Judy Thornton: A woman’s view of ‘The Male Gaze’

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 26, 2002

Features Editor

A senior thesis usually brings a university student to the forefront, but, sometimes, the student has already been there.

For Judy Thornton, it was that way.

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Thornton’s labor of love was done in rather obscurity until her work was noticed and appreciated by Troy State University’s artist-in-residence, Nall, during the spring semester of 2001.

With the support and encouragement of the internationally acclaimed artist, Thornton gained recognition for her unique coil pottery and her work has been shown in several galleries in South Alabama.

Today, the culminating work of her college career will go on display at Malone Gallery and Thornton can hardly believe the day is almost here when she will take the final step on a long, but exciting and wonderful, journey through higher education.

Thornton isn’t unique among college students. In today’s world, many women are going back to school and many of them are mothers. What is unique about Thornton is that she has revived a talent that lay dormant for many years and it has given her new vitality and a new way of looking at life.

"Not everything in this world is black and white," Thornton said. "I believe there is an infinite amount of colors between the two shades of gray. Being a non-traditional student and making the choices in my life such as finishing college at an age when most people are raising families, having a career and looking forward to the day of retirement, I decided to get a degree and raise children. I have been a student, mother, wife, sister and daughter, which gives me a perspective that most college students don’t have."

Thornton’s different roles as a woman influenced her senior thesis which is titled "The Male Gaze."

"The theme of my project is called ‘The Male Gaze’ or issues of gender in the visual arts," Thornton said. "In the research I have done, I found numerous issues involving ways in which different artists through time have looked at women as subject or objects of their work."

In Thornton’s project, she looked at the different stages in a woman’s life and how women are viewed by traditional artists and the artistic canon.

"These images want to confine and define women as a certain type," Thornton said. "I believe that, as a society, the images that are made of women reflect how women as a whole are viewed by society."

In her installation piece, there are three panels, which show these depictions of women as seen through the ages of art history – the maiden, mother and temptress.

"The three panels depict these perceptions of women and the attempts to categorize and box them," Thornton said. "There are three sculptures coming out of the panels which represent the female figure breaking free of these categories. The three vessels represent the canon of art history, which is predominantly male."

The project includes a floor cloth which depicts female figures trying to break free of the murky water of the male dominated artistic world and artistic anonymity, Thornton said.

"While some are content to exist in the water, others are struggling to keep afloat,"

she said. "All the figurative sculpture is white to show that women will color themselves and have their own pure ‘canvas’ to color and define themselves so that they cannot be boxed in."

For Judy Thornton, art has been the medium through which she has broken free and education is the tool that allows her the leverage that keeps her from being boxed in.

Her senior art thesis is a statement about "The Male Gaze" and it is also a statement about Judy Thornton, the woman, wife, mother, sister, daughter – and the artist.