Monday, 6 January 2014

Women, Art, and Society - Whitney Chadwick

Women, Art and Society - Whitney Chadwick

I read this book for my research on the representation of women for assignment 4. It has been a very useful guide that looked at art from a Feminist perspective from the Middle Ages to contemporary artistic practice today. The author describes the changing role of women in society during various historical periods and how that has affected women attempting to make art. I found the notion that women artists have 'disappeared' from the historical record an intriguing one. The author partly lays the blame for this on an art market that has mis-appropriated many works by women (famous in their own time) in order to attribute their work to much more famous (and therefore valuable) male, 'master' artists. The author provides evidence for this in naming a number of works that have been re-discovered or are contentious in todays art world.

Chadwick also provides an overview on the restrictions that were placed on women as we changed from a feudal society into a capitalist one over the last few centuries - how women were assigned suitable subjects (such as flower painting) and crafts like embroidery became 'feminised' and accorded lower status in the arts.

What I like about this book is the author provides a number of women artists from various periods and movements in art history that can be noted down and used as further research. For instance I became very interested in the photographer Alice Austen (1866-1952) who, with her companion, was the first lesbian photographer to honestly depict lesbian lifestyles in her work. Incidentally, 'Clear Comfort' the Austen family home in America is now a museum and holder of the Austen archive. The board of trustees tried, in 1998, to block scholarly access to the archive for the purposes of studying Austen's sexuality.

1970s to 90s Feminist movements are covered with a number of practitioners in photography to research. Tracey Moffatt was an interesting find for me. Her work involves staged tableaux of adolescence, violence, homophobia and racism in Australia. I've not come across her work before and will definitely be looking into it further.  Sophie Calle is also an artist that I have been aware of but I feel I need to do a much more in-depth look at her body of work.

This book is a useful introductory guide to the issues affecting women artists throughout history and how the feminist discourse has grown and changed in recent decades.


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