Academic journal article Outskirts

Drawn to New Perspectives in the Public Sphere. Female Art, Design and Craft Students and Their Cultural Connections in Nineteenth Century South Australia

Academic journal article Outskirts

Drawn to New Perspectives in the Public Sphere. Female Art, Design and Craft Students and Their Cultural Connections in Nineteenth Century South Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

The historiography of female participation in visual art, design and crafts during the Victorian era has produced studies of the trajectories of female careers in these fields (Cherry; Cherry and Helland; Swinth, Carline 61-67; Chadwick 165-170, 191, 212-213, 225; Chalmers 146-148). This article will highlight the rise of the power of female students of art, design and craftin South Australia, a frontier region well away from major cultural centres. These women were far from passive recipients of visual arts education. They helped to shape curriculum developments, and used their instruction to develop pathways to participation in an array of cultural activities. This article offers an outline of far-reaching transformations to educational and associational structures that enabled the successful development of specific types of enhanced personal connections for young women and girls. It underlines the importance of these changes for women who were able to use their cultural connections to join professional networks that provided greatly increased opportunities for social independence and cultural influence.

Art historians, social historians, writers interested in gender studies and educational historians have highlighted the importance of the social networks that surrounded women artists, designers and craftworkers. (Cherry; Swinth; Chadwick 165-170, 191, 212-213, 225; Chalmers). Bourdieu has emphasised connections between the acquisition of cultural capital and the development of social networks and social capital (Harker; Robbins; Swartz). Histories of the rise of mass cultural markets have also underlined the social connections and economic power of female cultural consumers, women who used access to financial resources to provide patronage to entrepreneurs in the arts, such as actor-managers, musical promoters, visual artists or designers, crafts practitioners, publishers, authors, and teachers (Brewer; Briggs; Flanders).

Feminist writers have traced the ways in which many nineteenth century women broke down the separation of spheres by moving from restricted lives in the private sphere of the family home to participation in social networks in the public sphere. Opportunities for education, employment and involvement in formal associational circles resulted in social boundaries being blurred or crossed (Davidoff; diZerega Wall; Ryan; Vickery). The historiography of art, design and crafteducation for women in South Australia is important because research has revealed that instruction in the visual arts provided avenues for female colonists to seek rewarding social connections in social networks in the arts within the colony and elsewhere in Australia and overseas.

The progress made by female teachers and students of art, design and craftin early South Australia was recorded in newspapers, private records and government documents (Speck Women; Wilson 1-26; Young A history; Young More). Habermas has noted that newspapers were key components of life in a civil society in the public sphere, and the lives of these South Australian women were regularly recorded in the local press, either through advertising or reports (Habermas; Young A history; Young More). By the end of the nineteenth century, newspapers in the South Australian capital of Adelaide reinforced the importance of the social value of engagement in these artistic circles as well as the cultural contribution made by female artistic connections.

Cultural histories of a nineteenth century frontier settlement at the very edge of the British Empire may seem to be unlikely sources for the study of female power and the development of the visual arts and education (Benko; Biven; O'Brien; Ramsay; Wilson 1-38). However, the prominence of South Australian women artists in Australian art history, and the importance of the South Australian School of Art underline the necessity of examining the cultural influence of South Australian female students and teachers of art, design and craft(Benko; Biven; Harris; Speck Women; Wilson 1-38). …

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