A new academic year is about to begin and I wonder what “place” feminist knowledges will have in this year’s curriculum for contemporary art education both in the studio and in art theory? How many lectures or seminars will address feminist issues, ideas or debates in art theory curricula around the world? Or is this area of study no longer considered relevant to the “proper” teaching of contemporary art or art theory? How many students will have to sit through lectures and seminars on contemporary art and art theory with no mention of women artists, critics or theorists, let alone feminist ones?
Afterall, there are only 40 or more years of feminist debates in art publications to draw on (see n.paradoxa’s extensive database of books/catalogues/journals on these topics going back to 1971) . Has feminism’s accommodation within the art academy meant its limitation to the occasional lecture or seminar, or a separate seminar series on gender issues? Has the “mainstreaming” or steady “incorporation” of feminism in the visual arts meant it has now evaporated into occasional mentions in gender theory classes, the question of representation of the body, feminism by proxy through the occasional example of a woman artist or its reduction to the occasional variant of a research method? These “progressive” and “innovative” teaching approaches appear to be the norm through which feminist debates can be tolerated in relation to contemporary art.
It seems to me this is how the art academy typically reproduces the same handful of women students in every year choosing to write about a number of contemporary women artists (their role models) and their ambivalence towards feminism in the art world; or art and motherhood (is it possible to combine a career with motherhood?) ; or one or two women artists who seem to combine feminism with the “hot” issues in contemporary politics: war, or poverty, or migration?
Is it any wonder that art students repeatedly say “art has no gender, and the sex of the artist doesn’t matter”, “feminist art is all about the body, isn’t it?”, “politics (defined as Marxist, queer or anti-racist or anti-globalisation or environmental) is what matters, not feminism” (forgetting of course, that the subject of feminism IS politics), “feminism is just white, or just an Angl0-American phenomenon or over because it was in the 1970s, isn’t it?” (just some typical mis-representations of feminism in relation to contemporary art!).
Maybe this situation in the curricula will be enough to alienate a few women students and encourage them into self-education and forming women’s groups, sending themselves to the library to read widely in feminist theory?
I’m sure some readers of this post who are lecturers regularly ask yourselves these kinds of questions, but does the faculty in which you work as a whole share any kind of debate on these issues?
If you are an art student, I wrote the ‘Guide to Feminist Art’ – just in case, self-education is the only answer. Read widely and don’t take what is on offer in your curriculum as the only available knowledge in the world!
But especially take a look at n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal where you can find more than 400 articles on contemporary women artists and authors from more than 80 countries in the world and all discussed in feminist terms.
Katy Deepwell, Editor of n.paradoxa