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date: 16 December 2019

Women and art historylocked

  • Oriana Baddeley,
  • Griselda Pollock
  •  and Marsha Weidner
  • , revised by Sonja Gandert

Extract

There is no lack of evidence of women’s participation in the history of arts of all forms, cultures and periods, from ancient traditions, such as pottery and carving or silk-weaving and painting in China (c. 3000 bc), to the present and numerous forms of artistic expression. Yet traditional art history has kept us in systematic ignorance of the fact that women have always made art. It took the emergence of feminism in the late 20th century to redress the almost complete neglect of women artists by art history and to undermine the stereotyped views of art made by women.

When discussed, art by women was derogatively categorized as ‘women’s art’ in order to distinguish it from ‘art’, which, despite its lack of adjectival qualification, had come to be exclusively identified with a canon of white men. Since the 1960s many books have been published on the history of women in all areas of the visual arts in all periods and many cultures. The evidence for women as artists is overwhelming, but the project of restoring women to the history of art has raised major historiographical, political and theoretical issues. It has been shown that it is only in the 20th century, when art history was fully consolidated as an academic discipline, that women artists were systematically effaced from the record of the history of art. This raises the question of why this has happened and produces the second problem of whether art history as established can accommodate the different histories of art that alone would account for women’s experiences as artists and make legible what they produced. It is necessary, therefore, to distinguish between the history of art as the field of historical artistic practice, and art history as the organized discipline that has studied this field in selective ways. Art history tells a story of art incompatible with understanding the histories of women in the visual arts. It is a gendered discourse that participates in the sexual divisions of society by celebrating the most highly valued creativity as the exclusive property of a select masculinity. Thus, questioning of why art by women has been neglected or, if mentioned, has been stereotyped as ‘women’s art’, that is, as ‘feminine’ and other, and placed always as the negative cipher to (masculine) art, has focused attention on the ideological bases of the discourses of art history in this century. The redress of the neglect of women by art history cannot be accomplished without a major reframing of the art-historical project, shifting attention away from the idealization of the autonomous creative artist and the exclusively formal properties of art objects. Feminist critiques of art history have been developed from new theoretical positions on theories of history (challenging typical periodizations and notions of stylistic development), theories of ideology (the social investment in cultural meanings), theories of the image and text (semiotics, authorship), theories of society (the role of gender as well as class and race in social formations) and theories of the subject (challenging notions of individual agency through attention to the role of the unconscious, fantasy and psychically installed sexual difference; ...

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