Paper about Art and Feminism, 1974, page 4

Download: Transcript

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 View All

Show transcript

          lasting values. Forms have been generalized
and idealized to emphasize the muscular
vitality of the animals. The surge of move-
ment is heightened by skillful manipulation
of the dynamics of the composition.
Adrienne Rich in a recent issue of MS maga-
zine commented on the stifling of women's
energies and the resulting vague sorrow,
melancholia and despair characteristic of
women's poetry in the nineteenth century.
When we look at The Horse Fair how
refreshing it is to find an artistic statement
in which a woman’s energy, all her vigor
and power, far from being stifled, find a
direct equivalent in the grandeur and
dynamism of the work itself. For the real
subject of The Horse Fair is energy, physi-
cal freedom and power: energy as displayed
by a woman and the pride and joy that both
humans and animals take in the visible
demonstration of energy. While many mod-
ern critics have disparaged Bonheur's
masterpiece as a typical salon machine of
its time—-for instance John Rewald, an
‘authority on the art of the nineteenth cen-
tury, recently characterized The Horse Fair
as “highly expendable” and a “majestic
exercise in futile dexterity"——it is well to
remember that present-day judgments of
nineteenth century art are themselves in the
process of reevaluation. Many of the works
cast aside earlier in the twentieth century as
salon machines or kitsch are now being
reconsidered in contexts less exclusively
determined by formalism and the emphasis
on “pure” pictorial qualities.

In the light of this reevaluation it is again
worthwhile to look back at the positive
judgments of the paintings by Bonheur’s
contemporaries. like the reviewer in the
British Art Journal who wrote about The
Horse Fair in 1857, “There is a freshness in
this picture and a living power and a deep
yet simple sympathy with nature which
causes it to grow upon the spectator and
make one wish to look on it again and
again.” Here, then, is an instance of how a
feminist approach may bring about reevalua-
tion, making us look again at pictures which
have been cast aside and really rethink of
the implications of this rejection, making us
ask what elements exist within the work of
art that one might look at from a feminist
viewpoint.

Still another area in art history that I have
been examining is that of nineteenth century

 V ..

Britain. It surprised me to find out that
approximately 3000 names of women artists
were listed in Grave's catalogue of artists
who exhibited in London during the nine-
teenth century. A lot of them it's true
showed one flower painting in one

minor show, but many of them showed
consistently in the most prestigious
showplace of all-—The Royal Academy.
How many people can call to mind a single
nineteenth-century British woman painter?
It is hard. These women, 3000 strong, have
been simply dropped from the rolls of his-
tory. Since art history demands detective
work and a desire to track down historical
facts,.l wanted to find out who these women
were and what had happened to them. And
I did find quite an interesting group of
artists for a big exhibition of women paint-
ers which will take place at the Los Angeles
County Museum in 1976 or '77. This exhibi-
tion is itself an example of how feminism
can affect our cultural institutions, because
such a large scale show of women artists at
a major museum would, I think, have been
unthinkable ten years ago. This is an exam-
ple of how feminist pressure, women's inter-
est in the arts, and the work of feminist art
groups, in Los Angeles particularly, have
assured the fact that women are finally
going to reappear in art history.

Some of the most interesting nineteenth-
century British women painters are those
who did narrative painting, painting which
tells a story, which is generally realist in
character and which follows in the great
British tradition established by Hogarth and
carried on throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury. Narrative painting has been singularly
neglected and rejected for a variety of
reasons (having nothing to do with the issue
of women artists) by critics and art histo-
rians of today. Through my study of these
nineteenth-century women painters, my
admiration for and my interest in the whole
realm of narrative and genre painting has
risen enormously. And I began to ask my-
self why it is that traditional art history has
taught us to admire, respect and devote our
lives to the difficult and complex iconogra-
phy of Van Eyck or Diirer or Michelangelo‘
with its erudite religious references, its neo-
platonic double meanings, its hidden refer-
ences to contemporary events, and has
simply cast aside or laughed at the equally
rich, meaningful and in many ways complex

85

...-~«......... ..... t-.. ..,..,.