Nothing gives me the piss shivers more than seeing portrait paintings where the eyes are so hyper detailed that every subject who bears them (mostly women and children) become bizarrely sexualized. Not that I blame the patriarchy for this (ok, maybe I do), but fingers crossed, now that it’s 2021 and women are being ‘given’ more space to create meaning in art (sarcastic woohoo) I’m hopeful that more attention will be paid to the work of artists who don’t do this.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with super detailed eyeballs if your aim is to creep me out. If so, then congratulations your work is very effective. But if creating ultra intense eye paintings is not your intention or you’re thinking “hmm, I’ve always wanted to paint women with a less misogynistic undertone but I don't know how” then I’d like to offer you another approach.
Don't stand so close.
In real life, if you were to see the amount of detail in the same way that hyper-detailed eye paintings do, you’d literally have to be standing within an inch of the other person’s face. We don’t do that, so a realistic representation would mean seeing the eye the way we would see it from a reasonable distance assuming you respect personal boundaries. That makes the eye more important in context as a component of the entire head.
Remember the structure of the face.
If you think of a typical face as a composition, the nose would be in the foreground, followed by the middle-ground consisting of the forehead, cheekbones, lips and chin, and finally the eyes would make up the background. So when you paint every pigment of the iris and follicle of each eyelash, it serves to bring the eye to the foreground when it should be in the background, resulting in a face that looks unnatural, ie. creepy AF.
Less is more.
Maybe you know all the components of how to paint a realistic eye and want to show off your chops, but if you go overboard with the details, like adding thirty different reflections, you’ll end up with an anime eyeball. A select few highlights are enough to make an engaging eye especially when equal thought has gone into rendering the support structure of the eye, like the skin, muscles and bones.
Here is a close up of a portrait I did of my mother in 2019. It isn't very detailed. There are no eyelashes and a few subtle reflections yet it still emotes, serving as an effective window into her cold and empty soul.
Ultimately, making the eye less important will hopefully reduce the amount of sexy baby paintings in this world. While it is a small detail, I see it as a way of supporting a larger conversation around rejecting the objectification of women in painting altogether. My hope is that one day it will be commonplace to have famous paintings of women reflect more diverse perspectives (and maybe even be painted by women artists - gasp!) and we’ll all stop genuflecting to artists of the past who used and abused women in their work, sealing their objectification in ‘masterpieces’ that will haunt us for all time (I’m talking to you Picasso, you douchebag).