Sunday, May 13, 2012

Art Analysis: "All of Me" by Billie Holiday

The song, “All of Me,” by Billie Holiday, was created in the month of December, in the year 1931. The two main themes displayed in this song are the objectification of women, and patriarchy. Objectification is displayed through Holiday’s lyrics, “All of me/Why not take all of me/Can't you see/I'm no good without you/Take my lips/I want to loose them/Take my arms/I'll never use them./” These lyrics are saying that the man she speaks of can take away her parts because they are useless to her without him in her life. The section of the song that states, “Your goodbye/Left me with eyes that cry/How can I go on/dear without you/You took the part/That once was my heart/So why not take all of me,” she is saying that without this man, she is just an object, and that her entire being belongs to him. This song relates to the discussion we had in class about the Heineken beer commercial, which depicts a woman’s body as a keg of beer. Similar to what Billie Holiday states in her song, the commercial personifies the woman’s body as an object. This indicates that a woman can not control her own parts; only a man can control them.
Patriarchy is displayed in this song through all of the lyrics, which talk about females being weak, and men being strong. This relates to the discussions we have had in class about the concept of patriarchy in our society, and the idea that females are weaker than men. In Megan Seely’s “The ‘F’ Word,” she states, “Feminism is not about hating men, it is about being up against a system that values men over women, a system that promotes men over women, and a system that allows, and some would argue encourages, the violation of women” (Seely 3). This quote relates to the song because in this song, Holiday expresses that a man has the ability to consume her thoughts, emotions, and even body parts, which emphasizes that men are dominant over women.
Another quote, which relates to the piece of art by Billie Holiday, is a quote by Joanna Frueh. It states, “woman sees herself and makes her choices not in accordance with her true nature…but as man defines her…Man dooms woman to artifice…One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (Frueh 190). This quote relates to the song in that it says that women essentially “live their lives” for men, rather than for themselves, which is how Holiday depicts a woman’s life in her song. In another reading we read in class, called "Art Politics and Feminism in the 1960's," by Jayne Wark, an art critic named Lucy Lippard, suggests, “When women use their own bodies in their artwork, they are using their selves; a significant psychological factor converts these bodies or faces from object to subject” (Lippard 6). I found that this quote ironically relates to the song lyrics because when women depict their bodies through art, they normally emphasize that women are subjects, not objects. However, in the piece of work by Billie Holiday, she does the opposite. She personifies herself as an object, rather than a subject.
This work was created during a time when jazz music was extremely popular. During this time, Holiday became known for taking bold issues and turning them into music, which she definitely did with this particular song. She took the issue of a man breaking up with her to the extreme, and implied that there is nothing more horrible than not having him in her life. The tone of this work seems angry and sad, and encourages the listener to feel hatred towards the man that she is singing about. This song relates to many of Holiday’s other songs because most of them discuss relationships between men and women, as well as men taking advantage of women.
The lyrics of this song really stood out to me because they display the opposite of a feminist work. Rather than allowing herself to move on from the relationship with a man, Holiday lets a man bring her down, which destroys how she perceives herself. When I heard the lyrics of this song, I became frustrated. I do not think it is right for a woman to allow herself to be consumed by a man, to the point that after the relationship ends, she no longer thinks she is worth anything. I hope that women who listen to this song do not get the idea that this is how they should react to men breaking up with them.

Works Cited
  • Wark, Jayne. ""Art Politics and Feminism in the 1960's"" Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2006. 3-26. Print.
  • Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207
  • Seely, Megan. "Fight Like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist." The F-Word. New York: New York UP, 2007. 1-14.

Rebecca S.

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