The motivation for this chapter was a statement-made as the culmination of an argument-by the feminist art critic Griselda Pollock in an article written towards the end of 1993. Pollock stated that, when we engage with visual art-painting, sculpture and so on-indeed, when we practise visual art, 'the real realm is not that of optics, but graphics'. 1
This position can be used to encapsulate not only Pollock's view but also the predominant approach to the reception, criticism and interpretation of art generally over the last couple of decades. It is an approach which, more specifically, has been evolving since the advent of the 'new art history' in the 1970s: an art history which challenged the authorial voice and restricted agenda of Formalist artists and critics, and which placed art in its social, political and cultural context-examining art as a discourse.
This essay will take up Pollock's claim and examine both her objections to the 'optical', and whether the 'realm' or critical model she proposes to put in its place is an appropriate and sufficient one to apply to certain recent feminist work. It needs to be stated that I am not choosing a type of practice which is unsympathetic to Pollock's approach, but one which shares with Pollock fundamental values and suppositions about patriarchy, traditional art, and the old art history.
What is clearly happening now is that a new development is taking place amongst some feminist artists who are wanting to continue to hold dear broad, new art history values and commitments to feminist values, but who perhaps believe there was a baby along with the scum-ridden and frothy bath water that seemed to drown women's creativity. Neither is the baby unreconstructively male and intrinsically patriarchal; nor is it incorrigibly reactionary or nostalgic. This new development is at odds with the uncompromising and apparently absolutist standpoint taken up by Pollock and others writers such as Francis Frascina. 2 The new development often springs from a desire to re-engage, in a productive and non-reactionary way, with the values which Pollock et al. wish to see banished from both the theory and the practice of art. I emphasise this