Are attitudes cultural or habitual?

by | Jul 27, 2016 | Blog

Just seen the David Hockney exhibition – 82 Portraits at the Royal Academy. Fascinating!   The colours are fabulous, really vibrant.   The brush strokes free and wild.  But what struck me was that nearly all the women were sticking their chins in the air and shoving their chests out rather aggressively (or defensively) while the men tended to drop their heads forward and pull in. Interesting!  There were only two or three who seemed comfortable with themselves and had presence.  It was great fun trying to guess what their professions were – I bet I was right most of the time!

The interesting thing was that most of the women had ‘dressed up’ for the occasion – they were in their party frocks.   There was only one lady who was wearing jeans and stripy teeshirt – and she was totally relaxed, open-eyed and fresh-faced.  Many of the others seemed camouflaged behind their costumes – masking their true personalities.

The portraits of youngsters were fascinating – the older siblings were confident and bold;   the younger siblings seemed shy and unsure, and often turned away from the viewer.

What about the men?   They adopted less formal poses.   They chose casual yet flashy clothes – one was wearing a yellow suit (a barrister maybe?).

Two or three stood out – they had real presence and looked fearlessly out at the world.

So are these poses – cultural or habitual or both?  All the subjects were comfortably provided for, and yet for some it was as if they had to justify their presence to the world in some way – as if they were ready for ‘all-comers’.  This was particularly true of the women.  They were still playing a role – that glass ceiling still existed for them.

I loved this psychological juxtaposition in the portraits – David Hockney had somehow bored deep into his subject’s souls and found their sticking point!  So fascinating and revealing.  It would be fun to do a study of the various characteristics.

I went round the exhibition in chronological order – the order in which they were painted – each one painted in 3 consecutive days.  And as I progressed round you could see how the portraits developed and how Hockney’s style gradually changed.    The same chair, the same colours, the same medium, the same artist but there was a continual movement and sense of change and progression throughout which is the universal constant of nature.

’til next time,


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