Monthly Archives: March 2013

Women in Art: Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas is one of the inescapable artists represented in DC art museums; and rightly so! Being an important member of the Washington Color School and the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney (as well as purportedly being the first black woman to graduate from a fine art program in the US) is no small feat. Her work is popular amongst Color School fans as well as those of the encompassing Color Field Movement. Fun fact: Thomas’s work is also popular with the Obamas, as she is one of the few women artists selected by Michelle Obama to decorate their private White House residence.

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Alma Thomas at the Whitney (left), Delightful Song by Red Dahlia, 1976 (right)

Upon graduating high school in 1911, Alma Thomas studied education; first becoming a substitute teacher and later a kindergarten teacher. Thomas earned her BS in fine arts in 1924, proceeding to teach at Shaw Junior High School until her retirement in 1960 (Where she ran a number of art projects benefiting the school, for example, founding its first art gallery and a community arts program). Throughout her career as a teacher she continued to study art, earning a masters in art education from Columbia University and studying painting at American University.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

The Stormy Sea, 1958.

Thomas had always participated in the DC art community, however her work further evolved and became more highly appreciated following her retirement (A period in which many suggest she created her best work). She was a member of the Washington Color School and The Little Paris Studio. The Washington Color School was part of the Color Field movement, and similar to abstract expressionism in its use of certain tools and techniques, although dissimilar in the psychology behind the work. While many of her peers focused upon social realism during this period, Thomas turned her attention to color and abstract composition. Additionally, her work differed stylistically from many Color Field painters in that she used a primed canvas–allowing paint to build up texturally–and she used color intuitively, feeling constricted by the laws of color theory. Continue reading

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Here’s a really interesting piece on why Michelangelo’s female figures appear so masculine to modern day audiences. Although many believe Michelangelo’s figures were influenced by his sexuality or the availability of female models, Jill Burke explains why this is not the case. See part two here: http://renresearch.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/men-with-breasts2/

Jill Burke's Blog

Michelangelo NightWhen I give a talk, or run a class that includes work by Michelangelo, generally at some point someone will suggest that Michelangelo’s female figures look like “men with breasts”. I have to admit, that I sometimes deliberately task students with describing a picture of Michelangelo’s Night (right) just so I can elicit this reaction – it’s a really useful starting point for discussing ideas about what we expect men and women’s bodies to look like, whether renaissance art is naturalistic, differing ideals of beauty and so on. Because this has happened so frequently, my title for yesterday’s masterclass at Glasgow uni was “Men With Breasts: Michelangelo’s Female Nudes and the Historical Context for Body Image”.

An explanation that people often given for the Michelangelo men-with-breasts phenomenon – which we should properly call the aesthetic of androgyny – is that they couldn’t get female nude models in the Renaissance, so…

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