21 December 2005

Art History: Problematic situation #5

This is part of an ongoing series.

I’ve addressed some of the extensions of today’s problem in Art History before, but I thought it would be good to bring it back to its roots for a moment. This is a problem for art and anything else that has a history.

Speaking of women and their anonymity in history, Virginia Woolf wrote:

“Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it.. . . I would as soon have her true history as the hundred and fiftieth life of Napoleon or the seventieth study of Keats and his use of Miltonic inversion . . . ”

That comes from pages 89-90 of her A Room of One’s Own, published in 1929. I’ve tried to find it and I can’t, but I’m sure she challenged her readers to write the history of women. To search out what their lives were like, and add that as a counterpoint to the history we already had.

I think the call has been answered, not thoroughly or perfectly, but at least acknowledged. I distinctly recall Women’s History Month and Black History Month in my elementary school in middle America. I remember that when we learned about the westward expansion of the United States, we learned about the Trail of Tears too. History, for at least two decades then, has ceased to be the domain of the victor telling the story from their point of view, or to reinforce their agenda.

What about art and its history, then? Do we allow art history to be the domain of the strong, famous, most successful, most shocking, most popular, most relevant to the Next-Big-Thing?

No comments: