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Lesson Plans

"American Visions" and sexism in art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Dennis E. Fehr (kudef)
Fri, 10 Oct 1997 10:58:45 -0500 (CDT)


Elizabeth Garber received this commentary by Kathy Connors on the series
"American Visions." She posted it to the listserv of the NAEA Women's
Caucus. From there--with thanks to Kathy for writing it and to Elizabeth
for putting it online--I am posting an edited version here.

I didn't particularly find that series insightful generally.... Greatly
limited and same old ... reassuring-to-the-good-ole-boys kind of
production. Any hint of artistic revolution and spiritual questing was
'artfully' ignored. Janson would be proud. Greer, Nochlin, Sutherland,
Nemser, and C. S. Rubenstein are once again subjected to the myopia of male
vision (this time Australian) -- as are we all. As for me, I guess I risk
overstating the obvious when I respond to the quoted disclaimer,

single works of art are emblematic of broad American historical
moments, religious beliefs and social ethics. The identity of the
artists who created the works included in the issue, is of far less

importance than the scope of the ideas and eras that the works
represent. That most of the artists whose works are included are
men is simply the result of the historical contingency that, until
the 20th century, most of the American artists with the inclination
and training to pursue successful careers were men.

by asking, if the identity of the artist is so unimportant, than why did we
hear so much about same and why ccouldn't the artist have been female
and/or a
member of a minority?

As for the historical contingency claim, well, this just reveals Patrick
Smith's limited education concerning American artists. He has but to
consult research and writings done by those mentioned above (Nochlin, etc.)
to realize that there have been plenty of women and minorities in the
history of American Art who "pursued 'successful' careers as artists --
especially if 'successful' is understood to mean amazing production and
Herculean forebearance in spite of incredible forces against their
achieving their artistic goals.

If he means monetary success, many of the males might be eliminated from
the chosen list. As for historical moments, religious beliefs, and social
ethics, minorities and women may have (more profoundly and from a deeper
reservoir of lived experience) expressed what is praiseworthy as well as
shameful about 'Americana' in their art as well as any white male
represented in the series. (Harriet Hosmer; Edmonia Lewis; Vinnie Ream
Hoxie; Rmma Stebbins; Jennis Brownscombe; Selma Burke; Anna Klumpke;
Elizabeth Catlett; Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; Alice Neel; Georgia
O'Keefe; Florine Stettheimer; May Stevens; Audrey Flack; Miriam Schapiro;
Judy Chicago -- to mention but a few!).

There are art works created by women and minorities before the 20th century
that most poignantly reveal our history, spirituality, and social ethics:
American Basketry, Ceramics, Weaving, Body Decorations, Sculptures; Folk
Artists, weavers, quilters, crafts people, sculptors, painters, muralists,
architects, photographers, etc. (see, for instance, Charlotte Streifer
Rubinstein's books on American Women Artists and American Women Sculptors).

Name any artistic career that has existed in the United States and you will
find that there have been successful and even 'great' women architects,
photographers, cinematographers, videographers, etc., etc., etc. One of the
major problems has been (along with racism, sexism, classism),there have
been too few 'great' art historians or critics. It has been the
proclamations of biased, sexist, and limited (especially in their vision
and capacity to question conventional wisdom), art historians and critics
who have made the artists 'successful.' It is an indictment of their whole
profession to continue to defend their practices.

I might extend Kathy's closing remarks to include the art ed field. It
seems that there likewise have been too few art educators who have
discussed artwork by women and Noneuropeans in their daily classroom
practice. Is this not an indictment of our profession as well?

The good news is that this situation is steadily improving in all three
fields. In art ed we see this in an increasing number of journal articles.
We also are seeing discrimination addressed in such books as:

"Gender Issues in Art Education," edited by Georgia Collins & Renee
Sandell (Reston VA: NAEA).

"Context, Content, & Community in Art Education," edited by Ron Neperud
(New York: Teachers College).

"Zones of Contention," written by Carol Becker (Albany NY: SUNY Press).

And in my own "Dogs Playing Cards" (New York: Peter Lang), I trace a
history of sexism in art and art education from prehistory to today.

I undoubtedly have left out a number of worthy works, and I encourage
members of artsednet to suggest them to us.

Dennis E. Fehr, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Art Education
Texas Tech University
PO Box 54081
Lubbock TX 79409.4081
phone 806.742.3018
fax 806.742.1971

  • Maybe reply: Sandra Hildreth: "Re: "American Visions" and sexism in art"