Miss Araignée, with the vigourous scrawl of her features spread across the flattened expanse of her body, appears almost exploded. She is a pancake-like round in which are scattered arms, breasts and crotch. There is an electric intensity to her coy grin as she is presented in all her glory, spread across the canvas. The entirety of this vision, its wholeness, mixes with the frenetic paintwork in a manner that reveals Dubuffet's intense interest in children's art, and in other, 'truer', ways of seeing, in which some essence of the experience of the world is condensed into the oils. In keeping with this, there is a truth to Miss Araignée 's facial features that demands the viewer to engage emotionally and wholeheartedly with the picture's subject and content. At the same time, the surface clearly reveals Dubuffet's own palpable enjoyment in Miss Araignée's creation, his own emotional bond with the subject, and with the act of painting itself.
Painted in 1950, Miss Araignée is one of Dubuffet's celebrated Corps de dames, an iconoclastic group of paintings in which the artist attacked Western depictions of women, and therefore traditional notions of beauty, in art. He has presented us with something raw and immediate, rather than the cold, classical beauty that fits conservative, 'received' ideas of aesthetics. Miss Araignée does not appear to be a traditional object of desire. Instead, Dubuffet has extracted some other value from the subject of woman, showing an interest not in any cosmetic gloss but instead in something deeper, darker and truer about womankind. The manner in which Dubuffet has presented Miss Araignée, flattened and covered in painterly scars which attest to the violence of the work's execution, adds to the feeling that Dubuffet has physically assaulted, or rather stripped away, Western notions of painting. But the infectious grin on the subject's face makes it clear that the violence of the painting's creation is aimed only at the medium, not the subject, for this is an unmistakably gleeful and irreverent depiction.
Even in the most avant-garde art of the first half of the Twentieth Century, the hallowed theme of the woman had managed to remain largely that of sensuality and desire. However, this centuries-long period of grace came tumbling to its end with a succession of pictures that had some brutality about them, be it Picasso's portraits of Dora Maar, de Kooning's Women or Dubuffet's Corps de dames. However, each of these artists used the theme of woman for extremely different means: Picasso sought to capture the anxieties of his age, while de Kooning was creating an abstract-figurative image of raw sexuality. By contrast, Dubuffet's art, since the 1940s, had involved tapping into the substance of things, and in the Corps de dames it was to the subject of women that he had turned.
Rather than invent some notion of what a woman should be, Dubuffet reclaimed the earthiness of the matriarch of old, as is emphasised by the earthy, almost organic, colours with which Miss Araignée as been painted. From a distance, the painting resembles clay and earth, rather than the hallowed oils of the art schools. Extending the notion of earthiness that Miss Araignée presents, the woman appears spread out like a map, her features almost diagrammatic in the way they have been scrawled onto the plain that is her body: she is her own domain, her breasts, arms and crotch her geographical features.
Miss Araignée's round shape appears to hearken back to ancient, pre-classical representations of woman, where fertility and fecundity were priorities. However, Dubuffet was not looking backwards with his art, but was instead looking around him, trying to see the real world with fresh eyes, not through the distorting lens of our aesthetic traditions. For Dubuffet's art is an art of interaction, and not only in terms of the physicality of its creation. Dubuffet sought to break down the barrier between Westerners and the world around them. He felt that Western painting was part of a larger phenomenon in which too much thought prevents a true understanding of the world. There is too much distance, in our analysis and interpretation of all that is around us, between the reality of the experience and our final reactions. In this sense, Miss Araignée is part of Dubuffet's project to create a painting that "can illumine the world with magnificent discoveries. It can imbue man with new myths and new mystiques, to reveal the infinitely numerous undivined aspects of things and values of which we were formerly unaware. This, I think, is a much more engrossing task for artists than assemblages of shapes and colors to please the eyes" (Dubuffet, "Anticultural Positions", 1951, quoted in M. Glimcher (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, pp. 127-32).
The marks on the painterly surface of Miss Araignée demand that the viewer look almost archeologically at the work, seeing in each area the clear interventions of the artist. While this woman is in many ways a universal figure, the overwhelming texturality of Miss Araignée insures that we acknowledge this as Dubuffet's own reaction to the theme. He often collaborated with chance and hazard in his paintings, deliberately leaving blotches, drips and blemishes, adding an organic feel and ensuring that the forces of the world itself had joined in the creation of the work. However, all these same elements make the presence and the actions of the painter all the more overpowering. Both in the manner of execution and the manner of presentation of Miss Araignée, Dubuffet has actively and overtly spurned traditional notions of aesthetics, finding them staid and unrelated to the real world: "For most western people, there are objects that are beautiful and others that are ugly; there are beautiful people and ugly people, beautiful places and ugly ones. But not for me. Beauty does not enter into the picture for me. I consider the western notion of beauty completely erroneous. I absolutely refuse to accept the idea that there are ugly people and ugly objects. Such an idea strikes me as stifling and revolting" (Dubuffet, "Anticultural Positions", 1951, quoted in M. Glimcher (ed.), Jean Dubuffet, Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 129).