Feminist art history and female portraiture in 19th century France and Britain: A critique

Toutziari, Georgia (1999) Feminist art history and female portraiture in 19th century France and Britain: A critique. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In the realm of academic disciplines, Feminism and Feminist art history have made significant contribution on matters and theories of practice. One would think that the percentage of people in the academic world unaware of the notion of Feminist Art History is or must be very small. No one would think the opposite, only lacking in awareness of those cultural, political, historical, sociological, economic or any other forms that bound together the past or present characters of society, always and undeniably occupied by sexual politics, if not formed by them and run for them. The problem does not lie in the justification of their existence. The problem lies in the methods deployed by feminist art historians in order to evoke and reevaluate the assessment of cultural images. These methods are rarely in agreement with each other and often fall imder ideological categories, in search for answers either in form of gender or class analysis. This project aims to bring together, analyze and examine the main issues concerning these methodologies, and its application to feminist art history, looking at female artistic production of l9th century in France and Britain. Questions that are going to be discussed are the role of feminist art history, its beginnings, evolution and ultimate purpose. Debates between Marxist feminists and Radical feminists are going to be discussed, as well as methodologies that claim to unite Marxism and Feminism. It aims to prove that the feminist critique comes mainly either from a Marxist perspective or a gender perspective, for their unification has proved unsuccessful. This is perhaps the most difficult project of Feminist Art History, which challenges the construction of the traditional form of art history, aiming to provide an alternative art history. In chapter one I provide a general view of historical facts, concerning the main projects of feminist art history both in theory and practice. Matters regarding the changing social status of women in France and Britain in the 19th century are documented as well as the role of women in the arts and their access to art education and exhibition. I am providing facts that are historically proven and are part of the ongoing construction of sexual difference, however examined in different ways by various scholars. The construction of sexual difference, which has determined the course of women's life and cultural production, has led writers into taking views and adopting theories which are diametrically opposite from each other. This is the content of chapter two, which looks at the adoption of Marxist or radical positions and their differences when assessing cultural images. It aims to show that most Marxist feminists started from a material analysis of class and culture, but moved away believing that sufficient explanations as to women's subordinate position to men and their emancipation, cannot be found in Marxist texts. Examples of iconographical analysis following one or the other approach are considered, both in literary and art historical theory. Gen Doy's Marxist approach leads to a dismissal of Griselda Pollock's methodology, where she has tried to provide ideological structure that combines both matters of class and gender. I have called chapter two "a friction in feminist art history" due to the current literature, which seems to take apart rather than unite feminist theory. I want to show that understanding the ideological structures which form the theorization of sexual difference, the importance of the role of feminist art history and its position to the traditional discipline of art history, is not an easy task. The issue is that it does not look as if it is going to become any less easy either. For the problems lie in following either one approach or the other. Marxists fighting for a historical materialistic analysis versus a gender based explanation. There have been approaches which have tried to unite both ideologies*, but however have proved fruitless, for most feminist scholars tend to believe that the construction of sexual difference is based on the oppression of women by men. Such an approach is Griselda Pollock's, the British spokesperson for feminist art history, whose influence in the world of feminism and cultural studies is undeniable. I have chosen to concentrate on the analysis of her sophisticated methodology in chapter three, as it seems to be an excellent representative example of the above and is best represented in her Vision and Difference, of 1988. I will be researching her attempt to unite Marxism and Feminism, her critique of Marxism, the spaces of femininity defined by her work, her deployment of philosophical methods such as phenomenology and her dismissal of feminist texts which do not comply with her approach. I want to say that this is not an attempt to dismiss the theory of Feminist Art History, its methodologies and its various academic advocates. Rather it is a project that aims to state its evolution and course of intellectual progress, and highlight its current ideological problems.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: Richard Hooker
Keywords: Art history, Art criticism
Date of Award: 1999
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1999-71853
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 09:31
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71853

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