If cats did art…we-ell, if cats did art, you might imagine dimly lit galleries stocked full of infrared mouse installations. As for dogs. Their artistic endeavours have widely been regarded as a pile of poo. Literally.
And women? (and men?)
The point, i guess, is that we all – cats, dogs, men, women, mice, llamas… – create a syntax of art and imagery that conjugates best when it is located within the grammar of our senses. If your primary means of accessing the world is through your nose, why so surprising if your creativity starts in works of smell. If eyes, then visual. If ears, then Beethoven may be more your thing.
That works, most obviously,at the grossest level. Bats, probably, do not visit the National Portrait Gallery – unless to hang around in some of the more splendid central London eaves to be found under that institution’s roof.
But it almost certainly works at the level of detail, too. Which is my cue for nudging this post gently back in the direction of gender issues. What women do incredibly well is notice detail. Detail, that is, when it comes to clothes – and the personal. Change your hair: its noticed (by female friends, at least). New nail colour? Obvious. Dress? Blouse? Ear-rings? Instantly, in most cases, noticed and commented upon.
The fashion gene?
So what’s all that about? Is it some innate feminine disposition towards fashion-consciousness? A gene for accessories? Or something else? I’ll start by suggesting that, yes: there is a l;earnt component to this particular behaviour. Though that’s neither one thing nor another. Most complex social behaviours have learnt AND innate components to them, whiloe the interplay between the two…well, that’s just incredibly complicated…so the old nature-nurture argument is mostly, usually just a waste of breath.
I know there’s a large chunk of learnedness to this behaviour, because i’ve been learning over the last couple of years. Not consciously. Not like i sat down one day and said to myself: from tomorrow i WILL notice other women’s hair. But by osmosis. As so many of these things are learned. Because if one is constantly circulating around social spheres in which awareness of look and image is going on, its hard not to find yourself, very soon, playing too.
OK. Its always been there to some extent. I’ve always been someone who noticed small details, to the point where it used to provide me with insights i wished i didn’t have. One partner once accused me of “spying” (huh!) because i asked, quite innocently, why a couple of objects had moved in our bedroom. Honest: i couldn’t help it. I just had mental image A, gleaned from a day or so before, with mental image B now super-imposed, and all her fidgetting with “stuff” just screamed out at me.
More recently, though, i know its grown worse. Taking the boy to the cinema to watch cod-classical gorefest “Clash of the Titans” (yawn!) i mostly tolerated the onscreen silliness. The bowdlerisation of myth – and the reduction of an archetypal deity (Kronos) to CGI supervillain. I did my best to keep up, but it was hard work. Until the very end when hero, Sam Worthington, and heroine, Rosamund Pike, finally get together for a rather awkward embrace just before the final credits roll.
Oh, i found myself wondering: those ear-rings! Were they really appropriate for the period? And weren’t they so not what your average warrior queen tends to wear nowadays? Hmmm. Then there was the whiter-than-Persil-white dress, which appeared to have survived a trip to Hades and a volcanic eruption without copping a single stain (a feat that i singularly fail to achieve when faced with the challenge of a white blouse and spaghetti bolognese!).
So, sure: its learnt. Or partly learnt (see above).
Which brings me finally round to the main point, which is whether the problem faced by most women, the teen confidence killer, is some evil indoctrination into how it is necessary for one to “look good” at all times in order to get on. Perhaps, to some extent.
But I wonder, from the above, whether that particular pressure is secondary to this observational thing. I’ve mentioned before how almost every woman i know, well dressed, badly dressed, interestingly dressed, has made an effort, in a way that blokes, on average, don’t. Social pressure, certainly. Peer pressure, too. But the mechanism through which that pressure works?
It starts, i think, with awareness: with a structuring of our visual world to notice certain sorts of detail. Once noticed, once structured, it is all downhill from there.