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by Kim Pederson…….

Sadly, The Toast will itself soon be toast. If you’re not familiar with this “American anthology, humor, and feminist writing website,” you still have time to check it out (start here perhaps) before they fold their digital tent on July 1. I went to the site today after one of my Facebook friends posted a link for this article: “The Toast Looks Back: The Best of Western Art History.” While providing a number of intriguing story links there, writer Mallory Ortberg starts out with “Western Art History Is Just 600 Years of Women Getting Out of Bathtubs” because she’s pretty sure that’s where it all began.

Okay, she's not getting out of a tub, but there must be one close at hand.*
Okay, she’s not getting out of a tub, but there must be one close at hand.*

The bathtub article begins with a fictional conversation set in Europe in 1500, where a group of artists (male, of course) have met to decide their future endeavors. As one puts it,

Europe is at the height of her cultural and political influence; we have the riches of the classical world as well as the novelties of the Age of Discovery to draw upon as we enter a new era of artistic expression. What, then, shall we paint?

No one says anything for a while and then a small voice from the back of the room asks, “What if…what if we draw a lot of pictures of women getting out of the bathtub? From behind?” After some initial astonishment, the mysterious members vote on the motion and pass it, as long as the models painted are “tall, Dutch-looking women with braided hair…or, maybe, a few French ladies. But nobody else.”

Ortberg next presents a striking collection of said naked women painted from behind getting out of bathtubs, beginning with Degas’ “Woman At Her Bath” and ending with Alexandre Jacques Chantron’s “Pleasures of Summer.”

Perusing other collections on Ortberg’s Western art history list, you quickly find a certain slant that may make those of us of the male persuasion somewhat nervous and/or chagrined:

  • 500 Years of Women Ignoring Men
  • Too Many Men
  • Gleeful Mobs of Women Murdering Men
  • Women Trying to Politely End Conversations
  • Unsatisfied Women

But this slant seems to be not all-encompassing. There’s also “Men Sleeping Quietly and Not Talking or Bothering Anyone” and “‘We’re Fine Here. How Are You?’ Normal Moments in Art History When No One Is about to Get Murdered.” But then you look closer. In the latter collection, the text near one painting of naked women bathing in a river (no behinds in sight) while a clothed man watches from shore reads “I can help you breathe underwater. None of my boyfriends are riverbank corpses if that’s what you’re worried about.” And after that you discover that all the artworks chosen are depictions of witches.

So, if you want to experience similar enlightenchantment (1) re art, should you be in arrears about it (yes, I said that!), as well as re many other subjects (for example, learning what an Espresso Martini Cheesecake has to do with Pretty Little Liars), please visit The Toast. Failing that, if you happen to be imbibing a beverage or enjoying a warm buttered slice freshly popped from your Cuisinart or Black & Decker or Hamilton Beach on July 1, raise either or both in fond remembrance or missed remembrance of metaphorical slices-of-bread-browned-on-both-sides-by-a-source-of-heat past. I know I will be.

(1) Being simultaneously enlightened and disenchanted.

* La Toilette (Woman Combing Her Hair), c. 1884–1886, pastel on paper, by Edgar Degas, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Public Domain.

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