The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History

By Norma Broude; Mary D. Garrard | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION: THE EXPANDING DISCOURSE

NORMA BROUDE AND MARY D. GARRARD

A decade ago, the forerunner of this book was published, Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, the first collection of feminist art historical essays to appear in the United States. At that time, when the feminist enterprise in art history was popularly understood to mean the rediscovery of forgotten women artists and their introduction into the established canon, we considered it important to emphasize that our book was "not about women artists," but "about Western art history and the extent to which it has been distorted, in every major period, by sexual bias." Feminism, we maintained, "has raised other, even more fundamental questions for art history as a humanistic discipline, questions that are now affecting its functioning at all levels and that may ultimately lead to its redefinition." 1 The twenty‐ nine essays collected in the present volume bear eloquent witness to the impact that feminism has had upon the enterprise of art history over the last ten years, an effect we have compared to "a fresh wind ... which, blowing pervasively throughout, might set in motion profound rearrangements of the values, categories, and conceptual structures of our field." 2

Along with feminism, one of the greatest influences upon the practice of art history in the 1980s has been the advent and application of postmodern theory. Most of the essays in this book have been touched in one way or another by the new critical standpoints and tools of analysis introduced in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s under the banner of postmodernism, a practice that embraces many of the concerns that were central to the essays in Feminism and Art History, while providing new linguistic structures with which to express them. For this reason, we begin with an overview of the postmodern critique of traditional art history, a critique largely shared with and in part introduced by feminism. We will then consider the ways in which feminist art‐ historical practice in the last decade has simultaneously extended and challenged the tenets of postmodernism, both in general terms and in specific application to the essays selected for this volume.

About a decade ago, under the powerful influence of French poststructuralist writers—Foucault and Derrida, especially—and of semiotic and psychoanalytic theory, a critique of the tenets and practices of art history was mounted from both inside and outside the discipline. Foucault's analysis of the role of power in the construction of

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