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The poem challenges the concept of great art by presenting it from an unfamiliar source. Through the eyes of this speaker the audience can see the class injustices inherent in the art world as well as the issues raised in the representation of women. When the poem begins the audience quickly understands that this is a woman of lower class.
Speaker and Context
It is about a nude woman who is a prostitute being painted by a man. The woman whose point of view the poem is from is poor, so she is letting herself be painted in order to make some money. The woman is obviously not thrilled about standing around and being painted to make money, but the fist part of the poem makes it seem like she has just accepted it. They call it Art lines These lines have a tone of mockery — the people looking at the painting will not know anything about her and will think that it is beautiful. These last lines demonstrate the view that she, as a woman, is more than just a pretty face. The woman in the painting is not who she actually is. Although this poem obviously does not portray the common woman at the time, it is an interesting way to portray a woman.
The first two stanzas contain seven lines each and the final stanza stretches out to double the length, at fourteen lines. Duffy did not choose to give this piece a structured pattern of rhyme, the lines are in free-verse. This does not mean that the poem lacks unity, rhythm or flow though. A perfect example of this occurring effectively is between lines two and three of the third stanza. Her words move seamlessly from thought to thought, and from line to line. This kind of writing is known as stream of consciousness. The speaker is quite clear. She is a female model, posing for an extended period of time for an artist. The language Duffy uses is common place, and easily understandable. The painting can be seen here and you can read the full poem here.