Brand, Peg Zeglin. Glaring Omissions in Traditional Theories of Art
Abstract: I investigate the role of feminist theorizing in relation to traditionally-based aesthetics. Feminist artworks have arisen within the context of a patriarchal Artworld dominated for thousands of years by male artists, critics, theorists, and philosophers. I look at the history of that context as it impacts philosophical theorizing by pinpointing the narrow range of the paradigms used in defining “art.” I test the plausibility of Danto’s After the End of Art vision of a post-historical, pluralistic future in which “anything goes,” a future that unfortunately rests upon the same outdated foundation as the concept “art.”.
Comment: This text offers an overview of the feminist critique of the classificatory project. It assumes some basic knowledge and is best used after the main modern theories of art have been introduced. The pointed critique and clearly stated suggestions for constructing unbiased theories, make it excellent at inspiring a critical discussion on the subject of universalism and discrimination in both art practice and theory. Perhaps more importantly, the argument offered and the long lists of female artists and art theorists which support it, can have an empowering and validating role to many female students.
Demaria, Christina. The Performative Body of Marina Abramović Rerelating (in) Time and Space
Abstract: Can a performance be analysed as a textual practice? Starting from this question, the article tries to describe the effets du sens (meaning effects) of some of the work of Marina Abramović, a Serbian performer and visual artist. From the 1970s, when the so-called body art emerged as a visual genre, offering the artist’s body as a naked site of inscription, up to the present, when performing has become a more playful and direct transmission of energy between the doer and the viewer, the work of Abramović represents an effective and powerful example of the body-as-a-text in which subjectivity can be re-expressed and reinvented through the transformations of the relation between time and space. In the strong relationship created between the performer and the audience, what is enacted is a translation–transduction of material and cognitive meanings that results in a redefinition of a subjective and, simultaneously, collective experience of identity.
Comment: This is a prime example of feminist aesthetics and its treatment of the human body. Demaria's main contention is that performance art can be understood textually and representationally even if it does not lay an explicit claim to either type of content. She agrees with Judith Butler's notion of citationality as a perpetual re-inscription of power norms and codes onto the human body. Since bodily presence plays such an important part in most performance art, the question of the possibility of embodied meaning arises naturally. Demaria uses the art of Marina Abramović to show that the question should be answered in the affirmative. Abramović's body exercises discursive transgressions (of language and code) in ways that, according to Demaria, establish a new language of dissent.
Goldberg, RoseLee. Identities: Feminism, Multiculturalism, Sexuality
Summary: Goldberg provides a richly illustrated historical account of the intimate connection between identity and performance art. Starting from the feminist art of the 1960’s, the recognition and assertion of identity was a fundamental bid for social visibility. The next frontier was social recognition, which concerned ethnic and sexual minorities as much as it did women. The final frontier – political equality – is one that is still out of reach. Still, according to Goldberg, performance art continues to chart new territories of identification. In fact, while at the outset performance art used early feminist writing as inspiration, Goldberg recognizes a gradual reversal – today’s feminists are as likely to chart new philosophical directions as they are to follow the exploratory charge of their performance art counterparts.
Comment: This text provides a historical background on the relationship between identity politics and art. It would be useful in classes on performance art, on the social context of art, as well as classes focusing on philosophy or race, gender and sexuality and ways to achieve social visibility.
Jones, Amelia. Art History / Art Criticism: Performing Meaning
Summary: Jones’ essay offers a critique of philosophical and art-historical interpretation. Her main contention is that attributions of meaning in philosophical aesthetics and art criticism are traditionally a manner of top-down bestowal – i.e. artworks are rendered intelligible by certain pre-established and often institutionalized conceptual paradigms. In this, the often unstable meanings of art works themselves are not only inadvertently lost but often even intentionally stifled. To rehabilitate such meanings, and destabilize the homogenous discourses that try to contain them, Jones proposes a “feminist phenomenological approach… deeply invested in performing meaning.” What this amounts to is a newfound sensitivity to all aspects of art – the performative, physical, contingent, messy, gendered, theatrical, emotional etc. – that have been systematically marginalized by philosophers and art critics since Kant. There is, according to Jones, an intractable economy of desire that absorbs artistic creation into the cumulative enterprise of human interaction and, instead of sweeping it under the rug for the sake of stability, philosophers and art critics should engage this economy on its own tentative terms.
Comment: Useful in classes on art interpretation. Can inspire great discussions when read together with (parts of) Kant's Critique of Judgment.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Gender and Aesthetics: An Introduction
Publisher’s note: Feminist approaches to art are extremely influential and widely studied across a variety of disciplines, including art theory, cultural and visual studies, and philosophy. Gender and Aesthetics is an introduction to the major theories and thinkers within art and aesthetics from a philosophical perspective, carefully introducing and examining the role that gender plays in forming ideas about art. It is ideal for anyone coming to the topic for the first time.
Organized thematically, the book introduces in clear language the most important topics within feminist aesthetics:
- Why were there so few women painters?
- Art, pleasure and beauty
- Music, literature and painting
- The role of gender in taste and food
- What is art and who is an artist?
- Disgust and the sublime.
Each chapter discusses important topics and thinkers within art and examines the role gender plays in our understanding of them. These topics include creativity, genius and the appreciation of art, and thinkers from Plato, Kant, and Hume to Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Also included in the book are illustrations from Gaugin and Hogarth to Cindy Sherman and Nancy Spero to clarify and help introduce often difficult concepts. Each chapter concludes with a summary and further reading and there is an extensive annotated bibliography.
Carolyn Korsmeyer’s style is refreshing and accessible, making the book suitable for students of philosophy, gender studies, visual studies and art theory, as well as anyone interested in the impact of gender on theories of art.
Comment: Chapter 5 is particularly useful in teaching on art theories. It offers an interesting review of art theories from a feminist perspective, noting the gendered character of existing definitions. It may be good to teach it alongside Brand's ‘Glaring Omissions in Traditional Theories of Art’ to best bring out these issues. Secondly, it inspires the question: given the problematic exclusionary character of art history and theory, would it not be better if we did not have a definition of art which we can use to exclude? The value of the feminist art discussed in the chapter lies largely in its ability to expose the biases present in the artworld and expressed in theories of art. Thus the fact that artists tend to create works which challenge existing theories might be in fact desirable.
Kristeva, Julia. Approaching Abjection
Summary: The abject – expressed through the grotesque, the gross and the physically challenging – has long been a source of innovation and scandal in the art world. For Kristeva abjection accounts for much of the complexity of the human condition. She understands abjection to encompass various aspects of our humanity that are often seen as conceptually and/or experientially disparate – emotion, embodiment, affect, repression, criminality, hygiene etc. Kristeva’s guiding intuition is that the abject helps arbitrate between our perception of ourselves as subject and object. In the liminal space between the two, the “I” is experienced in its full heterogeneity to the frequent detriment of traditional ethical, aesthetic, and scientific considerations. This has direct bearing on performance art, whose history is marked by the deliberate departure from beauty and, concurrently, the constant renegotiation of identity between the extremes of subject and object.
Comment: Best if read together with Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny"
Lambert-Beatty, Claire. Twelve Miles: Boundaries of the New Art/Activism
Summary: Lambert-Beatty explores the limits of art activism through a detailed account of Rebecca Gomperts’ Women on Waves project. Starting in 2001, Gomperts – a physician with a background in art – sailed a customized maritime gynecological clinic with a crew from the Netherlands to the coastal areas of countries where abortion had been outlawed. The clinic would dock far enough from the shore (twelve miles being the limit of states’ naval jurisdictions) to offer healthcare to local women undisturbed. Lambert-Beatty notes that for all of its political import, the project retains a radical imagination of the poetic kind. Considering its enthusiastic reception by the international artworld, and inclusion in major art exhibitions, it is also clear that Gomperts intended the work at least partially as art. And, yet, Women on Waves challenges notions of the aesthetic as the “retreat from the real” that it is so often seen as. Lambert-Beatty sees the pragmatic aspect of the work as an integral part of its beauty, and vice versa. This symbiotic balance seems to resolve the tension Ranciere finds “between the logic of art that becomes life at the price of abolishing itself as art, and the logic of art that does politics on the explicit condition of not doing it at all.”
Comment: This text is best used in discussions of the relationship between art and political activism. It can also be used as a case study in applied ethics classes on abortion.