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Emma McKay Ryan

I was born and raised on a farm outside of Minden, Nebraska, a small rural town of about three thousand people. Growing up, I always enjoyed arts and crafts for school projects but never saw art as a career, nor did I ever think my skills would be sufficient enough to pursue it. 
I took a beginning drawing class in the spring of my freshman year of college. It was during this course that my perception of art began to change. When I brought it to my professor’s attention that I was considering adding a minor in art, she suggested I declare a major instead. I was stunned at the time. However, by the end of the following fall, I had taken two more studio art classes and realized I was very passionate about art and wanted to pursue it to its fullest intent. In 2022, I graduated from Doane University in Crete, Nebraska with a major in studio arts and a professional emphasis in drawing, and I am now furthering my education at the University of Notre Dame by earning a Masters of Fine Arts in studio arts with a concentration in painting and drawing. 

Artist Statement

From “get ready with me” videos to reels of “the 7 essentials you need in your purse right now” and “the latest fashion trends,” young women and teenage girls’ TikTok and Instagram feeds are filled with all the ways they need to better themselves. None of these posts are inherently bad or directly meant to harm anyone. However, seeing video after video of how you need to better your life in unachievable ways leaves the self feeling disenchanted. Women are perpetually conditioned to conform and perform for others. In the 1970s, feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey and artist Cindy Sherman outlined how the male gaze conditions women to internalize their sense of self. This ideology has only become more pronounced in the last fifty years through the expansion of mass surveillance and social media. Today, the targeted social media ads, influencers promoting products, and videos telling women how to create the perfect life cause young women to self-objectify.

Through detailed drawings of the female figure, I expose the psychological alienation generated by the discomfort of performing the normative societal expectations of femininity. I purposefully create tension by juxtaposing highly detailed female figures against an empty white expanse of paper. The blank space serves as a metaphor for the internal monologue, isolation, and dissociation felt when performing for others. Each drawing subtly twists stereotypical tropes of women through the awkward incorporation of overtly feminine accessories. The viewer imposes their own gaze upon the figure revealing implicit and explicit scrutiny.

Each drawing is a laborious process, from the initial photographing of reference images to hours of methodically placed details. The intense inspection mirrors the critical self-evaluation I, and many other young women, have grown accustomed to with the use of the internet and social media. Being constantly aware of one’s own presence through the mirror of social media ingrains a deeper sense of perfectionism, and produces a call for a never-ending performance for others and oneself.

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