Depiction of men and women in art

It seems that we are increasingly driven to create an unobtainable image.

I’m well aware of art history, but I will be the first to admit I am no art historian. That said, my impressions of men and women in art tend to bring to mind a number of basic stereotypes.
Men are often depicted in heroic, aggressive warrior stances. They tend to be well-muscled and angular. All manner of classic art reminds me of this, and it lives on in advertising, movies and other mass media.
The “powerful man” is not the only image out there, though. It is countered by the work of artists like Egon Scheile, whose men (often himself) were grotesque and elongated. They tended to appear to be horribly vulnerable and sickly.
Much like the stereotypical male that comes to mind, the stereotypical female seemed to be created centuries ago. Interestingly enough, she has also seen the most change. While women are still often portrayed with Contrapposto posing, their body types have drastically changed in recent years. Waists have slimmed considerably, and hips and breasts have varied wildly – but usually stay unobtainable.
While people have always been idealized in art (I remember one professor at SFA, perhaps apocryphally, talking about men making love to the statue of Venus de Milo), it seems that we are increasingly driven to create an unobtainable image. I find it even stranger that we still chase after this even when we’ve realized how fake and harmful this ideal is.
Of course, the physical portrayal of men and women in art is only one aspect of depiction. I most classically think of men as heroes in most art, and women as objects of beauty. This often falls into the trap of “women in peril being rescued by men.”
However, there are artists defying these stereotypes, and they are growing in numbers. One I have been researching more lately is Catherine Opie. Unfortunately, my schedule has kept me from digging too deeply into a great book on her work I checked out from the university library … but I’m getting there.
Ultimately, while stereotypical portrayals of men and women exist in art, there are many depictions that defy expectations. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with the way people are portrayed, but it does mean a good variety exists and the possibility for more accurate and open representation exists.