Select and annotate at least four works by contemporary woman artists, including Sarah Lucas. How do these works relate to some of the theories and ‘isms’ that you’ve explored so far? (See here for three women artists – this post only deals with Sarah Lucas)

I have chosen to look at Sarah Lucas’s God is Dad. The exhibition book I bought, produced to accompany the New York show held at the Gladstone Gallery from February to March, 2005, contains an essay by Linda Nochlin which has been useful for this project. Before I explore the work, there is a phrase by Nochlin in the introduction that says Lucas ends up, “…. pulling us inevitably towards interpretation rather than formal analysis.” (5) Perhaps I missed it or wasn’t looking, but never before have I seen these two positions separated out so clearly. It would be good to create a table with two columns, one titled Interpretation and the other Formal Analysis, and underneath a list of bullet points that embody and explain the  differences (I’ve been told it’s there for all to see on the Internet!) Nochlin also tells us she values both, and says each “needs to be considered together, not (to get) at meaning, but at the full impact – the pathos, the power – of these uncanny re-castings of the most ordinary situations”. (5) Perhaps something to discuss at one of our UVC hangouts. I always want to interpret and have found formal analysis extremely challenging so it would be good to know exactly what that term means.

God is Dad

Freud – the father of psychology

Twitter is fantastically informative. Just yesterday an article swept through my feed, “A new study on female orgasms proves Freud wrong once and for all.” (Indy100, 2016). Freud said that women who can only experience one type of orgasm were immature and had some sort of emotional deficit. That is now considered erroneous. In fact, Freud has also recently been proved right on some things, specifically regarding dreams (Malinowski, 2016). Perhaps the arguments about what Freud got wrong and what he got right will continue for a while yet.

A new world

History shows us that Freud’s ideas emerged at a time when the Industrial Revolution either triggered enormous societal changes or were an outcome of them – probably both. A new society required a new form of religion. The old order no longer reflected the society it served. Psychotherapy, with Freud and then Jung at its early helm, was the vehicle that ushered in a new form. Many others contributed to the development of psyche as a science including Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, John Bowlby but it was Lacan who cemented a new definition of the basis for reality with the terms Symbolic, Real and Imaginary, which like the Catholic triad, Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, is shaped in a satisfying three-point structure. They each also represent similar aspects of being and crucially of relationship – Father being key. Father is the symbol that rules the world and is situated at the top of the symbolic order – “Our father who art in heaven…”, “Heavenly father….”, etc. We learn this language from our earliest days.

Lacan’s definition of reality, which emerges when a baby reaches the mirror stage – a metaphor to describe the realisation of self as other – is, he says, imperative in order to begin to grasp spoken words. And the language of psychotherapy itself, just as religious language once was, is deeply embedded in our lives with words and phrases such as denial, OCD, fetish, acting out, self-medicating, projecting, addicted, retail therapy all used regularly by lay people. Even where the term therapy is rejected alternatives have evolved such as ‘coaching’, a less contentious, more palatable version for those who find the idea of counselling or therapy uncomfortable.

Religion died, and as such expressed by Nietzsche, when he famously said, “God is dead”.  But it was replaced by psychotherapy and there was still a father embedding the language with father’s world order. Lucas uses Nietzsche’s  phrase as a spring-board to explore the new order, linking it to the old order, and highlighting the through-line – patriarchy.  This takes us to the position that perhaps Dad is dead, i.e. patriarchy has had its day, or at any rate should have had.  As well as that, the use of the colloquial ‘Dad’ removes the traditional male figure-head from its ceremonial and exalted perch, placing it in the everyday, the mundane, a possible and accessible relation rather than a distant unapproachable entity. Embedded within the title, through a process of association, Lucas identifies the metaphorical nature of a religious father figure at the top of society. She positions the father figure in the present reality. And she manages to kill him off too, creating a level field – exemplified in the androgynous self-identity of her earlier years.

Diagram 1. shows two orders, pre and post psychology

“Much of Lucas’s early work was autobiographical and aggressively gendered as ‘masculine’, or at least, deliberately ‘anti-feminine’ and androgynous” (13). In recent interviews Lucas says how angry she was that all her male friends were becoming successful and she wasn’t. She was able to translate that sense of rage into work that illuminates the social construction of gender. She does this by identifying signs that exist in our world and re-imagining them in strange and peculiar combinations. Tights, an object usually associated with women, signifying sexuality and an ideal femininity, but also sweatiness and all that entails, for example, are appropriated and used to create suggestions of male and female legs, as well as bunny ears and vaginas. Nochlin ends her introductory essay by saying that Lucas presents us with work that highlights the inequities and power biases in a world “that is still anything but equal”. (15)

Prior to God is Dad, Lucas presented a show in the Freud Museum, and so we can see her relationship with him developing over time. Freud is a societal figurehead whose ideas, regardless of what you think of them, have had an enormous impact on langauge. He is long dead, along with God, but perhaps not Dad, not yet. Freud’s writing successfully informs us about how male and female roles played out in reality during his time, and we can look at his ideas to see how far we have come and how much work there is still to do. Women, it seems nowadays, are at least afforded the chance to experience sexual pleasure without being made to feel they are somehow lacking in something, as shown in the article identified at the start of this post. Lucas plays with objects from our reality which she positions together, in order to give us an indication of how far there is still to go.

Nochlin, L, Lucas S. (2005). God is Dad. New York: Gladstone Gallery


4 thoughts on “Project 4.6 (ii): Sarah Lucas – God is Dad

  1. Interesting reading and it raised certain questions for me – concerning patriarchal etc. I’ve been thinking of Freud and how much his work must have been a product of where he lived, the times he lived, his status (middle class?) and the type of people who might be his patients. Did he ever distinguish between the different ‘classes’ in his assumptions I’m wondering.
    Similarly, I was thinking of Lucas and her social positioning etc, particularly being part of Western culture. Patriarchy might be dead in a large part of the world but very much evident in other places.
    Re Interpretation/formal analysis – I found Barrett very helpful on this.


    1. I think we have to consider just how much his writing reflects the world in which he lived, and to dismiss him as many do is short-sighted whether or not you agree with some, all, or none of his ideas. Hard to discount all since quite a lot has informed our language. I need to look more into it but the class thing is important – he was tasked, I think, in some way with coming up with a way to help people live and work contentedly in the new Capitalist industrial world. Just as the author of The Contended Little Baby has somehow tried to come up with a way to enable babies to exist in a reality where their parents are absent so much of the time (high costs in some of the solutions, but benefits too of course) I’m not sure patriarchy is dead in large parts of the world…. in fact I think it’s still got far, far too much life in it. And from an interpretative point of view, Lucas’s work is linked to her strong and pressing desire/need to kill Dad off, in an Electra complex kinda way I mean, of course. Thank you, I will look up Barrett.


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