The Problem with the ‘Look, I Found Her!’ Trend in Art History, Eliza Goodpasture, δημοσίευση ArtReview [17/11/2022]Marilena Pateraki
For all the covetable coffee-table books about women artists, few offer us anything truly original, or truly feminist
‘Women artists’ are trendy – their work fills my Instagram feed and its value on the secondary market is increasing 29 percent faster than the value of work by men. But for all the covetable pink coffee-table books about these artists currently filling the Tate bookshop, from Frida Kahlo children’s books to the Phaidon tome Great Women Painters (2022), few offer us anything truly original, or truly feminist.
Katy Hessel’s recent bestseller, The Story of Art Without Men (2022), is a laundry list of Western women artists from the Renaissance to today presented in encyclopaedic fashion, their stories told with only fragmented social context because, as stated in the title, men have been (mostly) removed from the story. But unfortunately for these women, they didn’t have the luxury to live and work in a world without men. There is a difference between rightfully acknowledging the specific experiences of artists who were women in a particular historical moment and treating all women who were artists as a distinct and cohesive category across the ages.
Hessel’s book is not alone in its mission to write a mirror image of patriarchal history, and despite its flaws, it means well. The many, many artists in its pages deserve to take their places in our collective understanding of the history of Western art, but that shouldn’t mean ignoring the complexities of their lives and work. Pioneering second-wave feminist art historians, among them Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock, argued that a feminist art history could not be productive if it cut-and-pasted women artists into the existing canon. They wanted to blow the canon open and ask bigger, fundamental questions about how the narrative of art history has been written since Giorgio Vasari. His Lives of the Artists, published in the sixteenth century, is still the prototype for Western art history: a list of monographs. Nochlin and her ilk asked what better ways there might be to tell the stories of artists’ lives, work and cultural reverberations.
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