OLD MISTRESSES: Women, Art, and Ideology by Rozaika & Griselda Pollock Parker

OLD MISTRESSES: Women, Art, and Ideology

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Much recent work on women artists--notably, Linda Nochlin and Anne Sutherland Harris' Women Artists: 1550-1950 and Germaine Greer's The Obstacle Race--has focused on why these artists have been relegated to a largely peripheral position in the art world. British art historians Parker and Pollock successfully build on this work by relating women's position to the more central question of the ""historical development of the definitions of art and identities of the artist as the exclusive prerogatives of masculinity."" Like Greer, they find that women were importantly engaged in the medieval arts of sculpting and illuminating manuscripts, either as part of a family unit or as individuals. During the Renaissance, however, the world of art practice changed radically--with ""a new identity and social position for the artist, ways of training, functions of art, patrons and documentation."" Initially, a few women, mostly aristocrats, gained access to the new academies; but during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the doors were closed to women. With the change in structure, a new ideology developed: ""The term artist not only had become equated with masculinity. . . but notions of greatness--'genius'--too had become the exclusive attribute of the male sex."" Women's arts were segregated off as crafts, and sentimentalized (quilts, for instance, were seen as ""the expression of the feminine spirit in art""). The one approved role remaining for women, indeed, was that of nude model--passive nature in counterpoint to the artist as culture-creator. Thus, in Parker and Pollock's heavy Marxist terminology, art ""mediates and re-presents social relations in a schema of signs"" through whose connotations ""patriarchal ideology is reproduced."" (Ordinarily we would say that art mirrors society.) Certain current feminist responses remain nonetheless problematic: painting male nudes does little to alter the relationship between artist and model, drawing one's own genitals does little to challenge male preoccupation with female sexuality. The authors propose instead a work of ""deconstruction"" designed ""to expose these ideological constructions by questioning the traditional institutions of artist and art . . . alerting the spectator to the ideological work of art, the effects of artistic practices and representations."" Well-selected reproductions reinforce the theoretical points. A provocative critique, albeit jargon-ridden.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon