This is probably the first image my AP Art History class in high school looked at as a class. I immediately liked The Woman of Willendorf (as a body-conscious girl in high school) for not sporting a thin figure. I knew, if this figure could know things, that it would understand the phrase “chub-rub”, and that was comforting. Our young and handsome teacher then posed the question to the class “What do you think this image represents?”, to which mostly everyone fell silent. We were all looking at a possibly morbidly obese woman with no face, feet, or arms. Maybe it represents the ability to hunt and gather food? Nope. This statuette, estimated to have been created between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE, represents “fertility”. This is the body of a child-bearing woman who has the hips to withstand childbirth along with the healthy breasts to feed it. That feels like an important meaning to me, and it somehow offered me comfort that this figure was one worth portraying some thousands of years ago. This fertile figure has stuck with me.
In contrast to the prehistoric Woman of Willendorf, I offer up Tim Burton’s Six Armed Woman, created in 1996. Both of these works depict women, yet one is a ‘sculpture’ and one is a painting. One woman has no face, arms, or feet, while one woman has six arms and quite a “pretty” face. While the Woman of Willendorf humbly represents fertility, the Six Armed Woman seems to flaunt it with large round breasts and eyes that seem to turn down towards them. Also, Burton’s use of color makes this painting a fun and imaginative one. I am not sure of any known meaning for this work, and it could be that it is supposed to be left up for interpretation, or purely aesthetic values. To me the Six Armed Woman is a sex object, a beautiful woman that girls want to be and men want to be with (but maybe without the whole six-arms thing, or maybe with? 😉 ). Tim Burton thrives on the “wacky” and the fantasy in his movies and in his artwork, which is part of why he is one of my favorite artists. Though the figure in Six Armed Woman seems to scream femininity, down to the flowers in her six arms, I almost wonder if this is meant to be a woman at all, or just merely a creature of desire who flirts with the viewer. And though I am sure I would have loved this image had I found it in high school, I do not think this unattainable body would have been of any comfort to me as the Woman of Willendorf strangely was. Both of these images will be forever thought-provoking for me as they resonate so wholly somewhere inside of me. Though there are thousands and thousands of years between their moments of creation, they both represent the power of women- to me.