I love finding new labels for myself. My latest muse has been revisionism and revisionist theory. I like to try labels on, wear them for a bit and see if they fit. I also like long new words and revisionism has a satisfying ring to it that makes my tongue get tied up when I try and say it too quickly. Anyway.
There is a problem with calling yourself a feminist art historian. The problem is that you say it to most people and their eyes begin to roll back and glaze over. They’re seeing the militant revolutionists telling them to burn their bras and grow their armpit hair.
Feminist art history has never been a term that quite works for me. I am a feminist and I’m an art historian. I have a particular interest in female artists throughout history. However feminist art history implies something about striving for equality in the history of art that is blatantly not there. Yes it’s an appropriate term for going forwards, but it doesn’t necersarily work for looking backwards. We can’t suddenly make men and women equal in the Italian renaissance, history doesn’t work that way and I don’t have a TARDIS.
I like Revisionist Art History. This is a more accurate description for the things I’m interested in a historical context. But as the video said the real problem comes when you try to work out how to fit women into the canon of dead white guys. I have books on women and their place in society, I have books on women war artists, I even have books writing about women’s approaches to art history. But it doesn’t feel right, it feels like we’re singling them out as special and they weren’t special. Well they were, but no more special than their male counterparts.
Grouping women artists into a group called ‘women artists’ seems so crude. It’s like displaying a Hirst next to a Rembrant just because they were born with a penis. These women don’t belong in the same books as each other, their art is so different.
I don’t know what to do about this big old mess of wrongness. But I’m going to revisionism my way into feminism and possibly some more isms and see what I can do about it.