Art and Feminism edited by Helena Reckitt with a survey by Peggy Phelan

This book is troubling for me – after all I represent part of the very thing that feminists want to free themselves of; it is something that I can’t help and I feel that my words may sound hollow and vacuous. Whatever reaction I have to the work of feminists, whether visceral (a lot here for me in this book), to intellectual – some of which I have still to fathom – has an air of illegitimacy about it surely?  With a recognition of the above I offer the following as a hostage to fortune.

I think that this is a comprehensive back-grounder into the oeuvre of Feminist art from essentially 1960 to the late ’90’s; think because I don’t know the movement well at all, hence my concern expressed in the opening paragraph. The survey sets out to classify the various forms of feminist art, photographic, sculptural, fine art, performance and installation; whilst the main body of the book provides portraits of a great many artists, separated into sections dealing with the development of feminist art and how the contemporaneous nature of the debate affected how these artists engaged with their practices.

It is difficult to single out any particular pieces to discuss here, rather it will become a reference and starting point to look further into. But some of the work that I found instantly moving were:

Joan Semmel’s 1974 oil on canvass “Intimacy-Autonomy” here

Jenny Saville’s ‘Matrix’ here and  “Plan” here

And Marina Abramovic’s performance piece “Rhythm 0” here

I appreciate I have a lot to do here; to work out why I wasn’t aware of most of the artists in this work, a few of the photographers I recognised, some of the fine art as well; but overall pitifully few.Where to begin? Well as the Chairman said, even the longest journey starts with the smallest step.


3 thoughts on “Art and Feminism edited by Helena Reckitt with a survey by Peggy Phelan

  1. Yes, very troubling, particularly Rhythm O. That was disconcerting on many levels beyond the feminist aspect too. Jenny Saville’s matrix is an odd one. Infact, they all make you feel a little uncomfortable. What is it you’re hoping to achieve by studying the feminist aspect John…if its why I think it is, all credit to you.

  2. There wasn’t much in the book that I didn’t find troubling – the references to sub-movements, the political awakenings from within the feminist movement, the realisation that the oppressive nature of society has underpinned through manifold endemic control structures the position of women in our society. Sammy Davis Jr once famously said at least he wasn’t gay – this short, jewish black man. Well he could’ve been a lesbian, black, short and obese woman.
    I am trying to get to understand, to rationalise my reaction to women, who have been a constant throughout my life and why it is that I feel guilt by association but also why, as a male, I have always felt the need to be the protector, the provider…..

  3. Pingback: Feminism | John Umney - Documentary

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