Reexamining Floral Femininity

As written for Fulfilled Magazine.

After years of creating flowery feminine art through my contrived male gaze without even realizing it, I want to be wary of, and begin to question this association.

As I looked through my most prized work from the last couple of years, one theme slowly emerged and began to hit me like a stone.  In almost everything I have made, even my very favorite pieces there have almost exclusively been themes of flowers, women, and emotion.  My name is Mary Violet, so, naturally, I feel that my identity is in part tied to flowers, which shows in my work.

It hit me like a stone, because I had never realized it in my own work, only in books and articles I’ve read, and through teachers that had opened discussion, about how in history there is a male gaze upon woman that oftentimes instills an association, a relationship between women and flowers. “At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” (111) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s descriptive imagery portrays Daisy as a fragile object, completely powerless to the men around her, who see her as a prize to win.  Georgia O’Keeffe was known for her precisionist flower paintings. Her floral paintings were sexualized by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited them next to his photographs of her nude body, without her permission. O’Keeffe didn’t want this association to be made.

After years of creating flowery feminine art through my contrived male gaze without even realizing it, I want to be wary of, and begin to question this association. I want to find a balance between appreciating and critiquing this woman/flower relationship.  What I hope my art will do is uplift and empower women, not objectify or box in. Clothing can be a way for people to put a certain version of themselves or who they want to be, forward. Fashion, like flowers can be seen as frivolous, but I believe it is important to recognize that people have this undeniable relationship to objects, such as clothing. Clothes can automatically have an effect on our mood. Clothes give us life in a way, and we give them life by wearing them, making them seen. I think it’s interesting to explore the boundary and relationship between subject and object, and what can have life.  One way an object can give life is through functionality: by including pockets in women’s clothes- big ones, hidden ones, all kinds. The way an item feels, and the associations it gives the wearer, such as nostalgia is something I’d also like to explore in fashion. Many women’s clothes are very tight and tend to accentuate certain areas that are sexualized. I’d like to explore comfortable fabrics, and silhouettes that feel empowering. Most brands use standard sizing which stereotypes the female form, and doesn’t account for every body type, so finding ways to make clothing more adjustable is another part of fashion I want to tackle.

Flowers are still something I want to incorporate in my art, but I would like to be more intentional about how I include them.  I connect with flowers, they share this complex relationship with women, and are a part of my name. What I appreciate about flowers is the symbolism they hold. They celebrate, and restore, and I expect this journey to my ideal platform to be messy, dirty, but I hope along the way it can create life.