Lecture 004 Reading – Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity
- All those canonized as the initiators of modern art are men.
o Because what modernist art history celebrates is a selective tradition which
normalizes, as the only modernism, a particular and gendered set of practices.
o As a result, any attempt to deal with artists in the early history of modernism who
are women necessitates a deconstruction of the masculinity myths of modernism.
- Modernity is a matter of representations and major myths – of a new Paris for recreation,
leisure and pleasure, of nature to be enjoyed at weekends in suburbia, of the prostitute
taking over and of fluidity of class in the popular spaces of entertainment.
o The key markets in this mythic territory are leisure, consumption, the spectacle, and
- It is a striking fact that many of the canonical works held up as the founding monuments of
modern art treat precisely with this area, sexuality, and this form of it, commercial
o i.e. Demoiselles of d’Avignon - the encounters pictured and imagined are those
between men who have the freedom to take their pleasures in many urban spaces
and women from a class subject to them who have to work in those spaces often
selling their bodies to clients, or to artists.
o Undoubtedly these exchanges are structured by relations of class but these are
thoroughly captured within gender and its power relations.
- So we must enquire why the territory of modernism so often is a way of dealing with
masculine sexuality and its sign, the bodies of women – why the nude, the brothel, the bar?
o If it is normal to see paintings of women’s bodies as the territory across which men
artists claim their modernity and compete for leadership of the avant-garde, can we
expect to rediscover paintings by women in which they battled with their sexuality
in the representation of the male nude? Of course not.
o There is a historical asymmetry – a difference socially, economically, subjectively
between being a woman and being a man in Paris in the late 19 century. The
difference – the product of the social structuration of sexual difference and not any
imaginary biological distinction – determined both what and how men and women
- Feminist art history has a double project; the historical recovery of data about women
producers of art coexists with and is only critically possible through a concomitant
deconstruction of the discourses and practices of art history itself.
- Historical recovery of women who were artists is a prime necessity because of the consistent
obliteration of their activity in what passes for art history.
- To avoid the embrace of the feminine stereotype which homogenizes women’s work as
determined by natural gender, we must stress the heterogeneity of women’s art work, the
specificity of individual producers and products.
o Yet we have to recognize what women share – as a result of nurture not nature, i.e.
the historically variable social systems which produce sexual differentiation.
- The theorization and historical analysis of sexual difference; difference is not essential but
understood as a social structure which positions male and female people asymmetrically in
relation to language, to social and economic power and to meaning. Feminist analysis undermines one bias of patriarchal power by refuting the myths of universal or general
o Sexuality, modernism, or modernity cannot function as given categories to which we
add women. That only identifies as a partial and masculine viewpoint with the norm
and confirms women as other and subsidiary.
- Spaces can be grasped in several dimensions; the first refers us to spaces as locations. Some
as the location in paintings include: dining-rooms, drawing-rooms, bedrooms,
balconies/verandas, and private gardens.
o The majority of these have to be recognized as examples of private areas or
- Engagement with the impressionist group was attractive to some women precisely because
subjects dealing with domestic social life hitherto relegated as mere genre painting were
legitimized as central topics of the painting practices.
o On closer examination it is much more significant how little of typical impressionist
iconography actually reappears in the works made by artists who are women.
o They do not represent the t