Singular Women: Writing the Artist / Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics

Article excerpt

Love Is the Answer Kristen Frederickson and Sarah E. Webb, eds. Singular Women: Writing the Artist. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 266 pp., 24 b/w ills. $6c, $24.95 paper.

Marsha Meskimmon. Women Making Art: History, Subjectivity, Aesthetics. London: Rouurdgo, 1003. 240 pp., 43 b/w ills. $23.95 paper.

Love, the word, may not appear in either Singulur Women or Women Making Art, whose calls to feminist art historians-and, implicitly, to all an historians-I find inspiring: understand our subjugation under the trends and conventions of art history and free ourselves into an ease with the intelligence of our academic training and our scholarly and personal experience. As I was reading each book, I realized that love pervades the pages. I did not go back inlo either text attempting to find the word love, and I did not expect to find love in contents or indexes. Love, though loundational, cannot be named.

May every scholar's words have heart.

The thirteen art-historian contributors to Singular Women come to terms with how to write feminist art history and how they themselves have done so, by turning over and over the value of the single-artist monograph and the devaluation of that format by the theory-driven academic trends of the past thirty years. Each contributor-all are women-focuses on her travels with a woman artist, such as Gladys-Marie Fry with Harriet Powers, Mary D. Garrard with Artemisia Gentileschi, Nancy Gruskin with the architect Eleanor Raymond, and Gail Levin with Jo Nivison Hopper. Only Carol Mavor chooses two artists, Clementina Hawarden and Sally Mann.

The two editors' essays reinforce other authors' explanations and self-questionings, which recur throughout the book. So does the resounding "Aye!" in favor of the monograph as a necessary means for presenting the work and the careers of women artists and for the evolution of art history as both a practice and a tradition that can breathe. The repetitions build an argument rather than bore us, because every contributor's expressive clarity personalizes her story and her dilemmas. As we read, we perceive fifteen personalities, and we're welcomed into the thinking of thirteen essayists who have written about persons, which means that they have written with an awareness, in Melanie Anne Herzog's words, of the "depth of our human connection" (169), whether the art historian has researched a deceased artist or a living one, like Herzog with Elizabeth Catlett.

May every sister, loving women, know her voice.

Saturated with the technical language of theory, the prose in Marsha Meskimmon's book Women Making Art generally obscures her personality. Yet, even a sentence like "Embodiment moves beyond subject and object to stress the bodily coordinates of subjectivity as well as the materiality of knowledges" (72), in which familiar jargon disembodies the writer, does not alter Meskimmon's exuberance, which permeates her book. "Exhilaration and Danger," the first subheading in her Introduction, and "Afterword-On Wonder," tell the story that they bookend. Exhilaration: feminist art historians float and fly with passion for their subjects. Danger: defying one's position as a subject to the rule of art history and academia remains a risky proposition and practice, even after decades of releasing and revelatory feminist art and art history. Wonder: amazing grace describes the accomplishments of feminist art historians.

Amazing grace as an aura of generosity activates my happiness when thinking about Women Making Art and Singular Women. Like Women Making Art, Meskimmon's three previous books give to women artists of the past and present. The earlier studies focus, in respective chronological order, on selfportraiture, urban space, and German modernism. Women Making Art closely considers the work of thirty-one artists, "case studies," in Meskimmon's words (8), who have lived from the seventeenth century to the present and in Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Southeast Asia, Europe (the former Soviet Union included), and Central, North, and South America. …