Gender matters

Lera Boroditsky discusses her research on differences in gender stereotypes in HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? (, June 12). She asks “Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives?” She thinks they do:

In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks…

Look at some famous examples of personification in art — the ways in which abstract entities such as death, sin, victory, or time are given human form. How does an artist decide whether death, say, or time should be painted as a man or a woman? It turns out that in 85 percent of such personifications, whether a male or female figure is chosen is predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist’s native language. So, for example, German painters are more likely to paint death as a man, whereas Russian painters are more likely to paint death as a woman.”

Note: But did grammar come before culture? Can’t believe that. You’ll find “she” used in English for boats and tools, abstractions (except God), cities and countries, the Church … and the army. Never thought about it, but it’s “die Armee”! Do you know a language where the army is masculine?

Found through Azra Raza’s post on 3quarksdaily.

Jenny Holzer

I first saw Jenny Holzer‘s art at the Kartause Ittingen in Switzerland in the mid-90s, where she created an installation that combined human bones and running text in LEDs. The topic was ghastly – “Lustmord”, about violence against women in Bosnia – but the effect in the beautiful monastic surroundings was so peaceful that I found I could really allow myself to think about it.

She created a monument to Oscar Maria Graf at the Literaturhaus here in Munich. His language is everywhere, even on the tableware. A soup bowl reads “Hingabe, Hingabe bis ins Letzte!” (“Devotion! Devotion unto death!”) . Or how about a cup that says “Mehr Erotik, bitte!” (“More eroticism, please!”) along with a saucer reading “Mehr Sexualität, die Herrschaften!” (“More sexuality, please, ladies and gentlemen!”) This frivolity is nice but unusual for Jenny Holzer, whose work is so thoroughly political and serious.

Jenny Holzer finds it hard to research her topics and to write about them. Yet her art is completely textbased. She disappears into her art, the opposite of a diva, saying “I like to be absolutely out of view and out of earshot.” In these videos she speaks about “PROTECT PROTECT”, her most comprehensive exhibition in the United States in more than fifteen years (at the Whitney until May 31).

Watch the excellent video tour of the current exhibition by Whitney Museum curator Donna De Salvo: “Jenny Holzer’s pioneering approach to language as a carrier of content and her use of nontraditional media and public settings as vehicles for that content make her one of the most interesting and significant artists working today.”

How do you feel about her art?

Anne in Wonderland

You simply must see the great Disney exhibition at Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich, which traces the European images that inspired the look of Disney’s films. I had some surprising insights. And the gauches, pastels, oils and paintings on celluloid produced in the Disney Studios are just delightful. (Exhibition through 25 January 2009.)

As I was walking through the exhibition I came across artwork for Alice in Wonderland (1951) by Mary Blair (1911-1978), the Disney background artist who gave that film its distinctive “new look”. (Illustration by Mary Blair taken from the catalog, Walt Disneys wunderbare Welt und ihre Wurzeln in der europäischen Kunst, Hirmer, 25 Euros at the exhibition.)

I’m thinking back on my first year as a blogger and writing for online readers, which is just coming to an end. And so, looking at these pictures, I find myself identifying with Alice. She knows what it’s like. On unfamiliar terrain, always trying out whatever is available as she goes through quite a few changes – just like me this year. There’s so much to see on the other side of the Looking Glass. You can make mistakes and get into trouble, sure, but for the most part it’s a great adventure. And you know, in the end, all that amazing technology, all those exciting tools are just a … “a pack of cards!” Alice will always remain Alice. Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me on my trip down the rabbit hole.

Here is a song from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” which resonnates with a backend beginner like me. It’s called “Painting the roses red”.

Thank you Dolce for the initial spark and for hours and hours of work (!) and Dolcevita for your encouragement. Thank you Eamonn for taking me on based on almost nothing. Thank you Helmut for dragging me away from the computer. Thanks, everyone, for your ideas and comments.


Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of Dokumenta 13 in 2012, answered the question where she was from by saying “HWGSATQ – How would Gertrude Stein answer that question?” and then explained that she was conceived in Italy, grew up in Richmond and “returned” to Italy later in life. “Heimat ist eine multiple Erfahrung und Simplifizierungen erscheinen wenig nützlich.” (SZ 4 Dec. 2008)

Gertrude Stein found concise words for complicated things:

America is my country and Paris is my hometown.
A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. It’s better to be rich.

Phillip Toledano: Days with my father

Beautiful, touching photos and text. Also see Phillip Toledano’s website.

This makes me think of my father. And my mother. Would be great to portray her. I still have my dad’s old Voigtländer. Lots of guesswork, but it gets beautiful results.  I’ve shied away from digital cameras because of the wait between click and snap. OK, dear Voigtländer, you can go back into the museum now.