Laura Pierpont ‘14
Hometown: Seymour, Tenn.
Senior Study Title: The Death of the Muse
Advisor: Adrienne Schwarte
Women, of many different eras and historical periods, must have the truth told of what it is to be woman, of the female experience. One place our modern world looks to for ideas of women is art history for it reflects ideas first born in societies. But often we do not find much truth there, or at least not complete truth. Women are viewed in archetypal or incomplete ways in many classical works of art. These views, often manufactured by men, create images and situations of women as “objects” instead of “subjects”. The central aim within this thesis work is not only to describe the history of this occurrence in art but to change this, fundamentally rewriting history in modern way. New photo interpretations of selected classical works of art history will translate these women from “object” to “subject”. Within the novel works, although these narratives are manipulated by yet another artist, more accurate, more complete, and more real views of women are created by a fellow female. Their past stories are abandoned for new narratives, ones in which these female characters live again with inventive tales to tell about what it is to be female and, more importantly, what it is to be translated into something new.
Much of Laura Pierpont’s art explores aspects of female experiences, so when it came time to select a topic for her Senior Study, she knew she wanted to explore female experiences in art history.
“One place our modern world looks to for ideas of women is art history, for it reflects ideas first born in societies,” said Pierpont, who majored in art with an emphasis in photography. “But often we do not find much truth there, or at least not complete truth. Women are viewed in archetypal or incomplete ways in many classical works of art. These views, often manufactured by men, create images and situations of women as ‘objects’ instead of ‘subjects.’”
Through her Senior Study, Pierpont aimed to not only describe the history of this occurrence in art but to change it – rewriting history in a modern way. She decided to produce new photo interpretations of selected classical works of art history, translating the women from “object” to “subject.”
“I wanted to explore the idea of translating original works of art history in which female characters are represented as ‘objects’ into modern photographic interpretations in which they are converted to ‘subjects,’” Pierpont said. “My work in photography for this project would give female characters of the selected original art new life and story. The idea of being able to alter history, even metaphorically, is appealing to me.”
In her research for the project, she kept the following research questions in mind: In what ways do the chosen original works classify, use and represent women? What were the personal and historical motives behind such representation? How does changing these historical works of art give new meaning to the stories of their female subjects, and in the greater context, what does it speak to about women in art today?
After researching art history works using the female form as “object” for possible translation, Pierpont selected seven classic works of art history that she wanted to reinvent as “subjects”: the women of classic Greek art, female archetypes of Edvard Munch’s Three Stages of Women, feminine characters of Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus, the skirt lifting heroine of Jean Honore Fragonard’s The Swing, and the lady of Van der Weyden’s Portrait of a Lady.
She found photo shoot locations, selected models, gathered costume materials and photographed the models.
In the spring of 2014, Pierpont displayed seven images in an exhibit titled “The Death of the Muse” in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ Blackberry Farm Gallery, projecting the photos on the gallery wall. The photos were shown on loop by digital projection at close to life size.
“These women are forever known in a singular and often archetypal way in the historical works in which they are depicted; in my new translations -- by way of photography -- not only are these stories made modern, but an added level of realism is possible (no longer are they paintings or indirect models),” Pierpont explained. “Thus, I hope a more real image of a woman is also created. The title, ‘The Death of the Muse,’ embodies this. It is an end to the idea of the woman being the object of somebody else’s genius; she must be her own source.”
Adrienne Schwarte, associate professor of design and Pierpont’s Senior Study advisor, was so impressed with her advisee’s work that she recommended Pierpont’s Senior Study for the library’s permanent collection.
“Laura’s work was a wonderful exploration into conceptual photography, an area she is currently applying to graduate study for, and she presented a strong written literature review to accompany the historically-inspired visual works, realized with new and contemporary themes,” Schwarte said. “She also did an exceptional job editing her work to elevate it to a higher level than is usually seen at this academic stage.”