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Exploring Femininity as a Young, Female Artist

Contributing artist Maggie Ellis invites us all to witness the staggering emotion involved in bringing their art to life.

The image of the muse: a woman, sitting silently, as the male artist is inspired by her. This image is deeply ingrained in contemporary art culture, although the implications of said image are often dismissed. Man creates, woman inspires; man is the maker, woman the vehicle of male fantasy, an object created by the male imagination, incapable of any kind of agency herself. The image of the muse denies women's active participation in artistic creation and completely silences female creativity. I created my artwork, The Muse, in an effort to reclaim this damaging, contemporary image and to act as a representation of female capability and strength.

For me, being an artist is about so much more than just putting pen to paper. Over time, my diary has taken the form of a canvas, and my art has become an expressive and raw reflection of my thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Within each piece I create, I feel an innate calling to explore and represent the female experience. As I create, I often find myself reflecting on my own ideas of the feminine experience. What does it really mean to be a woman? Throughout my creative process, I look for ways to embody my interpretation of the feminine experience and express a unique representation of the world, shown through the eyes of a woman. Many of my artworks are inspired by my own lived experiences as a woman, although I often also find myself intuitively being inspired by the stories of women around me. Through my art, I aim to dismantle the societal expectations which aim to limit and restrict the conception of what a woman is and instead try to represent women as the complex, layered, and powerful individuals they are, and have always been. The purpose of my art is to challenge the representations and expectations set by society for women to follow, whilst simultaneously exploring elements of the feminine experience.

i see you, seeing me. 2022. Acrylic paint, acrylic paint pens.

An ongoing concept in many of my artworks is the idea of the female gaze. Our inherent need as humans is to be felt and seen as our most natural selves. The female gaze is a nuanced concept; it is an ever-changing quest of discovery for a deeper feminine experience, one that doesn’t focus on what the eyes can see, but what the heart can feel. The female gaze looks to evoke emotions and feelings, focusing on touch, interactions, and energy, instead of actions and sexuality. The concept of the female gaze inspired my artwork, I see you, seeing me, which represents a woman’s pursuit to be perceived through the female gaze, to take agency over her own identity and to feel seen, appreciated and loved as her most authentic self.

I want my art to encourage people to embark on a journey of emotive feminine reflection, to consider what femininity and womanhood means to them, and to encourage them to delve deeper into their inner conscious, with the hopes that they walk away from my art feeling empowered and inspired to continue down a path of self-exploration.

Within my attempt to explore the feminine experience through art, I often find my artworks being inspired by the oppression, discrimination, and poor treatment of women. I am yet to meet a woman who has not in some way been affected by the expectations and norms set out for her by society. As a Gender Studies major, my degree, and the research associated with it, often inform, and inspire my artworks. Whilst researching gender bias within the workplace, I was inspired to create an artwork which was based on gender differences in accepting and receiving requests for non-promotional tasks. My research suggested that women are disproportionately asked to complete non-promotional or ‘thankless’ tasks in the workplace, meaning that they are asked to complete tasks which offer no reward or recognition, nor do they have an influence on the progression of their career. Learning this caused me to feel angered, frustrated, and disappointed. However, some of my best artworks came to fruition as a result of me feeling these emotions. I created my artwork The Fruits of Her Labor after I came to an important conclusion about the research I had conducted. The expectation of women to disproportionately complete non-promotional and ‘thankless’ tasks was representative of one thing…that we have a right to our labour, but not to the fruits of our labour.

The Last Supper. 2023. Acrylic paint, watercolour markers, coloured graphite pencils, acrylic paint pens.

As I continued on my journey to create artworks that explore the feminine experience, I felt inspired to create an artwork that represented a transition. This transition being a woman’s journey from girlhood to womanhood. The goal was to symbolise the closing of one chapter and opening of another in one’s life. And so, The Last Supper was created…a symbolic depiction of a ‘final meal’ between one’s inner child and their present self, a meeting which represents healing, transformation, and growth as girl becomes woman.

The idea of womanhood is one I have often struggled to grasp. In this new age of feminism, women no longer accept being defined by a set of physical characteristics or personality traits, nor through fixed societal roles. But if womanhood is no longer defined by these dimensions, is there some other element shared by women which defines womanhood? Again, I found myself asking, what does it mean to be a woman? What unites us? After exploring these questions further, and symbolising this exploration through my art, I came to a conclusion…perhaps trying to find a singular explanation and definition for womanhood is the wrong approach. Perhaps, instead, womanhood cannot be defined.

Perhaps, our lived experiences as women, is in the end, what defines womanhood.

Perhaps experiencing life as a woman is what it means to be a woman.

The Muse. 2022. Acrylic paint, acrylic paint pens, colored graphite pencils.

About the Artist:

Maggie Ellis

Instagram: @bymaggieellis


Contact the artist via Instagram DM.


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