12 November 2005

Art and Feminism

Feminism has been on the list of ways to do art history for a couple of decades now. Linda Nochlin had a lot to do with that, writing about the way women are depicted as well as the way women depict. Interesting stuff to read, preferably with your salt shaker handy.

I'm not saying there isn't anything to the Feminist approach to art history. I would hate to see where art and society would be without the women's movement and I'm glad that I've reaped the benefits of it. All the same, I have some questions about the intersection of art and feminism.

Here's an Arthur Danto quote about art in the 1970s:

It was in those years . . . that a kind of radical feminist critique began to surface. . . . The argument was that it was false to the nature of women to apply to their work standards that had been developed in connection with the work of men. "There is no language of forms for women" is something Linda Nochiln said. My sense of what was meant was that women were doing things in these years which did not fall under definitions of art that were formalist in character, and were especially embodied in the criticism of Clement Greenberg. SO in effect the radical critique was an appeal to Pluralism of a kind, even if it somewhat sexualized the appeal, talking as if women did one kind of art and men another.

Ok, so what to say about that. First, I think there is a point to be made that men and women do not of necessity make different kinds of art. Certainly there are some men and some women whose work is so gendered that it couldn't have been made by the other sex. But what about the rest?

My second problem is a more general problem with feminism. By making gender the central point of analysis it becomes the most important consideration, providing the origin of all other meaning. I am uncomfortable with that because as an individual, I would so much rather be judged based on me--my choices, my accomplishments, my cares and concerns. To instead assess all that based on something I didn't choose is to subvert it, placing it secondary to something else. For some artists gender isn't secondary at all--but what about those for whom it
is well and truly irrelevant?

Lets replace the man/woman thing with something else: nationality/ethnicity. I don't think that Europeans, or Africans, or the Chinese of necessity make art that must be examined within their nationality or ethnic origin. Certainly it might make a difference based on the particular concerns and work of each artist, but how much of one? Do we really need an independent art historical critique of each way of being?

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