Agnes Martin :: Gender-linked language practices paralleled in art object

The Garden, 1958, Oil paint and found objects on wood.

From Freud’s slips of the tongue[1] onward, language has been understood as a social mechanism that carries traces of our conscious and unconscious beliefs, fears, patterns of thinking, social positioning, gender associations and personalities.[2] These same beliefs, fears, patterns of thinking, social positioning, gender associations and personalities coalesce within the context of social space to formulate our identities.[3] And though this identity is malleable and situationally sensitive, it is realized through the repetition of stylized performative acts.[4] [5] These enactments that occur in language-use are a rich data source for studying social and identity phenomena.

In Robin Lakoff’s seminal text, Langauge and Woman’s Place (1975), she unpacks a series of language mannerisms that vary in practice between male and female populations. Subsequent research has shown that where gender is perceived as being salient, particularly maleness, feminine gender-linked language differences partially collapse and female language use enacts more masculine traits. Where gender is perceived as less relevant, gender-linked differences are performed more pronouncedly.[6] [7]

From my own art processes and outcomes, I suspect that these same psychosocial linguistic traces, with the collapses and expansions of engendered differences, find parallel expression in the language of art—Freudian Slips of sorts emerging and occupying real space in the attributes of art. Additionally the Conceptual Metaphor Theory and notions of the embodied mind put forward by George Lakoff (former spouse of Robin) and Mark Johnson[8] [9] underlies the assumption that there will be conceptual correlations between expressions that manifest through the body, language use and the gestures of material choose and manipulation in art making, as they relate to traces of conscious and unconscious workings of the mind. If that is not enough, I can whip out some of Judith Butler’s notions of gender performativity, which initially was ground in J.L. Austin’s Speech Act theories. Between Butler and Austin, I can link gender performativity occurring through both language and the body.

Mornings, 19665

If traces of our identity, social positioning and gender practices leak out in our textual and visual vocabularies, if gender practices expand and contract according to perceived gender saliency, and if language practices find parallel expression in the language of art, I expect to see traces of gender-linked practices and their fluctuations in Agnes Martin’s work, particularly in relationship to her perception, conscious or unconscious, of gender saliency. This paper seeks to probe visual engenderment through its ebb and flow over time in Martin’s art works. I will attempt this by mapping conceptual correlations from gender-linked language practices to formal, gestural and expressionistic qualities evident in a chronologically diverse selection of Martin’s paintings. Time permitting this project will be expanded to include additional strands—one, an analysis of Martin’s language-use in writing and speech (interviews) relative gender-linked practices, and a second strand that aligns the first two strands chronologically as they relate to Martin’s periods of isolation from and contact with the predominantly male art scene.

[1] Sigmund Freud and A. A. Brill, Psychopathology of Everyday Life (New York: Macmillan, 1914), 21.

[2] J.W. Pennebaker, R.L. Boyd, K. Jordan, & K. Blackburn. The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2015​ (Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin, 2015): 1, Ddoi: 10.15781/T29G6Z.

[3] Henri Tajfel, “Social Categorization, Social Identity and Social Comparison.,” in Differentiation between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations (London: Published in Cooperation with European Association of Experimental Social Psychology by Academic Press, 1978), 61-76.

[4] Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (1988): pg. #519.

[5] Mark Rubin and Miles Hewstone, “Social Identity, System Justification, and Social Dominance: Commentary on Reicher, Jost Et Al., and Sidanius Et Al.,” Political Psychology 25, no. 6 (2004): 823-44, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2004.00400.x.

[6] N. A. Palomares, “Gender Schematicity, Gender Identity Salience, and Gender-Linked Language Use,” Human Communication Research 30, no. 4 (2004): 556-88, doi:10.1093/hcr/30.4.556.

[7] Anthony Mulac et al., “Male/female Language Differences and Effects in Same‐sex and Mixed‐sex Dyads: The Gender‐linked Language Effect,” Communication Monographs 55, no. 4 (1988): 315-35, doi:10.1080/03637758809376175.

[8] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live by (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)

[9] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, “Chapter 3 The Embodied Mind,” in Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 16-44.


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