so absolutely fucking dreadful for art writing.


A rant that not only has a point but makes me laugh. Score 2 for Chris, opponent 0.

lol! I have to say I really enjoyed your blog post and spot on too.

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