5.27.2004

From today's New York Times article on a sexy, substantive violinist:
Ms. St. John, 32, is well aware of the power of image. For one thing she is a striking six-foot blonde. And while this week saw the release of "Re: Bach," her first album for Sony Classical, the CD she will probably always be best known for is "Bach Works for Violin Solo" from 1996. That is the one on which she appeared naked on the cover, holding her violin across her breasts.

The picture was more artistic than shocking. Showing Ms. St. John from the waist up with the violin completely hiding her chest, it revealed nothing inappropriate for a family paper. But from the reaction, you would have thought she had posed for Penthouse. There were accusations of sexploitation and child pornography. (Ms. St. John was 24 and looked younger.) There were also phenomenal album sales: more than 30,000 copies, big stuff for a classical music recording.

The cover has remained a mixed blessing. Because of it many in the field have pigeonholed Ms. St. John in the booming genre of classical crossover, lumping her with other musicians of far less artistic substance, like Linda Brava (a Finnish violinist who has indeed posed for Playboy) or Vanessa-Mae (a violinist remembered for her wet T-shirt poses and electric violin arrangements).
Oh, what even to say about this? It's amazing that there is still freakout potential when a woman artist is substantive as well as sexual. (My naughty little question is: what if she weren't model-skinny and posed all hot and naked with her violin in front of her? Surely even more ruckus. Definitely a move to consider, girls.)

For me, the big issue is: is the work substantive? As long as the art holds up, it doesn't really end up mattering in the long run if you're a sexpot or if you're dowdy, if you're camera-ready or hopelessly unphotogenic. The arena of image becomes something that you can play around with, have fun with, as a woman artist. It would be great if it didn't feel so dire to use this arena for your very economic survival as an artist, but it's just part of the game at this point. I say have fun with it, just make sure the art stays rich and complex and beautiful.

--Elizabeth
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