A New Approach to the Study of Art History
by Yisoon Kim
List of illustrations iv
Part I. Introduction:
the Objectives of Block 1
A Case Study Illustrating the Objectives of Block:
Feminism and Art History 13
Part II. Appendix:
An Annotated Bibliography of Design History 48
List of Illustrations
1. Mary Kelly, Documentation VI
(a part of Post-Partum Document), 1977-1978
2. Sue Richardson, Monica Ross, and Kate Walker, Fenix Arising 1978, mixed media installation
3. Susan Hiller, Ten Months, 1980, photographs
4. a. Allen Jones, Desire Me, 1968, painting
b. Allen Jones, Strange Music, 1977, painting
5. a. May Stevens, Two Women, 1976, collage
b. May Stevens, Ordinary/Extraordinary, 1977, collage
c. May Stevens, Mysteries and Politics, 1978, painting
d. May Stevens, Ordinary/Extraordinary, 1980, collage
e. a handwritten note by May Stevens
6. Karl Beveridge and Carole Conde, a part of Work in Progress, 1982, collage
7. Karl Beveridge and Carole Conde, a part of Standing Up, 1982, collage
8. Marie Bashkirtseff, The Question of Divorce, 1880, painting
9. Photograph of Marie Bashkirtseff, date unknown
10. Silvia Kolbowski, a view of What was the Right Answer, 1980, mixed media installation
The goal of this thesis is to investigate the objectives of Block magazine through an examination of articles in the journal. The period of Block's publication, 1979-1989, was a critical one for the study of art history. With a move toward interdisciplinary studies, art historical discourse has been affected by contemporary theories such as structuralism, semiotics and psychoanalysis. Under the effect of these theories, Block's publishers intended to stimulate debates on art and design history, mass media, visual propaganda, and feminism.
This essay consists of two chapters and an appendix. In the first chapter (an introduction), the objectives of Block are explained, focusing on problems in the traditional study of art history. In the past, art historical discourse focused on the individual artist; it posited the artist as the cause and explanation of art. Block's editorial board and contributors targeted that approach and attempted to address the social, economic and ideological contexts of the arts. They also questioned the values and interests produced by traditional art history.
The second chapter takes feminist art history as a case study of Block's presentation. Feminist contributors saw the traditional study of art history as a form of patriarchy, and challenged the values and ideas constructed by art history. They particularly criticized the bourgeois conceptions of art and artist, emphasizing instead the role of art and the artist within society.
The Appendix is an annotated bibliography, a format designed to examine the study of design history. Attempting to destroy the hierarchy in visual arts, the magazine emphasized design arts and mass media. Moreover, Block presented the study of design history as an area of historical and critical inquiry, which differed from the traditional approach to design arts. Design historians have traditionally considered form and decoration and how design arts relate to "fine" art.
The objectives of Block to redefine and rework art and design history and theory continued consistently throughout all fifteen issues. After a decade the editors looked at the issues differently when they started, and felt the necessity to fundamentally restructure all forms of knowledge. In the editorial of the fifteenth issue, they wrote: "we came to recognize the heterogeneous nature of political discourse and the requirement to address different constituencies of readers across the cultural field." Finally, they promised a new series of Block and stopped publication of the magazine in 1989.
Part I. Introduction:
the Objectives of Block
The purpose of this essay is to explore the objectives of Block through a critical examination of selected articles in the magazine. Published by the Art History Department at Middlesex Polytechnic in England from 1979 to 1989, Block was one of the journals contributing to new methods of study in art history. The journal's editors, who were teachers of art, art history, or theory, acknowledged a crisis in the principles and methods of traditional art history. Furthermore, they intended "to stimulate debate around specific issues including Art and Design Historiography and Education; Visual Propaganda; Women and Art; Film and Television." (Block 1, p. 1) This concern with a variety of subjects encouraged an understanding of art as a cultural practice and as a social, economic, and ideological production. What was the problem in traditional art history? Since Alois Riegl (1858-1905) and Heinrich Wolfflin (1864-1945) grounded art history during the first two decades of this century in the formal analysis of art, art history has been isolated from the other social and historical sciences. The main concern of art history has been to provide an evolutionary narrative of individual creators grouped together in styles and schools. That approach championed the notion that the work of art is a direct expression of the artist's personality and the conviction that art is somehow `above' society and out of its reach. The formalist approach dominated the teaching of art history and persisted as the main method of the study of art history. Block indirectly resisted the practices of authoritative institutes such as the Warburg Institute or the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The Courtauld was virtually the only institution where methodologies of art history were taught until 1960s and was devoted to a conception of art history which was formalist and `value-free.' As late as 1976, Mark Roskill in his book, What is Art History?, studied art history in terms of style, attributions, dating, authenticity, the rediscovery of forgotten artists and the meanings of pictures, using as examples only paintings because, according to Roskill, painting represents the dominant area of art history.
Formalist study has been criticized by many art historians and theorists. As early as the 1920s, Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) pointed out the weakness in formalism and introduced a new method of art history, "Iconology," which emphasized the significance of the cultural and historical contexts of art. However, the foundation of the study of art history - the artist's creativity and the suprasocial quality of art - did not change until the 1970s. In 1974, T. J. Clark wrote:
"Iconography" is structured around certain beliefs, certain unquestioned presupposition: "The notion of the artist, of the artist as `creator' of the work, the notion of a pre- existent feeling - for form, for space, of the world as God's or the gods' creation - which the work was there to "express."
The accounts that focused on individual creations and reductive explanations of art in terms of talent or genius have been targeted continuously by social art historians from Frederick Antal, Arnold Hauser, Max Raphael and Meyer Shapiro, to the publications in the mid-1970s of T. J. Clark and Nicos Hadjinicolaou. The scholars who drew on Marxist theory were skeptical of a concept of art as a creation of genius, and they tried to place art in its social context. For example, in 1973, T. J. Clark's two studies of French 19th-century painting, the Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-1851 and Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the Second French Republic 1848-1851, endeavored to place art in its social context. In the introduction to Image of the People, Clark refers to his book as a "social history of art," an approach which connects works of art with history, economics, political and social life. Clark's central concern is the investigation of how the social order is represented and endorsed by art.
Viewing art within its social context was influential and essential for the concerns of Block. From the first through the fourth issues (1979 - 1981), social and ideological aspects of art were the main consideration of the magazine. The magazine published studies on Meyer Schapiro's ideas and Max Raphael's social theory of art, as well as on Marxism, materialism, and ideology.
Block's concerns gradually diversified. As the journal's editors had stated in the first Block, their interests extended to various subjects including design arts, film, television, performance, and poster. This approach differs from Clark's. While influential for a new generation of scholars, Clark's approach was criticized by art historians such as Peter Wollen, and Block contributors such as Nicholas Green, Frank Mort and Griselda Pollock criticized Clark for celebrating the work of "great" artists and "significant" art objects. Green and Mort thought Clark's social history of art still committed to art objects even though objects are treated as carriers of significant ideologies, so that this approach reinforced the uniqueness and specialty of art objects. Pollock argued that Clark's approach still celebrates the "great" artist and "significant" art works, and also that he does not consider gender and misunderstands feminism. Clark's approach is acceptable, they argued, but its subject matter is much the same as that of conventional art history. Clark studies the traditional terrain of French painting of the late nineteenth century, and he devotes his attention to the familiar "great" artists found in every other book about nineteenth-century French art.
Set against Clark's `conventional' area of study, Block's contributors considered to a wide range of cultural phenomena and production. They tried to open a new chapter for the study of art history within the context of cultural studies. Cultural studies focus on the cultural forms of everyday life and the phenomena of popular culture like magazines, football games, or break dancing, while art history concentrates only on certain artists and practices. Block includes essays by Barry Curtis on film and festival, Jon Bird on representations of the Great War, Michel Thevoz, Nicos Hadjinicolaou and Adrian Rifkin on conditions of the production, circulation and reception of French nineteenth-century paintings and prints, Dick Hebdige on the Italian scooter cycle and posters, Bob Ferguson on television's history, Garry Whannel on television program, Tony Fry on aspects of design history, Goger Cranshaw on magazines, and essays by feminist art historians and critics such as Griselda Pollock, Lisa Tickner and Lucy Lippard.
Above all, within its widened territory, the significant feature of Block is its attention to women artists and feminist art history, which appeared in almost every issue of the magazine. Block's editors used feminist ideas as a new approach to art history. The feminist contributors studied women's art production as well as historical methods and approaches. They felt a crisis in methods of traditional art history as well as previous feminist art history, which in its explanation on greatness, adopted the methods of conventional art history. In the journal, feminist writings and theory promoted a consistently radical critique of traditional methodologies and conventional concepts.
Traditional art historical accounts are more problematic for feminists. In "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" (1971), Linda Nochlin pointed out that the traditional study of art history is the expression of the "white Western male viewpoint." The concern has been accepted as the general viewpoint of many art historians.
The feminist approach resists simply becoming a term for the traditional discipline, and moves away from the structures and procedures of conventional art history. This feminist approach to art is the focus of this paper and is discussed in the next chapter, through a review of feminist art historical essays in Block. The most important aspect of the essays is the concern with the methodology. Pollock and Tickner, as the main contributors to Block, targeted canonical methods of art history, including previous feminist art history, and proposed new, alternative approaches. Besides methodology, the issues addressed by feminist writers can be grouped into three categories: social-political concerns; psychoanalytic approaches; and issues of mass cultural imagery. Copjec, Garb, and Tabrizian used psychoanalytic theory to explain the meaning of sexuality, sexual difference, or mechanisms of masquerade. The American critic Lucy Lippard addressed the necessity of the social-political concerns in feminist art. Mary Kelly introduced photographic works to reject traditional media and the stereotypical notion of genius or originality. In general, the idea that feminism can be offered as one possibility within a range of alternative art historical methods was addressed in Block.
Block also introduced theories of cultural studies and urged exchanges between art history and other disciplines. Contributors frequently investigated the ideas of Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and Jean Baudrillard, citing these scholars to criticize existing epistemological frameworks of art-historical discourse, to challenge its institutional status and authority, and to question hegemonic relations of dominance and subordination. Block's writers also continuously reread and redefine complex theories such as Marxism, structuralism, semiotics, and psychoanalysis in relation to art historical discourse. In this way, art history no longer overlooked the theoretical concerns influencing film and literary studies and thus was able to align itself with major intellectual movements.
Influenced by cultural studies, the magazine attempted to break down the conventional divisions between "high" and "low" art, emphasizing design arts and mass media such as film, TV programs, posters, and advertisements - works never considered seriously by art historians as objects of study. As the editors of Block explained, it is difficult to bring theories of "low" and "fine" arts into any relationship because the two areas have been institutionally separated in theory as well as practice. Design arts in particular have been considered craft, or "applied" or "low" art. Design's main function has been regarded as "decoration" or "beautification," and considered only in its relationship to "fine" art. Furthermore, design history has been published separately from art historical study. However, Block considered design history a major concern of the magazine from the third issue, which Tim Putnam, an expert of design history, joined as an editor. As well, the magazine was involved actively in developing design history as an intellectual discipline. For example, John Heskett's article, "Modernism and Archaism in Design in the Third Reich," examined the whole question of the representation of Nazi political and social ideology. Heskett argued that design history should be based on form, but it is also necessary in the study of design arts to include the social and political conditions of production and consumption. In the Appendix, I briefly introduce the ideas of essays on design history to explain further the objectives of Block with respect to design history.
Block increasingly turned to a wider range of cultural phenomena and critical theory drawn from mass media studies. The magazine's early intention to stimulate debate on various subjects was becoming fulfilled through the study of mass media. In Block 6 (1982), Bob Ferguson on "Television and History" and Garry Whannel on "It's a Knockout" were incursions into mass media studies; finally, in 1988 Block 14 was published as a special issue for mass media, "The Work of Art in the Electronic Age."
An important characteristic of Block was the study of works by contemporary artists, including those of Marie Yates, Mary Kelly, Mary Stevens, Nancy Spero, Jessica Evans, Susan Hiller, Suzanne Lacy, Barbara Kruger, Olivier Richon, and Victor Burgin. Their work appears in a page spread or a double page spread in "Centre-Page" which is a regular feature of every issue devoted to artists who reflect the magazine's objectives. For example, Mary Kelly's Documentation VI (a part of Post-Partum Document) (fig. 1) is reproduced in a double page spread in Block 4 (pp. 30-31). This focus contrasts with traditional art historical study, which remains fixed on the "great" artist of the past. Moreover, examples of art work provide the underlying concept that the relationship between theory and practice is a recognition of reciprocity, not of opposition. Usually, art history and theories have been segregated from art practices, and art historians have ignored living artists. Through the consideration of living artists, Block provided an arena for communication between art historians and artists. Therefore, art historians and artists had their own forum to develop their paradigms of practice in an atmosphere of constant interaction and supportive commentary. Pollock noted the need for a close relationship between art historians and living artists: "the political point of art historians must be to change the present by means of how art historian re-represent the past and to contribute to the present day struggle of living producers."
Simply stated, Block's prime pursuit was to point out problems with the traditional approaches to the arts and to address new methods in the study of art history by linking it to tendencies in cultural studies. Block employed the major components of structuralist, semiotic and psychoanalytic arguments to the study of the visual arts. Moreover, the magazine attempted to rid criticism of the stereotypical concepts of "high" art and "low" art by emphasizing design arts and the mass media.
In the next chapter, I address feminist art history as a case study of Block's presentation. The main considerations are what the feminist contributors are concerned over; how and why they criticize the conventional study of art history; how their ideas serve the objectives of the magazine; and how women artists are studied in Block.
A Case Study Illustrating the Objectives of Block: Feminism and Art History
Block began publication at the beginning of what has been termed the second generation of the feminist movement. The editors of Block were determined to open a new chapter in feminist art history and art practice. Most of the feminist contributors to Block were interested in feminist art historical methodologies rather than the historical study of art. For about a decade after Linda Nochlin's article "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?" (1971) considered the inception of feminist inquiry in art history, most feminist art history was still devoted to biographical and expository studies on neglected women artists. The objective of the biographical studies was to prove that women have been accomplished artists, even if not as "great" as men, and to place women artists within the canonical framework of art history. That approach has been criticized since the end of 1970s. The new generation was not be satisfied with what it considered an additive process, and they challenged the categories and values of art history in patriarchal culture.
Block's feminist contributors, belonging to the second generation of feminism, analyzed women's historical and ideological position in relation to art, art production, and artistic ideology as a means to question the traditional historical framework, as well as the methodologies of previous feminist art history. Central to this project in Block are the writings of Griselda Pollock and Lisa Tickner, along with Tamar Garb, Joan Copjec, Mary Kelly, Martha Fleming, Mitra Tabrizian, and Lucy Lippard. Pollock and Tickner especially criticized the attempt to integrate the names and works of women artists into the traditional art historical canon. Other contributors also confronted the values and interests produced within art history, and especially the function of culture in the formation of patriarchy. Using theories such as the construction of gender, psychoanalytic theory, semiotics, and poststructuralism, they deconstructed the methods of mainstream art history, the concept of women's art and artists, the role of art and the artist within society and the male fascination with the female body, as well as male-defined notions of greatness and artistic achievement.
The problems in traditional methods of art history are the most significantly discussed by Griselda Pollock. Pollock sees the art historical discipline itself as an institutional tool of a sexist and racist social order. Moreover, she insists on a systematic deconstruction of the art historical discipline because it is not possible for feminim to exist within it. She published three articles in Block ("Vision Voice and Power: Feminist Art History and Marxism" in 1982; "Art, Art School, Culture: Individualism after the Death of the Artist" in 1985/6; "Agency and the Avant-garde" in 1989) in which she targets previous feminist art history as well as mainstream art history, and attempts to develop a new approach.
In "Vision, Voice and Power: Feminist Art History and Marxism," Pollock suggests an alternative method to the study of a cultural production, namely art, insisting that the initial task of feminist art history is to criticize art history itself. Surveying effective theoretical frameworks and methodologies, she criticizes two methodologies which she saw as resistant to feminism: bourgeois liberalism and the Marxist approach. The structures of mainstream art history are problematic because of the narrow focus on the art object and on celebration of artist as genius, in other words, a classless `Man' and his creative process. This bourgeois art history has failed to discuss cultural ideology and ideas about social change and conflict, class and production.
Pollock argues that Marxism is also problematic because it does not address the sexual divisions of society. Even T. J. Clark, a Marxist art historian, did not consider gender, and dismissed feminism as a "`cheerful diversification,' `hot-foot' in pursuit of the New." Using Marxist instruments, according to Pollock, feminism can expose a new field in which the ideologies of sexual difference and masculine domination are constructed and reproduced. But it would be a mistake to see a solution in a simple additional element to present approaches. Domination and exploitation by sex are not just supplementary issues in a basic level of conflict between classes. Feminism has exposed new areas and new forms of social conflict and thus demands its own forms of analysis of kinship, construction of gender, sexuality, reproduction, labor, and, of course, culture.
In the second part of the article, Pollock criticizes bourgeois feminist art history's attempt to integrate into mainstream art history. This conventional method of art history is based on a bourgeois conception of the artist, she states. Creativity has been appropriated as an ideological component of masculinity, while femininity has been constructed as the artist's negative. Pollock argues that feminist art history should not be a mere addition by producing a few more books about women artists or indicating their obstacles to reveal why art history has been silent about them and their work. According to Pollock, the more important point in studying art history is the interplay of multiple histories - of the codes of art, ideologies of the art world, the family, and forms of sexual domination whose mutual determinations and independence have to be mapped together in precise and heterogeneous configurations.
In her critique of `academic bourgeois feminist art history' of the 1970s, Pollock demonstrates a new approach to art in case studies from the history of women artists: A. "The Artist and Social Class: The Case of Sofonisba Auguissola"; B. "Academies of Art: Naked Power"; C. "Revolutionary Defeat: the Bourgeois Order of Things." These case studies construct connections between specific histories of women artists and ideological and social formations. For example, in the section on Sofonisba Auguissola, Pollock rebukes Sutherland Harris for her emphasis on the artist's sex. Harris' terms of women's success, `celebrity,' `novelty' or `exceptionalness,' are myths made up by a masculine dominated culture to veil/mask the facts of women's unbroken participation in artistic production. Pollock discusses Anguissola in terms of the necessity for seeking out and understanding the conditions which favored women's art making as much as those which limited it, and seeing these conditions in historical terms.
In short, Pollock wants feminist art history to be seen as part of the political initiative of the women's movement, and not just as a novel art historical perspective that aims to improve existing, but inadequate, art history. This idea works with Block's intention to consider the role of visual culture within society. Feminist art history must engage in the cultural struggle for power by seeking to redefine its structures and conflicts as produced in art history and contemporary art.
It is believed that art is made within an institutional framework. "Institution" does not mean merely an actual building or establishment, but it refers to the socially understood organization of limits and possibilities which materially affect all social practices. In "Art, Art School and Culture: Individualism after the Death of the Artist," Pollock discusses the role and effects of art schools in terms of conflicts of gender power, articulating the complex relation between feminism and modernism in current art, art schools. These are truly problematic, she argues, because the schools create the notion of male individual creator, and as a result, produce a mis-record of art history and the misconception of terms such as "women artists" and "femininity."
Pollock notes in particular that women have trouble in art schools because the schools are still the bastion of reactionary ideas about art, teaching, self expression and, above all, individualism. What makes the institutional sexism at the art schools more effective is the hierarchy of staff (usually all male) and students (many of whom are women). This combines with the structural ideologies of the practice, production of saleable individualism masked as the pursuit of personal truth or the personal expression of an artist. Thus, the bourgeois concepts of art are still alive in art schools. The rationale of art schools is to train students to become professionals in a difficult market for jobs and sales rather than educate them in the role of the artist.
Pollock also discusses the treatment of feminist consciousness and feminist practices in art schools. Feminist artistic practices develop a critique of both the economic exchange and the ideological formation of which current art and art schools form the discursive and institutional base. For example, in the exhibition, "Fenix Arising" (1978), Kate Walker, Sue Richardson and Monica Ross showed their work in process to demystify the role of the artist, as well as to attack the commodification of art work for the marketplace. They thought that a high degree of professionalism and finish can contribute to the work as a commodity. They refused to `finish' and forced the spectator to engage in the process of art's production as an object and as a meaningful text (fig. 2). Pollock argues that the women who produce such work are experienced as threatening, and they are categorized dismissivly with the term, "women artists," which simplifies many individuals as a group despite their differences. As a concept of postmodernism, the loss of the author and the associated individualism upon which it rests cannot be seriously mourned by women because they have never truly enjoyed the privilege, Pollock argues. Women as artists have always been condemned to a collectivity of otherness, "women artists." The individual is a man; the expression of a point of view by a woman has traditionally been viewed as an expression not of an individual but of some facet of WOMAN. Pollock insists through such "blanket" terms as "women's art" and "women artists," these women are marginalized and thus the word "women" seems to disqualify the work from being defined as art. In this condition, how can the struggle of women be solved? Pollock explained:
The struggle of women now is caught between a resistance to the ideological collectivity of WOMAN and the construction of a politically conscious collectivity, the women's movement, which requires them to defend the meanings given them as features of woman's natural and inevitable condition. The struggle is therefore a collective one composed of distinct persons with particular and heterogeneous personal ends and means but neither of these is oriented towards the celebration of individualism. (Block 11, p. 15)
Therefore, resisting role of the dominant institutional practices, Pollock argues that the subjects, representations and ideas produced by institutions might be changed or transformed. She insists that art schools urgently need to offer students a means to map a place as cultural producer in the social synthesis of which cultural production is a part. This feature was one of Block publication's main objectives. In practice, Block deconstructed the concept of "women artists" as a collectivity with consideration of women artists. For example, women artists were more frequently invited to "Centre-Page." Block introduced the works of 12 contemporary artists through "Centre-Page". Among them, 7 artists are women; 5 artists are men. Susan Hiller's Ten Months (fig. 3), which was specially prepared for "Center-Page" of Block 3, is presented in a double spread page (pp. 27-29). Her work explores the relatively neglected area of representations of women.
In "Agency and the Avant-garde," Pollock debates how feminist art historians can study the artist/author in the post-modernist situation. Pollock was planning to write a book on Van Gogh that makes a feminist intervention in the form of the monograph and the Author/Artist. She considers how she would write it and what Van Gogh might refer to in her text with its consciousness of the complex functions and confused states of the author/artist. The notion of the Author/Artist, Pollock thinks, is a symbol of western male domination. According to Pollock, because the name of the artist does not simply function as the author's name but implies the artist as "creator" of the work which indicates only a classless `Man', women are rejected to be reinscribed into art history; women are not considered as Authors/Artists. Moreover, because of the hegemony of western culture in the world, other cultures are classified negatively as inferior in relation to the assumed value of the authority of the named, i.e, authored discourse.
First, Pollock analyzes the recent tendency in the study of art history which focuses on the centrality of the artist to the study of works of art. She notes two tendencies. Nicholas Green and Frank Fort advocate that the current domain of art history should be displaced by the study of visual representations in which neither art objects nor artists are taken as having preeminence. On the other hand, Fred Orton and John Christie re-examine individual artists in light of critical monographs, distinguishing between the monograph and the biographical narrative.
Second, in her project to write a book, Pollock considers what Van Gogh might refer to in her text. She thinks of three possibilities: i) a historically located producer, ii) a means of classification and intelligibility, iii) the effect of the socio-psychic patterns by which all subjects are apparently produced. Implicit in these definitions are a whole host of debates about authorship and the subject from outside of art history, including arguments such as those put forth by Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, as well as Walter Benjamin's theory of the Author as producer. Pollock therefore investigates Barthes' and Foucault's criticism of the construction of the author, film theory's consideration of the author as system, and the psychoanalytical notion of history of the subject to clarify the terms in which it might be possible to write her book.
She finds problems in these ideas and doubts the simple application of contemporary theories of authorship to the discourses of art history. She recognizes a possibility in a formulation from Marxist cultural materialism, particularly in relation to Raymond Williams' thinking, which proposes the idea of art as practice. Instead of looking for the components of a product - the artist or the social base - Williams considers the nature and conditions of a practice. Art works are not objects caused by someone or something. Culture is practice, that is, social activities of which object/texts are both the effect and the actual forms, and cultural practices operate in a tension between collective modes and individual projects. Thus, Pollock believes, using this concept of the conditions of a practice, it will be possible and necessary to calculate intention. In this approach, the history of the particular person is one of the multiple histories which can come into play in the study of art as practice. This approach can deconstruct a superior value for the masculinity it signifies and validates a Western European mode of individuality superior to those of other world cultures.
Another feminist contributor to Block, Lisa Tickner, studies new approaches to art works and artists, criticizing traditional studies of art history through case studies of contemporary artists and book reviews. In the first issue of Block, Tickner emphasizes the influence of the work of art and the artist on society. In "Allen Jones in Retrospect: A Serpentine Review," Tickner discusses the imagery of women and sexuality as a reflection of social phenomena. Allen Jones represents women through sexual images and he rarely includes heads in his representations (figs. 4a, 4b). According to Tickner, Jones associates women with "passivity, availability, narcissism, exhibitionism, physicality, and mindlessness." (Block 1, p. 41) Feminists have criticized Jones' painted and sculptured women images. In 1973 Laura Mulvey discussed Jones' images in relation to fetishism in the Freudian sense. She suggested that his work is not about women at all, but illustrates Jones' male fears. These images are related to fetishism in the strictly Freudian sense, and reproduce the woman as spectacle, as primarily sexual being, and as the object of a specifically masculine gaze/desire.
Tickner discusses Jones' images in the context of the politics of representation, an understanding of how imagery operates in society. She is anxious to point to their deeper social and ideological implications rather than to reject Jones' images. She regards the artist as a "social barometer" and insists that the images are already loaded with social significance. No longer could Jones' images be treated as real women, but rather the representation of women, coded/ideologized images by cultural and social systems. The systems are negotiated in terms of the struggle between the dominant and the dominated, the exploiting and the exploited in classes, races and genders.
Tickner cannot agree with Jones' idea that his women are morally neutral and a simple matter of formal innovation and variation. Tickner is against Jones' emphasis on formal qualities of the work in the formalist tradition and she cannot accept the distinction between form and content. Tickner argues that `sexism' cannot be distilled from the image itself - it lies in the relation between that image and external social relations and ideologies. She states that "the exploitation of already exploitative material cannot be seen as politically neutral, whatever the artist's intentions and the use of a particular kind of sexual imagery contributes to the `objectification,' even degradation of women." (Block 1, p. 39) Therefore, Tickner argues that images cannot be ineffective, or socially neutral but they are inevitably compromised by ideological assumptions. She wants to make clear that all images, whatever the intention of the maker, enter into a public domain and are read in relation to external social relations and ideologies. Thus, Tickner's approach is meant to displace a pure formalistic treatment of art works.
Tickner also discusses social-political issues in the series of Ordinary/Extraordinary by May Stevens as images of the combination of art and politics. The significance of social-political concerns in art is a feminist point of view as well as a major consideration of Block's contributors. Tickner addresses this series in three aspects: the subject matter; the format - a collage of overlapping texts and photo-images -; and the role of women in society.
Stevens juxtaposed her mother, Alice, a working class woman, with Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist revolutionary in the 1910s. According to Tickner, Stevens was aware of class split within the women's movement and the tendency among some women to look down on women who raised families.
Tickner is enthusiastic about the format, a juxtaposition of texts and photographic imagery. The series is overlapped with various examples of handwriting, printed captions, and different kinds of photographs. The fragments came from the past, but they became meaningful through new juxtapositions. The past is thus reconstructed in the present. Tickner regards her work as a kind of history painting transposed for the modern taste, which deals with events from the past by investing them with contemporary significance.
Another concern for Tickner in this work is motherhood. `Mother' and `artist' have been contradictory terms because it was, and is, very difficult to reconcile the demands of both roles. It is a dichotomy that the opposition between Alice Stevens and Rosa Luxemburg might seem to restate (there are a number of references in Rosa Luxemburg's letters to her desire for a child). The invisible third term in Mysteries and Politics (1978) is the artist herself (she is a mother as well as an active artist) who symbolically stands between the ghostly figures of Alice and Rosa.
Tickner argues that May Stevens' political work, Ordinary/Extraordinary series successfully accomplished the objectives of the feminist movement. The feminist movement is a political one and feminist art should be political. Stevens' work especially warns against the feminist tendency to ignore ordinary women through the juxtaposition of a working class woman and a "successful" woman. Moreover, Stevens' work provides an idea that feminist art can be powerful force for uniting the ordinary and extraordinary women and for inspiring action among women. As well, the stereotypical concepts of `mother' for woman and `artist' for man are reconciled through the image of Stevens herself, who is both a mother and an active artist.
In "Pankhurst, Modersohn-Becker and the Obstacle Race," Tickner reviews three feminist books published in 1979 in terms of the politics of representation. The first is Germaine Greer's book, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, which is a study of the psychological and social forms of women's oppression. This book is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to the `obstacles' - family, love, the illusion of success, humiliation, dimension, primitivism and the disappearing works. The second is an account of how the obstacles operated in roughly chronological order.
Tickner maintains that this book is neither new nor resolved, even though the publishers refer to it as "Undoubtedly...the definitive book on the subject." and the basic ideas of Greer's book have many common points with other books already published. The problems of the relation of women to culture in patriarchal societies are not solved, Tickner claims. Furthermore, even though the obstacles are described persuasively, disjunctions and repetitions of major figures make us lose sight of the social history, and Greer's attempt to place these women artists in some sort of social and cultural background is too uneven, confused and untheorized. Above all, Tickner criticizes Greer's approach to women artists and their works because her method is based on "white, male, mid-class art history." Tickner argues that Greer spends too much time on biography and description and not enough on analyzing the images themselves. Currently, it is not enough to know that women artists exist, but one also needs to understand their significance.
Tickner is unsatisfied with the second section of the book, which is packed with detailed information from European museums, libraries and archives. Unfortunately, the quantity of material hindered early publication of the book, detailed analysis of themes, and the consistency of the structure of the study. Tickner also scorns cliched epithets, dangling clauses, and the inappropriate decision to refer to artists, students, historians and collectors as `he'.
Consequently, Tickner sees a lack of close attention to cultural study and an imprecise analysis of selected examples, most of which Greer has sacrificed in her search for psycho-pathological symptoms. Furthermore, the book is just a conventional survey of women artists, taking without question patriarchy's parameters of the "fine" art tradition. Greer provided extensive information but she did not try to radically reform the discipline.
Tickner also reviews Gillian Perry's Paula Modersohn-Becker, the first monograph on the artist to appear in English, although Modersohn-Becker has long been recognized as an important link between the Post-Impressionists and German Expressionism. Tickner does not point out any serious problems in this book and simply comments on Perry's misinterpretation of some works of Modersohn-Becker, such as On Her Sixth Wedding Day. Perry argues that Modersohn-Becker was engaged in a continual process of self-examination in this painting, but Tickner believes that this painting was done before Modersohn-Becker's pregnancy. Tickner also sees a lack of detailed analysis of Modersohn-Becker's treatment of women, including herself as artist. According to Tickner, Perry's chapter on `Images of Women' is too cursory to offer more than a superficial response. What the author does contribute, Tickner thinks, is information about the historical context in which Modersohn-Becker worked.
Finally, Tickner discusses the study on Sylvia Pankhurst in Sylvia Pankhurst Artist and Crusader written by her son, Richard Pankhurst. Tickner feels that this book is a kind of autobiography based on Sylvia Pankhurst's own autobiographical accounts in The Suffragette Movement of 1931. Moreover, there is no critical analysis here at all, and his discussion is brief, purely descriptive, and superficial.
Tickner expected this book was written in political terms. In her article, Tickner discusses Sylvia Pankhurst's significance, focusing on what she painted, what she pursued, and why she had to relinquish her childhood ambition. During her professional life, Sylvia Pankhurst painted working class women, and wrote about their miserable lives and the collusion between the union and employers that kept women out of the skilled and better-paying jobs. She traveled industrial cities in England such as Staffordshire and Leicester, and combined her political and artistic roles with some degree of success. Tickner asserts that Richard Pankhurst did not understand his mother's obstacles and the importance of his mother's works. Furthermore, he did not have any artistic expertise. He failed to explore "the influences that molded his mother's ideals and conceptions." In his book, he mentioned only particular paintings and drawings without commenting on what significance they might hold.
In general, Tickner criticizes the old feminist approaches, which provide information about women artists and their work without attention to social, political, cultural phenomena. Such approaches can never solve the problems inherent in male dominated art history. In feminist art history, she argues, the study of the artist's biography like R. Pankhurst's or emphasis on their "greatness" like Greer's study are no longer meaningful. The discipline of art history itself should be reconsidered, and the significance of art and the artist should be studied under social, political, and cultural contexts.
The concern for `social values in art' was continuously
discussed in Block. In "Hot Potatoes: Art and Politics in 1980," Lucy Lippard understands the goal of feminism to be "to change the character of art/artist" and she discusses an ideal attitude of artists - or art workers - and a proper format for their work to integrate art, feminism, and left-wing politics. This article is unusual for Block in that it is about the American art world and written by an American writer. Lippard points out the lack of the American concern for social value in art.
Lippard argues the importance of the communicative effect of art, and targets contemporary avant-garde artists, particularly American male artists, who believe that art is neutral, apolitical and value-free. The American art world has been wary of politics since the late 1940's, she claims. Commonly, the political commitment of art to society has been regarded as no art, and the separation of art from politics has been supported continuously. Thus, avant-garde artists worked for self-conscious intellectual enjoyment with special languages and formats, and did not consider social-political activities. Lippard states that such work is good for only the "lucky" few who have the conditioned eyes of the `white capitalist patriarchy,' and that such works cannot communicate with the public and does not give the popular audience profound sensuous or intellectual pleasure. Thus, for the vast majority of the audience, culture is something out of reach. She is enthusiastic about the emphasis in art history on media of the 1980s such as video, street performance, posters, comic strips, graffiti, photography, film, and book. Because their purpose is communication, they may have a substantial impact on popular audience. Lippard believes that "contemporary art might be revitalized by encouraging artists to see and think less narrowly and to accept ideological responsibility for their products." Furthermore, she thinks that feminism is an ideology, a revolutionary strategy, and she wants feminist artists to consider actively social-political concerns, challenging the art establishment's view on the nature and function of art.
By Lippard's standards, typical works of art and politics might be the work of Canadian feminist photo-montage artists Karl Beveridge and Carole Conde. Both work in Toronto with labor and union support. Martha Fleming's article, "The Production of Meaning," in Block explains their photo-montage series, Work In Progress (1979) (fig. 6), a nine-part work on the history of Canadian working class women, and Standing Up (fig. 7), a 21-part work about strikes in Ontario. These works are strongly political and stress issues of working class women. Above all, Fleming is interested in photo-montage technique. The technique serves to show that the image has been constructed, and that, by extension, we may presume all images we encounter in daily life are constructed as well. Fleming insists that the artists let the seams in their photo-montage of works remind us media mis-representation. In particular, the artists want us to recognize that the production of meaning lies behind the cutting and pasting surface of their work, like the invisible editing of news on television. Thus, the photo-montage technique, which is relatively anonymous, is used to challenge the official representation in the mass media.
Fleming also emphasizes the political aspect in the content of their work. Work in Progress directly reflects the situation of the working class women. The work describes the development of women's labor in Canada in this century, showing not only women at work, but also women being worked over. Even though women have entered paid labor, they must still perform the unpaid labor of housework in their `spare' time.
Standing Up, consisting of 21 montages and 29 pages of text, is their first project produced about a union during its strike - in this case, in the Canadian Education Office of the United Steel Workers of America. The union was based as much on the sexual division of labor as on class division or the manual-intellectual split, and existed as a radical feminist critique. Fleming finds the significance of their work in their exposure of the mechanisms of power (the police, the state, the interrelationship of the city, and government force). In addition, Fleming emphasizes the educational effect of the pieces, which toured union halls and were distributed through educational departments of unions and schools, for both labor history and women's history courses.
Martha Fleming introduces the political artists and their works in Block to emphasize the importance of the artist's consideration of social-political issues. As Lippard insists that feminism is an ideology, feminist artists have to scrutinize women's issues as well as broader problems in society. Thus, feminist work has of necessity become critical work.
Feminists have continuously used psychoanalytic theory to analyze the place and meaning of sexuality and gender difference in societies. However, they have had an ambivalent reaction to psychoanalysis since its inception at the turn of this century. Many feminists have seen it as a rationalization and justification of relations between the sexes. Nevertheless, instead of simply abandoning psychoanalytic theory or seeking alternative models of psychological development, many feminists have remained committed to reinterpreting psychoanalytic theory, or using it to explain the ways in which men and women socially acquire sexual roles and their correlative psychological attitudes and structures. For example, Laura Mulvey in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" uses psychoanalytic theory to demonstrate the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.
The writers of Block were particularly interested in the idea of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Unlike Freud, Lacan does not see the unconscious and sexuality as natural or biological essences but as products of the subject's constitution in language, within what he calls the Imaginary and Symbolic Orders. According to Lacan, the subject constitutes itself via an illusory mirror image, which remains a fiction throughout life. The Mirror Stage inaugurates the subject's alienation, an Imaginary moment which already borders on the Symbolic through the mother's desire, structured as it is by the Father's law and language. Though the child tries to identify with the mother's desire, the Father as the figure of law (unlike Freud's natural father) insists that the child takes its place in the order of language as `he' or `she'. The possessing or not possessing of the phallus determines the way both sexes assume their lack: both have to give up being the phallus for the mother. According to this theory, castration is a symbolic event suffered by both sexes irrespective of their biological sex. There is no natural being outside of society, or language, and so there is no natural sexuality. Its existence is a socially specific construction. Drawing on Lacanian feminist theory in "`Unpicking the Seams of Her Disguise...'; Self-representation in the Case of Marie Bashkirtseff," Tamar Garb explores mechanisms of masquerade, which has been one of the subjects of feminist discourse. According to Lacan, masquerade is the very definition and condition of femininity rather than a repressed homosexual pathology or failed femininity. Forced to lived within patriarchy, women know both their position in it and the public discourse which defines them. They need a mask both to hide the possession of `masculinity' and to avert the expected reprisals if they are found to possess it.
To scrutinize why and how women have disguised themselves in patriarchal society, Garb takes examples of the Russian emigree artist Bashkirtseff's self-representation in late nineteenth century France. She looks at Bashkirtseff's correspondence with Guy de Maupassant, and at her paintings and photographs. According to Garb, Bashkirtseff's living, writing, and art were circumscribed within terms which were sexually coded in highly specific ways. To survive in patriarchal society, a woman artist, especially one belonging to the upper class, had to disguise her identity and use a pseudonym. Bashkirtseff for example used the assumed names such as Pauline Orell and Mlle. Andrey.
Through de Maupassant's writing, Garb points out the man's stereotypical idea for woman as the `object' of pleasure rather than as an intellectual subject. De Maupassant hoped his correspondent was "a young and charming lady, and feared she might be an old housekeeper, or a young woman of literary society." He thought that women's prime function was to please, and women never had any intellectual interest or ability and were not objective enough to produce any artistic masterpieces.
Garb also argues that Bashkirtseff had to wear a `feminine' mask to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to be interested in the problematic subject of divorce. In her painting, The Question of Divorce (fig. 8), a young woman is shown reading a book that had contributed to the controversial debate over divorce at that time. Bashkirtseff toned down this problematic subject by clothing her in a costume of `feminine' frailty and vulnerability. Garb notes that Bashkirtseff used the mask of `femininity' "to reassure both a hostile world and a guilt ridden subject." (Block 13, p. 83) The threat is veiled by the reinscription of woman as a passive object.
Finally, Garb thinks that "Womanliness" as a masquerade is apparent in Bashkirtseff's photographs (fig. 9). In many of these she is elaborately dressed and suitably veiled in a costume inscribing her with accepted notions of `femininity'. Her body, too, adopts the disguise, with her eyes downcast and unseeing, gestures contained and carefully arranged, and the whole image signifying modesty, refinement, and restraint. According to Garb, Bashkirtseff mobilized her `prettiness' as part of her defence. It functioned in two ways: one, to confront the current expectation that any woman whose work was strong or whose talents were intellectual must be `unattractive' or `unwomanly', and thereby to double her achievement; two, to disarm hostility against her, and to assure her place within appropriate and desirable constructions of the `feminine'. That is, Bashkirtseff wanted to be considered talented, but she also wanted to be a `true' woman, a desirable woman. Even though she railed against the mask of `femininity' in her writings, Bashkirtseff chose to disguise herself to survive in a patriarchal society.
Garb tries to explain the social and cultural aspects of late nineteenth century France through a psychoanalytic interpretation of Bashkirtseff's painting and photographs. Garb takes the Lacanian idea about masquerade which is useful for understanding mechanisms of patriarchal society and explaining women's images in a cultural environment and social system.
Although Lacan's thinking has enabled feminists to explain mechanisms of patriarchal society, feminists have continuously attacked or reinterpreted it. Some find Lacan's attitude to the women's movement arrogant and contemptuous. Mitra Tabrizian in "Correct Distance" poses problems on Lacan's study of feminine enigma. Catherine Clement used the term "Correct Distance" initially to refer to Lacan's notion of the Mirror Stage as an essential moment in the constitution of the human subject: the moment when one has to distance oneself from the image/mother in order to become 'oneself'. "Correct distance" is thus a metaphor signifying a relationship between individuals without menace (of castration).
The problem in Lacan's thinking, according to Tabrizian, is that his argument that "the Correct Distance is the opposite of the feminine (women are in danger of too much closeness)....The result of incorrect distance is madness." Tabrizian reverses Lacan's argument, insisting that the menace of castration come from the male unconscious, and so there is no such thing as a fixed `masculinity' or `femininity'; femininity or masculinity as masquerade. Furthermore, she uses Lacan's argument that the phallus only gains its value in opposition to `the lack,' in order to question the value of the phallus. There is no `absolute lack' to guarantee its value, insists Tabrizian. "Correct Distance" is thus necessary to contain the enigma - enigma not of the woman, but of the man.
Lacan's study of signifier and signified is also an important issue in Block. In "In Lieu of Essence: An Exposition of A Photographic Work by Silvia Kolbowski," Joan Copjec interprets Kolbowski's photographic work What was the Right Answer? (1980) (fig. 10) in terms of Lacan's concept of the sign in which the signifier is not an identifiable unit which adequates a signified directly to itself. Kolbowski's work consists of three levels of sexual images, three essays on sexuality, and several images of doorways. Copjec states that the work has a story with psychoanalytic implications - the images of human sexuality and meaning. The reminiscences which hysterics related produced from two different stages of sexuality - the precocious/infantile stage and puberty or adulthood. Memories of scenes not understood as sexual in the infantile stage excite sexual meaning from scenes experienced in puberty. In Kolbowski's work, the title itself is from the phrase, "What was the right answer? Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong?" from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. According to Copjec, this question is based on Lacan's Symbolic Order. In the pre-Oedipal chain, mother-kiss-nurture, it is all right to kiss one's mother; in the post-Oedipal, mother-kiss-sexuality, it is not. In the patriarchal family structure, the symbolic father, who is in possession of symbolic structures - language and the phallus -, comes to represent the societal problem, and provides the children with a sign of their lack or self-insufficiency. The attribution of the sign - rightness or wrongness - is a function of the symbolic position, for it is only as a result of the prohibition of the incestuous, mother/child relationship.
This Lacanian thinking comes into question in Kolbowski's work particularly in its arrangement, Copjec argues. The work, placed significantly below eye level, makes an eyeline mismatch between spectator and gaze, and refuses the direct engagement of object and gaze. Also, the spectator's visual passage through the piece is continuously impeded - interrupted, delayed - from continual movement. Copjec notes that this work explains human sexuality not given in a moment but deferred backwards over a chain of signifiers separated by hiatuses of latency. She also wrote that What was the Right Answer? "aligns itself with what is most valuable for feminists in Freudian/Lacanian theory, the mapping of this deviation, picturing the dehiscence of the origin of sexuality and meaning, their dependence on deferred action." (Block 7, p. 31)
Lacan's concept of the sign is at stake in the section of this work entitled Ladies. The word "Ladies" is written over the erased word "Men", which is still visible, on one of the doorways. So, socially gendered spectators should hesitate to go in. Once in, they see urinals and the phrase, "Do not use the urinals". Thus, they are confused by them and might think about their public life which is subjected to the laws of urinary segregation. According to this reading, sexuality or the meaning of sign is not limited by the resisting bar of society, but produced. This process is positively stressed in this work, especially in relation to women.
Issues such as femininity, masculinity and representation were first raised by women, but they are becoming the broader cultural and political concerns. In "Beyond the Purloined Image," Mary Kelly introduces photographic works by Ray Barrie, Judith Crowle, Karen Knorr, Yves Lomax, Olivier Richon, Mitra Tabrizian, Susan Tranrmar and Marie Yates. These artists had an exhibition under that title at Riverside Studios in 1983.
Kelly discusses the exhibition in terms of two aspects: the rejection of the idea that feminist art is for women and by women; the issue of photographic work and montage/collage technique which are often adapted by contemporary artists. She wrote:
Considering that, when I was asked to curate yet another `women's show', I saw it instead as an opportunity to go beyond, exactly to reread the biological canon of feminist commitment and situate the question of gender within a wider network of social and aesthetic debates. Specifically, I wanted to show how recent developments in photographic practice, initiated by artists in London, had gone beyond the more reductive quotational tactics of their New York equivalents, precisely by extending a feminist theory of the subject to a critique of artistic authorship. (Block 9, p. 68)
Kelly claims that the feminist aspect of a work does not inhere in the gender of the artist or result purely from the artist's intention. It is the effect of the work's consumption and reading. The works on exhibit were constituted as a feminist event, but the show was also possible to function in non-feminist ways - to go beyond a women's event. She did not want to lock women's issues into a separate sphere of women's art. She resisted having this show be called a `women's show,' and invited women and men, feminists and non-feminists into the show in order to mark the effects of feminism in current cultural practices.
The other concern of the show was the debates on mass culture imagery. The artists who exhibited at Riveside Studios took their images from mass media, as well as photographs, and re-presented them `in visual quotation marks'. Kelly insists on differences in photographic work produced in London and New York. The work in New York is on sexual difference by both men and women; the work in London is about a `depropriation' of photography and of mass media imagery. According to Kelly, the aim of depropriation is "to contest the ownership of the image, and dispel the aura of genius, originality, and maleness that surround the artist-auter." (Block 9, p. 68)
Through Kelly's essay we can realize that feminist practices do not deal solely with feminist issues but with more general cultural concerns. As well, the issues such as femininity or masculinity are no longer concerns only of women, but cultural and political ones. The consideration of feminist issues as universal cultural issues is demonstrated in the intention of Block. In Block many women artists and feminist art history were studied, and the editors of the journal treated feminist art history not simply as a voice of feminists, but as an important approach to art. Thus feminist art history is a new method to understand the social, political and cultural environment of the artist and art and as an ideology of the society in which art works are produced.
Block's feminist contributors significantly shifted the discourse of art history and criticism. The shift was based on encounters with psychoanalytic theories drawn from Lacan, Marxism, structualism, and semiotics. Even though the shift was based on contemporary theories, Block's feminist contributors did not simply adopt the theories but continuously reread and re-examined them. For example, Joan Copjec and Mitra Tabrizian reread Lacan's thinking, which is patriarchal and contemptuous of the women's movement. Basically, Block's feminist writers identified art history as a form of patriarchal culture, and challenged the values and ideas constructed within art history as part of its program of cultural politics. Pollock in particular criticized traditional art history, which has played an important role in the production of cultural values within society. She argued that it was taken for granted that certain objects and individual were implicitly worth studying, a standpoint that expressed both the special significance and values of high culture.
The feminist contributors also criticized conventional feminist art history as ultimately self-defeating, for it fixes women within preexisting structures without questioning the validity of these structures. For instance, Greer's the Obstacle Race was seriously rebutted because she accepted without question myths of individualism and genius which secure the normative status of "men artists" and their art as superior to that of women. Tickner especially resisted the old feminist approaches which provide information about women artists and their work without attention to social, political, and cultural phenomena.
The feminists did not consider gender
in isolation from other forms of power relationships such as race and class,
because all of them are part of the construction of social, political and
economic power. Block addressed the various definition of class,
gender, morality, and culture at any given historical moment. The magazine
consistently supported the feminist viewpoint and regarded the feminist
approach as an important method of study in art history.