Salt Dragon
Our scanty knowledge of individual women artists of antiquity – mingled with fable a it doubtless is – serves the important purpose of proving that women, from very ancient times, were educated as artists and credibility followed their profession beside men of the same periods. ¶ This knowledge also awakens imagination, and we wonder in what other ancient countries there were women artists.

Clara Erskine Clement, introduction to Women in the fine arts, from the Seventh Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904. xi.

What she said. 113 years ago.

In studying the subject of this book I have found the names of more than a thousand women whose attainments in the Fine Arts – in various countries and at different periods of time before the middle of the nineteenth century – entitle them to honorable mention as artists, and I doubt not that an exhaustive search would largely increase this number. The stories of many of these women have been written with more or less detail, while of others we know little more than their names and the titles of a few of their works; but even scanty knowledge of them is of value. xi

Clara Erskine Clement, introduction to Women in the fine arts, from the Seventh Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904. xi.

More than a century later and these words still ring absolutely true. Even with several decades of modern feminist academia, the project of reclamation (among others) is still hardly begun. Really looking forward to getting deeper into this text.

I was also fortunate in having been raised by a father who was passionate about the importance of history. I followed his example and – contrary to my professor’s earlier judgment – was astounded to discover a trove of material, a heritage so rich it took my breath away: autobiographies, biographies, efforts to compile a coherent history of women, along with novels, essays, and poetry and, most crucial for me, images by women artists completely unfamiliar to me. I was soon haunting used bookstores, gradually assembling a library of books by and about women, which I pored over.

In Jane Austen’s 1803 novel, Northanger Abbey, the character Catherine Morland states, in response to another character’s comment that she is fond of history: “I wish I were too, I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome.” I would imagine that many women feel this way. But if the history books were filled with the activities of women, I would bet their lack of interest would give wat to the same excitement I experienced when I first began my research.

Early on, I became convinced that because I found this information, it fell to me to represent it in a way that could reach the widest possible audience. At that point, I began to see myself as being in service to a larger purpose; that is, as having the obligation of using my talent on behalf of teaching women’s history through art. This idea came easily to me because of my childhood, which was marked by my parents’ radical politics and their deeply held belief in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which means “to heal or repair the world.” In fact, I had been raised with the notion that everyone has an obligation to make a contribution to better our world, and that such a commitment leads to a meaningful and valuable life.

Judy Chicago,Introduction to The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation (New York: Merrel Publishers Ltd., 2007) 11-12.

The tentative syllabus for what was quite possibly the first Feminist Art History course

Art 364b
November 25, 1969
I am changing the subject of the Art 364b seminar to: The Image of Women in the 19th and 20th Centuries. I have become more and more involved in the problem of the position of women during the course of this year and think it would make a most interesting and innovative seminar topic, involving materials from a variety of fields not generally included in art historical research. This would be a pioneering study in an untouched field. Among fields and areas to be included might be:
1. Woman as angel and devil in 19th century art
2. The concept of the nude through history with special emphasis on 19th and 20th century (anatomy; must a nude be a female? What is shown and what is not shown)
3. Pornography and sexual imagery
4. The social significance of costume
5. Social realities and artistic myths (i.e. women working in factories and the Birth of Venus in the Salons)
6. Advertising imagery of women
7. The theme of the prostitute
8. The Holy Family and the joys of domesticity (imagery of the secular family as nexus of value in bourgeois art in the 19th century)
9. Socially conscious representations of lower class women (almost always in “low” art rather than “high”)
10. Freudian mythology in modern art; Picasso and surrealism
11. Matisse and the “harem” concept of women
12. Women as artists
13. The Vampire woman in art and literature (in relation to social, psychological and economic factors)
14. Women in Pre-Raphaelite painting and Victorian Literature
Most of this territory – and a great deal more – has never been touched. It would involve work in history, sociology, psychology, literature, etc.

Linda Nochlin Pommer

Looking back from the vantage point of almost a quarter of a century, I am struck by the remarkable combination of ambition and naiveté characterizing the project. Did I really think I could cover all those topics in the course of a single semester? Why did I confine “women as artists” to a single class? (Actually, there were several sessions on women artists in the class as it was taught.) And why was I so fixated on the Vampire woman? Alas, since I have never kept a diary and only minimal evidences of that first seminar remain in my keeping, I cannot answer specific questions about what I had in mind. My fuzziness about these issues is a poignant reminder to historians about the unreliability of witness accounts, especially when the witness is identical with the historian in question. Nevertheless, I am struck by the fact that many of these topics have continued to be of major importance to feminist art historians and critics, and, equally, that they have served as the basis for much of my own work in years to come.

[Linda Nochlin, Starting from Scratch: The Beginning of Feminist Art History, 1994]

Anyone out there familiar with any good criticism of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble? I just finished the first chapter (the woman writes like a champion fencer, my god) and I would love to hear how other Feminists have responded.

Hey tumblr, I finished putting together a short video constructed from a children’s book written by a peer at uni, Mikayla Markrich, recounting the life of artist, scholar and philosopher, Anna Maria van Schurman. She sent me scans of her book, and a couple recordings of her narrating, and I stitched it all together. I’m pleased with how it turned out. Maybe you will be too.

So I made a little video for one of my classes. It’s got some fuzzy edges, but I don’t think it’s too bad.

Anyway, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was a BAMF.