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Is it possible to talk about a feminist history of art?

When we take a look at the place of women in the history of art, we see that nothing is as clear as today and that the whole concept of feminist art emerged near the present day without the need to go too far into the past. As March 8th, International Women's Day approaches, let's examine a little bit of feminist art history...


First of all, the masculinity of art and its history is a topic that was not on the agenda until the 1970s. When we look at the museum collections and art history books until this time, it is concluded that almost no female artist has lived throughout history, or even if she did, she did not make an artistic contribution.

However today, a record of a feminist critical accumulation dating back to the recent past can be kept. Moreover, it is possible to question why women artists are seen as if they never existed. The beginning of this questioning of art history from a feminist perspective for the first time began in 1971 based on the article by Linda Nochlin, Why Have There Been No Great Female Artists?. The discussion on “greatness” here is actually a reference to the concept of smallness as a pair of opposite concepts.


Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as a Painter, 1638-1639

By emphasizing the importance of institutional factors in determining artistic success, Nochlin actually challenged the concepts of giftedness and genius at one point. In the artistic sense, the concept of "greatness" has brought many discussions with it. It is not the size standards mentioned here, but the values that form the basis of these standards. The great artist has been regarded as an artist of genius for centuries. This well-known question of greatness is also related to the determination of the performed art through the approval of identifiable social institutions. For example, in the Baroque period that marked the 17th century, the famous Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi was compared with Caravaggio and it is thought that Gentileschi was influenced by Caravaggio. That's why Gentileschi's works were seen as less valuable as a female artist. In the 19th century, the same thing happened to Mary Cassatt, who was compared to Edgar Degas.


As a matter of fact, when we look at the history of art, the problem of not being a "genius" due to the institutional nature appears clearly in the 19th century. In France of this century, where we see the most women artists, there has been a universal discrimination. In fact, Emily Mary Osborn's painting titled Nameless and Friendless and Maurice Bompard's A Start at the Workshop visually summarize this situation. These works are a cry for the 19th century woman's inability to be an artist.


Emily Mary Osborn, Nameless and Friendless, 1857

Maurice Bompard, A Start at the Workshop, 19.c

Another paradox that needs to be talked about in the history of feminist art is the theme. Although the Rococo movement, which emerged as a reaction to Baroque art in the middle of the 18th century, seemed feminine, it was mostly male artists who were at the forefront with their works. On the other hand, Rosa Bonheur, as a female Rococo artist, did not wear such a delicate and delicate style in her horse descriptions. When we look at women or domestic life scenes, we see that male artists also predominantly handle these themes in their works. In this case, it is possible to say that neither female artists are influenced by men nor male artists are influenced by female artists. One of the aims of feminist criticism is to make this situation visible.


Rosa Bonheur, the Horse Fair, 1852–55

When we return to the question of size, the fact that this issue, like beauty, is no longer an issue for postmodernism, heralds the birth of the "new woman" in the 20th century. Especially when we look at photographer Cindy Sherman's photographs, we see a reflection of the contrast of beauty. Sherman's photographs are not about how she sees women, but about how men perceive women. As a conceptual art material, these photographs show how the woman of the period was seen in a masculine-dominated society.


Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1975

As a result, the task of feminist art history is not to be accepted in the male world or to dominate this world, but to criticize art history itself. Undoubtedly, from a feminist point of view, the established structure of art history has been questioned. At the same time, the inclusion of great women artists in feminist art historiography is an effort to naturally include women artists in the iconic system of this canon, rather than a woman's sensibility.





Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1975



However, there are still questions and issues that remain to be answered or even questioned about feminist art history as a fundamental theoretical problem.























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