Women And The Arts Dialogues In Female Creativity

by Diana V. Almeida

Author Diana V Almeida Isbn 978 3034310727 File size 6 MB Year 2013 Pages 227 Language English File format PDF Category Art This collection brings together twelve essays that tackle the nexus between gender literature and the visual arts While it provides a philosophical and theoretical background for some of the factors that shape female creativity it also considers the contributions of particular writers and artists from the late 17th century to the contemporary scene Mostly focusing o

Publisher :

Author : Diana V. Almeida

ISBN : 978 3034310727

Year : 2013

Language: English

File Size : 6 MB

Category : Art

This collection brings together twelve essays that tackle the nexus
between gender, literature, and the visual arts. While it provides a
philosophical and theoretical background for some of the factors
that shape female creativity, it also considers the contributions of
particular writers and artists from the late 17th century to the contemporary scene. Mostly focusing on the U.S. context, the articles
anthologized here further establish a dialogue with other cultural
backgrounds, offering the reader a wider perspective of networks
of women artists in several countries. The anthology is grounded in
Gender Studies while adopting a transdisciplinary approach that
combines a series of theoretical frameworks active in the contemporary academic context, such as ecocriticism, comparative literature, and postcolonial studies.

Diana V. Almeida has completed her MA and her PhD in U.S. Literature and Culture at the University of Lisbon, where she is now
developing a post-doctoral project on the representations of corporeality in the works of two poets and two contemporary photographers. She has taught at the Faculty of Letters of the University of
Lisbon since 2007 and is a full member of ULICES (University of Lisbon
Center for English Studies). She is a practicing photographer.

Diana V. Almeida (ed.) Women and the Arts

Diana V. Almeida (ed.)


Women and the Arts:
Dialogues in Female Creativity

Women and the Arts

Diana V. Almeida (ed.)

Women and the Arts:
Dialogues in Female Creativity


Bibliographic information published by die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek
Diana V. Almeida (ed.). – 1 [edition].







© Peter Lang AG, International Academic Publishers, Bern 2013
All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Foreword, Diana V. Almeida


I. The State of the Art
‘By a Woman Wrought’: Do We/Should We Still Care?


From Practice to Theory: The Ontological Turn in 1970s Feminist Art 33
II. Photography at the Crossroads
Gertrude Käsebier – ‘Lady Amateur’ or ‘Advanced Photographer’?
The Case of the Tea Party with the Sioux


Francesca Woodman’s Journey into the Gothic Wonderland


From D’Aulnoy to Rego and Sherman: Fairy-Tales Revisited


III. Visual Arts in Context
Finding an Aesthetic of Her Own: Partnering Identities in
the Work of Faith Ringgold


Mestiza Aesthetics: Anzalduan Theories on Visual Arts
and Creativity


IV. Lyrical Dialogues
In the Skin of Another: Rainer Maria Rilke’s, Anne Michaels’
and Sujata Bhatt’s Poems as Embodiments of Paula ModersohnBecker’s Life and Art


Family Resemblances: Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Strand


‘I Know It Hurts to Burn’: Adrienne Rich’s Body in Pain


V. Narrative Strategies
Jamaica Kincaid’s Garden of Words


Landscapes of Change: Annie Proulx’s Representation of
the American West






The texts gathered in this volume were originally presented at the
international conference Women and the Arts: Dialogues in Female
Creativity in the U.S. and Beyond, co-organized by Paula Elyseu
Mesquita and myself in the context of our American Studies research
group at ULICES (University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies).
This three-day event took place at the Faculty of Letters of the
University of Lisbon in June 2011, and promoted a transdisciplinary
debate on women’s artistic production covering multiple areas, which
included literature, the visual arts, music, and the performing arts. With
the participation of scholars from several continents and of the plenary
speakers Christine Battersby, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Edward LucieSmith, we debated women’s aesthetic expression in diversified fields,
from modernity to the present age, and reflected on the specific
conditions of production, circulation, and reception of their works.
Furthermore, we organized several activities involving the local
community, such as a debate with contemporary Portuguese women artists,
a workshop with storytellers, a poetry recital with texts from Anglophone
women poets from the nineteenth century onwards, and an improvisation
session (‘The Voice of the Word: Retelling Scheherazade’) included in the
Lisbon-based Festival Silêncio [Silence Festival] that since 2009 has
been celebrating language in its myriad artistic manifestations. Finally,
sponsored by the Rectorate of the University of Lisbon, we animated, for
a month, the main hall of the Faculty of Letters (then celebrating its
centenary), where we exhibited the monumental artwork Valquíria
Enxoval [Valkyrie Trousseau] by Joana Vasconcelos. The conference
program also included a one-hour documentary that described the
collaborative process of the creation of this art piece, which sought to
recover a tradition of the Portuguese Nisa Municipality in which local
women started embroidering their trousseaus as children to sell them
before their marriage, so that they could help to support the new family.



I believe it is important to evoke this background in order to
understand the diversity of the contributions gathered here under the
same title and the fact that they are mostly centered in U.S. literary and
artistic contexts. In the long editing process, the authors have had the
opportunity to rewrite their presentations and enrich them in theoretical
terms, as usual in these cases, and also to obtain permission to reproduce
some images that enrich the texts and help to develop a useful reading
The volume is divided into five sections, which facilitates access to the
contents of each and places the twelve essays collected here in similar
interpretative frameworks, suggesting particular paths for engaging in a
dialogue with these texts. I am well aware that all divisions are
subjective and fallible, and that many other approaches would have been
possible, including organizing the articles alphabetically by their authors’
names. And I am equally sure that readers will enjoy building their own
logical and imaginative maps, after having travelled through the whole
book using these tentative guidelines.
The first section, entitled ‘The State of the Art,’ provides a
philosophical and theoretical approach to problems of gender and
creative identity and to epistemological questions concerning the
conceptualization of art produced by women. In ‘“By a Woman
Wrought”: Do We/Should We Still Care?,’ Christine Battersby searches
for a feminist metaphysics that may be operative in the contemporary
world, where notions of gender and personhood clearly do not fit the
binary opposition that still bounds the French poststructuralist and
psychoanalytic authors, such as Cixious, Irigaray and Kristeva. Revising
Toril Moi in the light of the Western philosophical tradition, Battersby
argues that, in order to consider the ‘singularity’ of ‘female artistic
production’ and articulate a more fluid and relational model of
subjectivity, the debate about identity should include five features:
natality, physiological dependence, pregnant embodiment, fleshiness,
and cognitive dislocation. In ‘From Practice to Theory: The Ontological
Turn in 1970s Feminist Art,’ Márcia Oliveira establishes a parallelism
between U.S. feminist art in the early 1970s, in particular the
Womanhouse project, coordinated by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro,
and the work of several Portuguese woman artists during the same period,
such as Túlia Saldanha, Ana Vieira, Ana Hatherly, and Helena Almeida.


Diana V. Almeida

Oliveira claims that the feminist practice has been paramount to the reconceptualization of the visual arts that took place in the late twentieth
century, through its use of interactive mediums (performance and
installation directly engaged the spectator and revised notions of
spatiality and corporeality, for instance) and the recurrent questioning of
identity politics.
‘Photography at the Crossroads’ includes three essays that cover a
wide chronological period, going from one of the woman pioneers in this
artistic field to a very talented artist whose premature death condemned
her work to obscurity for a period, and lastly centering on one of the
most critically acclaimed contemporary woman photographers. In
‘Gertrude Käsebier – “Lady Amateur” or “Advanced Photographer”?
The Case of the Tea Party with the Sioux,’ Susana M. Costa discusses
Käsebier’s professional status and analyses the series of prints known as
Indian Portraits, comparing them with other depictions of racial alterity
by U.S. artists. Costa suggests that the photographer used her studio as a
liminal space that allowed for a cross-cultural negotiation of her own
identity as a woman artist and the complex identities of her guest-sitters,
who were empowered as subjects partly in control of the process of
image making. In ‘Francesca Woodman’s Journey into the Gothic
Wonderland,’ Elisabete Lopes presents the photographer’s Gothic
strategies for rewriting gender identity through the use of female ‘ghosts’
who threaten the customary association of women with the domestic
space and are able to cross the boundaries of life and death, redefining
identity as a dynamic process. Lopes also points out intertextual echoes
between Woodman’s work and the literary universe, in particular some
fairy tale figures (Sleeping Beauty, for example) and major characters of
children’s literature (such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice). In the next essay
Ana Raquel Fernandes and Daniela Garcia go back to the seventeenth
century male-dominated literary world of the salons where the
‘conteuses’ reclaimed creative agency by rewriting traditional fairy tales.
‘From D’Aulnoy to Rego and Sherman: Fairy-Tales Revisited’
highlights a cross-fertilization between these early literary versions of
the genre and the visual arts, in Paula Rego’s illustrations of ‘La chatte
blanche’ [The White Cat], and further proposes a dialogue between this
type of text and some of Cindy Sherman’s photographs that explore the
abject and the uncanny.



Centering on women artists from different ethnic backgrounds, the
third section, ‘Visual Arts in Context,’ surveys the plurality of identities
in the U.S. and its impact on specific expressive languages. In ‘Finding
an Aesthetic of Her Own: Partnering Identities in the Work of Faith
Ringgold,’ Teresa Botelho traces the evolution of Ringgold’s artistic
production from the early 1960s to her quilt series produced two decades
later. Botelho maintains that the artist’s creative identity was
predominantly shaped by a gender allegiance that resisted the racialized
anthropocentric essentialist stance prevalent in the cultural domain of
mainly male black artists. In ‘Mestiza Aesthetics: Anzalduan Theories on
Visual Arts and Creativity,’ Guisela Latorre analyses Gloria Anzaldua’s
art criticism and drawings, which destabilize the distinctions between the
verbal and the visual realms, the theoretical and the artistic fields.
Dwelling on Anzaldua’s concepts of artistic inspiration and
interconnectedness, Latorre considers the work of some contemporary
Chicana and Latina artists (Yreina Cervántez and Liliana Wilson) that
represent a nepantla [liminal] state where hyphenized identities can
better express themselves, using art as a political tool.
The following section, ‘Lyrical Dialogues,’ centers on poetical texts
articulated upon a matrix of intertextual allusions to other authors or to
political circumstances that shape their reading. ‘In the Skin of Another:
Rainer Maria Rilke’s, Anne Michael’s and Sujata Bhatt’s Poems as
Embodiments of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Life and Art’ contrasts
Rilke’s Requiem for his painter friend, which expressed his modernist
belief in art as an absolute exclusionary call, with Anne Michael’s and
Sujata Bhatt’s writings, which present the German painter involved in a
spiritual and emotional quest that had full expression in the large body of
work she produced. Monica Pavani defends that Paula ModersohnBecker’s biographical experience illustrates the tensions faced by early
woman artists, caught between the hegemonic idea of the secluded
genius and their beliefs in the intersubjective roots of creativity. In
‘Family Resemblances: Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Strand,’ Jeffrey
Childs presents a philosophical reflection on the categories of identity
and belonging, applied to the analysis of Bishop’s influence on Strand’s
poetical work and critical writing, tracing an encounter with the
foreignness of the familiar that leads from the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop
and Carlos Drummond de Andrade to Strand’s discussion of the
connections between poetry and photography. In ‘“I Know It Hurts to


Diana V. Almeida

Burn”: Adrienne Rich’s Body in Pain,’ Marta Soares also problematizes
the boundaries of identity, presenting pain as a shared trait of
vulnerability that allows Rich to expand the limits of self and to connect
emphatically with others who suffer. Soares underlines that the
phenomenology of the sick body cuts through gender, racial, and social
lines, and also comes to represent the U.S. imperialist politics that Rich
repeatedly criticized throughout her career.
The last section pinpoints some ‘Narrative Strategies’ that
contemporary U.S. writers use to negotiate identity in a multicultural
world where master narratives of imperialistic hegemony no longer hold.
In ‘Jamaica Kincaid’s Garden of Words,’ Isabel Fernandes Alves
investigates the prolific meanings attached to gardening in Kincaid’s My
Garden (Book):, ranging from its correlation with textuality (the process
of reading and writing and also the literary tradition) to its
autobiographical implications. Alves alleges that the maintenance of a
garden and the reflection inspired by this practice allows the U.S. and
Antiguan writer to deal with the experience of colonization, resisting
deterritorialization and asserting her creativity. In ‘Landscapes of Change:
Annie Proulx’s Representation of the American West,’ Isabel Oliveira
Martins considers two short stories included in Proulx’s trilogy of
anthologies set in Wyoming, known as the ‘Cowboy State.’ In light of the
mythological connotations of the West in U.S. culture, Martins underlines
how the trope of the frontier, still productive in contemporary political
discourse, is doomed in this fictional landscape, where individual identity
is torn between nostalgia and a dystopic present.
I want to thank Paula Elyseu Mesquita for her precious help during the
first phase of this work, Elsa Maurício Childs for her thorough and
insightful revision of the whole book, and the staff at Peter Lang,
especially Raffael von Niederhäusern, for their patience and assistance
throughout the editorial process. I also want to recognize the institutional
support of FCT (the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology)
and ULICES, namely through Professors Teresa F. A. Alves and Teresa
Cid (the Conference Directors) and Professor Isabel Fernandes
(ULICES’s Director).
Lisbon, January 2013.

I. State of the Art


By a Woman Wrought: Do We/Should We Still

These days one can hardly take an architectural tour of Chicago without
it being pointed out that the towering Aqua skyscraper on the horizon not
only has ‘feminine’ characteristics, it is also the tallest skyscraper to
have been built anywhere in the world by a woman – Jeanne Gang. ‘And
that’s one in the eye for men!’ our (male) architecture guide added, with
obvious admiration for the designer who made each feature of the
building contextual, unique and also wave-like and ‘organic.’ The
mantra was repeated some days later by a second guide (this time
female) – although this time what was emphasised was Jeanne’s Gang’s
openness to clients and her refreshing lack of machismo in explaining
and justifying her designs.
Contrast this scenario of September 2010 with the article by Toril
Moi which was published in Eurozine in the summer of the previous
year. Moi’s article starts by posing the following question: ‘Why is the
question of women and writing such a marginal topic in feminist theory
today?’ (‘I am not a Woman Writer’ 1). As both the title and the text of
the article make clear, Moi is concentrating on questions to do with
writing and literary theory, and the tone of the essay conveys a kind of
nostalgia for the heady days of the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s when
questions about women’s writing were not only prevalent in popular
culture, but also a respectable topic for academic debate. Moi focuses on
works that are ‘by a woman writ,’ not on non-literary works that are ‘by
a woman wrought.’ Nevertheless, Moi indicates that her analysis is also
probably applicable to all discussions about artistic output in twenty-first
century academia:
The decline of interest in literature is all the more striking given its central
importance in the early years of feminist theory. Although I shall only speak about
literature, I think it is likely that the loss of interest in literature is symptomatic of a


Christine Battersby

more wide-ranging loss of interest in questions relating to women and aesthetics
and women and creativity within feminist theory. (1)

In this essay I will consider some of the details of Moi’s analysis,
focusing on a phrase that Moi uses in passing when she remarks on the
frustration that many women authors feel when they are told they ‘write
as a woman or like a woman’ (7). I will distinguish between writing or
creating like a woman (what I will term ‘feminine’ creativity) and
writing or creating as a woman (what I will term ‘female’ creativity),
and argue for the importance of keeping these two issues separate.
However, I will start by emphasising how uneven is the advance made
by women in the creative arts and industries since the 1980s when
discussion of sexed creativity was a dominant feature of academic
The relative lack of progress of women in architecture is evident
from the way that my Chicago guides felt it incumbent upon them to
comment on the gender of Jeanne Gang – as well as from the fact that
barely another female name was mentioned as an architect (as opposed
to a patron, wife, muse or mistress) in the dozen or so architectural tours
of Chicago that I followed. By contrast, in painting and, to some extent,
in sculpture there has undoubtedly been an improvement in the position
of women since my Gender and Genius was published in 1989. However, in the fine arts generally women artists still have not received the
same institutional recognition as their male counterparts. Furthermore, in
the digital and computer arts women creators remain a rarity – as they do
also in musical composition, screenwriting and playwriting. Thus, it was
not until 2008 – or arguably, if adaptations are included, 2005 – that a
living woman playwright had a play performed on the main stage of the
National Theatre in London (Fisher; ‘Corrections’). In either case, it is
surprising that no plays by a living woman had previously featured on
the main stage since 1963 when the National Theatre was inaugurated.
In the United States the position of women playwrights also still
lags behind that of the men. Thus, in 2009 Emily Sands sought to
analyse why only one in eight Broadway productions involves a work
written by a woman, even though by some calculations the female
authors’ shows are in general more commercially successful than those
of the men. Theatre professionals were sent a set of scripts, and asked to
rank them in terms of their quality, their economic prospects and also the

‘By a Woman Wrought’: Do We/Should We Still Care?


likely audience response. The sexual identity of the authors of the scripts
had been reallocated, but it was those bearing the name of a female
author which received a significantly lower grading than identical scripts
which were signed with a male name (Sands). And, what is more
surprising, the lower ranking was entirely due to the responses of the
women professionals who were acting as assessors. Sands argued (85)
that this was probably because female theatre professionals are more
likely to be aware that plays by women need to be of a higher standard
than of those of the men if they are to get staged. This remains merely a
hypothesis, however, and one that has triggered lively debate
On the surface at least, the position is far more rosy in other fields of
literature – so much so that there is now a degree of impatience
expressed for women-only literary prizes (such as the Orange Prize for
Fiction, founded 1996). However, VIDA, a US organisation set up in
2009 to address the critical neglect of women writers, provided in 2010 a
statistical count which showed that, in the US, reviews of fiction and
poems by male writers in prestigious literary magazines outnumber those
by women by almost 3:1. In the UK the situation is no better, with 74%
of the books featured in both the London Review of Books and The Times
Literary Supplement being by men. In a way that differs sharply from
Sands’ study of female playwrights, what is particularly striking in the
VIDA pie charts is the strong match between the number (or paucity) of
women reviewers for each of the journals and the gender breakdown of
the total of authors reviewed in that journal (see Image 1).
Women writers are also still a rarity in a variety of literary genres
which are not covered by the VIDA statistics. In philosophy, for
example, women philosophers are by no means the norm, and the
question of why this is the case continues to cause controversy, as does
the question about what is distinctive about the type of philosophy that
women have excelled in or are likely to prefer (‘Where Have all’;
Baggini). Interestingly, in her Eurozine article, Moi identifies the
influence of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity as one of the two
main causes for the loss of interest in issues relating to sexed creativity
amongst feminist literary theorists, claiming – somewhat dismissively –
that Butler is ‘a philosopher who with a couple of minor exceptions has
never discussed literature’ (‘I am not a Woman Writer’ 5). However,
whereas the influence of Butler and her lack of detailed engagement with


Christine Battersby

literary texts is unquestionable, Butler herself is not in a philosophy
department – and in some of her most recent works (2004) has explored
her own feelings of exclusion from the discipline of philosophy (which
provided her with her graduate and undergraduate training). Indeed,
Butler has herself been housed for most her quite astonishing academic
career between the Departments of Rhetoric and of Comparative
Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
In some ways the position of women in philosophy seems to be a
special case; but it’s certainly not the only subject in which feminist
theorists have felt themselves excluded from within the boundaries of a
discipline and found themselves constrained to write or speak from an
‘interdisciplinary’ perspective that has rendered them homeless. And this
means with the move ‘beyond theory’ and the increasing professionalization of academia that has occurred in North American, British and
Australian universities in the twenty-first century, feminist theorists have
found themselves vulnerable. In the UK feminism is flourishing again
outside the academy (McCabe), but feminist theorists within the universities are suffering a double loss of institutional – and also political –
power. All of this means that we need to turn again to the question raised
in Moi’s article: why is the question of the sexed identity of writers no
longer treated as cutting edge research in Literature Departments? What
was there about the way that the questions were framed in the 1970s and
1980s which led to a kind of despair and to disillusionment?
As well as the influence of Judith Butler, Moi identifies poststructuralist
theory as the other main cause for the decline in interest in female
authorship in recent North American literary theory. She argues that it was
the influence of Roland Barthes’ theory of ‘The Death of the Author,’
along with the influence of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism and
Michel Foucault’s ‘radical anti-humanism,’ which provided the ‘first
reason why feminist theory fell silent on the question of women and
Feminists who wanted to work on women writers at the same time as they were
convinced that Barthes, Derrida and Foucault were right, began to wonder whether
it really mattered whether the author was a woman. In the United States, the
tensions involved in this position were expressed in a landmark debate between
Peggy Kamuf and Nancy Miller about the status of the female author. (‘I am not a
Woman Writer’ 3)

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