2024 Student Research Conference:
37th Annual Student Research Conference

The Wax Ballerina: Unveiling the Cultural Dimensions of Degas' Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen

Octavian G. Stickann
Dr. Heidi Cook, Faculty Mentor

Being the only sculpture Edgar Degas released within his lifetime, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen creates a window into the world of ballerinas in nineteenth-century France.  Applying Sherry Ortner’s essay “Female is to Male as Nature is to Culture” in combination with provided historical context this paper examines the dehumanizing of Marie Van Goethem and her sculptural likeness. Ortner argues that women are considered to be inferior to men due to their closeness to nature. The transition of ballet from an art for upper class men to dance companies made exclusively of women, is a prime example of this concept. The negative reactions to Degas' sculpture further parallel the societal attitudes Ortner argues are rooted in social norms. My research argues that contextualizing Degas’ work in the history of French ballet and the life of Marie Van Goethem reveals the intimate connection to nature that many societies associate with women.

Keywords: Edgar Degas, Sculpture, French Ballet, Nineteenth-Century France, Sherry Ortner, Gender Dynamics, Culture, Modern Art

Topic(s):Art History
Women's and Gender Studies

Presentation Type: Oral Presentation

Session: 305-1
Location: SUB 3201
Time: 12:45

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