Taiwanese lesbians viewing female figures in paintings: A phenomenological study

Yi Hsin TZENG

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses

Abstract

In response to a lack of academic attention paid to the relationship between lesbian spectatorship and aesthetic perceptions of paintings, this study is an inquiry into the Taiwanese lesbian experience of viewing paintings, in particular paintings that contain female figures. Descriptions and themes regarding the phenomenon were generated through semi-structured, in-person interviews with twenty participants. Twelve major themes were then analyzed and examined according to van Manen (2016b)’s existential method of spatiality, temporality, relationship, and corporeality. Three research questions guided the process: What is it like to view paintings for Taiwanese lesbians? How does this group of women interpret and make sense of paintings containing female figures? What does such an experience mean for Taiwanese lesbians in the context of Taiwanese society?

The findings showed that, firstly, participants tended to see their personal evolution or moments from their own everyday lives reflected in paintings. Through the act of viewing female figure paintings, they were able to draw connections to themselves, other women, and the places occupied by women in a wider patriarchal society. Secondly, participants demonstrated a high awareness of issues surrounding gender and other inequalities, and they often derived messages of empowerment from female figures in paintings that they selected. Thirdly, they tended to gravitate towards female figures with diverse, ambiguous, or unconventional appearances.

This is a phenomenological study, aiming to describe commonalities between participants via a philosophical method of crossing over viewers’ minds and bodies. Thus, it not only sheds light on a group of people currently underrepresented in visual arts and art education, it also offers a unique, intimate understanding of the lived experience of Taiwanese lesbians. It is my hope that the findings contribute to raising gender awareness, and offer useful suggestions to visual artists, museum curators, and art educators alike. The experience of viewing paintings can be seen as a safe place of self-discovery, thus promoting paintings as a platform for initiating discussions related to social and gender issues. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Painting
  • Lesbian
  • Female figure
  • Phenomenology
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2021.

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