FEMININE GAZE

An aquarelle of exquisite quality – because of the sheer beauty of its composition, colour and execution, as well as due to an aesthetic empiricism of detail.

The artist, J. H. Plokker, sought to convey the impression of urban architecture in a street in the middle of France, highlighting its mediaeval-like organicism of construction and the play of sunlight and shadow – yet, true to the facts, also giving us the rather ugly bit of modernist building, constructed at the back of all this and visible at the end of the ally of steps. Thiers it is, in 1963.

The artist’s gaze has taken it all in – with a warm, loving gaze, giving us the pleasure of retracing the slow steps made by his eyes. Such delicacy of detail is almost feminine, if not simply – feminine.

We know of the experiment re: human perception of our immediate surroundings, showing us the difference between women and men. A group of students from various faculties, not knowing what it was all about, were asked to come to a psychological lab for ‘some’ experiments. They were paid a fee in advance. Gathered in a large sitting room with furniture and various decorative elements, they waited and expected to be informed as to what it was all about, convivially enjoying titbits and refreshments served on a table.

It turned out that the whole experiment had already been in their gathering. After a certain period of time, each one was asked to step outside, to be interviewed about what they had noticed in the room: its size, place of doors and windows, pictures hanging on the wall, kinds of food and drink on the table and the various objects placed in the room. In a rather precise manner, the men were able to reproduce a map of the room, on it the place and size of windows and doors, pieces of furniture et cetera. Their recollection of smaller details, though, was miserable, all those little things here and there. With the women, the results were a contrast.

Whatever explanation one may give – I prefer an evolutionary one, in a faraway past the loving care for her children directing the gaze of a woman at details that were, perhaps, threatening them – it seems more generally the case that women are apt to observe details as well as care for them; they are less interested in the topographical lay out and order of things. If this were indeed the case, an artist like Plokker might be said to have a strong feminine bent; all good artists are marvels in their details, in which – according to one great architect – even God may be residing…

A male artist, then, may be said to have a split personality; why not call it a schizophrenic? I am well aware that the concept of schizophrenia must be used carefully, specifically in postmodern times when it is abused – galore, thus meaningless. However, as I started this little essay from the observation of a Plokker aquarelle, the term might be apt. The man was also a doctor, a psychiatrist, chief of the great hospital for schizophrenics in The Netherlands. He wrote an impressive dissertation on art and schizophrenia: Art from the Mentally Disturbed. Curiously enough, in this study he doubts whether the concept of art really applies to the work of his schizophrenic patients, whom he tried to treat by allowing them to paint, draw et cetera.

Now, what a doctor as a doctor should apply to his patients is a clinical gaze: the doctor must be a cool customer, a distanced observer of certain facts, not involved in the persons, but aloof – then to place these facts, considered as symptoms, in a more general perspective of known diseases, irrespective of his own prejudice or partis pris. In short: a doctor must be ‘masculine’ par excellence. This, by the way, raises certain interesting problems re: female doctors, which I will leave untouched here.

If what has been analysed above is somehow right, it implies that Plokker must have managed the feminine/masculine extremes of his personality rather well. As a scientist-doctor, not only did he succeed to falsify in a Popperian manner his original idea of ‘schizophrenic art’; he was also capable of producing the most wonderfully detailed as well as wonderful aquarelles – a man in love with both the details of the object depicted as well as with his own child: this aquarelle.

Sierksma, Montmorillon 20.2/2021