This innovative volume goes beyond the examination of specific women artists to explore the ways in which gender is constructed in visual images. The discriminatory conditions which impacted women's abilities to become professional artists are described in each historical epoch. The role of women as patrons, or commissioners of works of art, and the ways in which art directly impacted the lives of women living in a given cultural context are also explored.That's the jacket copy from a feminist art history book I took out from the library the other day. The book lives up to its promise, unfortunately.
Allow me to mansplain. There's value in gender studies, learning about sexual inequality across eras, including this one. But it can blunt the effect of the art itself. Art is in large part a Dionysian exercise, concerned with expanding possibilities in defiance of reason, if needs be. Sociology is more Apollonian, concerned with self discipline and order. There's a place for the Apollonian in art - there's a reason why paintings are generally exhibited in frames and not crumpled on the floor. But excessive adherence to an ideology, even a just one, can inhibit the creation and enjoyment of art. That bothers me in this case because many of the artists on display created arresting and transporting work. (Which could be better appreciated if the publisher had sprung for color plates, but I threaten to digress.) Nothing wrong with acknowledging the difficulties these artists overcame, and that might have defeated women we've never heard of. But the book threatens to become about nothing else.
tl;dr, male artists at all levels of accomplishment are granted the privilege of being known primarily through the images they've created. Female artists deserve no less.