AVT 101 Project

This blog is designed to organize and house both vertical and lateral research on the artist Jenny Saville. Please go to the Table of Contents tab above to make navigation through this blog easier!


As a first year art student who has never taken any formal art classes before I was both apprehensive and excited to start this research project. Feeling slightly ashamed that I only knew one or two names on the list of artists to choose from I decided that the only way I was going to fix this was to really dive in and choose who I wanted to research with great care. As I went through the list I began to feel discouraged. No one jumped out at me. Of course, each artist had their own separate worth, but I hadn’t spotted one that I felt inclined to spend three months of my life researching.  Then I came across Jenny Saville, and the passion in her work shook me awake and demanded my attention.

I was immediately enthralled. Her work was gritty, real, and quite frankly disconcerting. Her work begs to be stared at, but makes you feel uncomfortable at the same time. Each piece challenges you in a completely different way. I knew right away that she was the artist I wanted to cover for this project, and since then, I’ve not been disappointed in my discoveries. I’ve always felt that passion is creativity’s fuel. Without it art would lack both meaning and depth. I think effective artists, like Saville, counteract shallowness by invoking emotion. Saville makes you feel something when you look at her art, and therefore, spreads a unique, powerful message.

I began to look at the main subjects of Saville’s artwork. Large women, or if you’d prefer, fat women. Saville works to challenge accepted views of the female form. She is fascinated with the constructs of beauty crafted by our society and likes to blur the lines between what is voluptuous and what is grotesque.

Something I found especially fascinating is how art has aided the social definition of “beautiful” and “ugly” for centuries. In fact, it has been a driving force to figure out what those two definitions are with each changing era. For generations art has lied about the way women’s bodies look. Even during the Renaissance when the goal of the art was to express the natural form and fight for realism, the female body was molded and changed to fit societal standards of beauty. For example, in classical paintings across the board, no matter what era you’re in, women are rarely shown with pubic hair. It is ridiculous to realize that the form artists have portrayed for centuries is a carefully constructed lie. Saville’s work defies all of this, which is why I’ve become so infatuated with her message.

Saville’s been recorded saying on more than one occasion that she doesn’t have a “fat” agenda. She isn’t advocating that people should be obese, she’s just making people take a step back and realize what they actual think when they see the female body. Your own judgment is reflected back at you when you study her pieces and I find that fascinating.

Another ‘frontier’ Saville has managed to cover is gender identity. Gender roles are another massive social construct created by society. We are taught from birth that if you are male you need to act one way and if you are female you need to act another. The boundaries of this social construct trap people who are either questioning their gender identity, have a fluid gender identity, or are intersex. Saville enforces the idea that gender is a spectrum and the lines between masculinity and femininity should not be clearly drawn.

Jenny Saville’s provocative art has definitely struck a nerve, and I feel that she is exactly the type of artist that is present and listening to the needs of today’s society. Saville responds to current issues with a bang, unashamedly disturbing and unsettling her audiences. Upon doing this project I’ve realized good art should invoke emotion, and through that emotion it should carry a message. I’m pleased that Saville is as popular as she is and I hope her career only progresses from where it is now. I think art can be used for many things, but the idea that it can move an audience and sway their perception one way or another is both fascinating and terrifying, and I think Saville has recognized and harnessed the power of art and used it as a wake up call.