Women Contesting the Mainstream Discourses of the Art World

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A neglected area of publishing in the visual arts is that of women’s perceptions and strategies for sustaining their careers as artists. This book reports on research which investigated the formative life experiences of nine women and how they perceived their positions as students, artists, art teachers and family members in relation to the discourses dominant in their lives. The study aimed to identify new discursive practices undertaken by the women to contest their positioning. It used feminist poststructuralist methodology that acknowledged the notion of constitution and positioning of the subject in discourse. This innovative methodology is valuable for researchers in a range of disciplines not only in studying careers of women but also other marginalised groups. Because of the reliance on the women’s voices, the text contributes rich pictures of women’s lives and their attempts to negotiate their careers in workplaces they described as “battle grounds”. Consequently the text has a wider appeal to readers interested in women’s careers and art practice. Obstacles to careers reported in the literature were confirmed by the experiences of the women who were able to challenge and restructure constraining discourses. They utilised a range of strategies to negotiate obstacles and, based on the women’s experiences and the literature, the author is then able to propose further possible strategies.


“I had the great good fortune to review Penelope Collet’s initial work on this project several years ago, and am pleased to see her work evolve and mature in the current book … Collet raises questions about gender equity in the art world and in art education, as well as raising larger questions of conceptions of truth and knowledge in relation to gendered positions of voice and silence in those worlds. She explores relationships between art, education, sociology, history, feminism and philosophy, from Aristotle to Woolf (and Wolff), deBeauvoir to Derrida, traversing continents and cultures. She includes a closer view of Australian art and artists in particular … The book provides an historical overview with fascinating biographical sketches of various artists who are women, both the well-known and obscure, illuminating their struggles as women, as artists, wives, lovers, daughters, mothers. Almost uniformly these women had to choose among these roles as it was a social impossibility to be an artist and these other things. Collet depicts the traditional and consistent devaluation of women’s contributions in the visual arts, both professionally and as students of art, where they were/are excluded from the culture of the university and spheres of power and influence because key decision-makers are/were, by and large, males. This is reflective of the clear and overarching issue of Collet’s study: women’s persistent exclusion from western culture … makes a wonderful contribution in multiple domains. Not only is it of immediate importance to artists and art educators, its implications are quite clear for feminists, sociologists, and myriad others. It provides a timely example of the effective implementation of feminist poststructuralist methodologies. Its importance in portraying the richness of the lives and struggles of nine women artists, and associated themes, cannot be understated.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor Signe M. Kastberg, Dept. of Sociology, Ithaca College, New York,

“This work makes a huge contribution to Australian educational and visual arts communities by linking ethos and ideology with the discursive practices of women artists while describing individuals' perceptions of the social realities of the art world. Through her richly detailed life history fieldwork and discursive analysis, Dr. Collet advances a research methodology that portrays previously "untold" stories of early career, mid-career, and late career or retired artists from a feminist poststructuralist position. This book values individual's strategies for juggling often contradictory demands upon time, energy and resources, and recognizes the self-reflexivity of the women as they create and recreate their life situations, and reject and subvert oppressive ideologies. The research makes a highly significant contribution to the literature on career development, cultural studies, women's studies, and the visual arts, in its documentation of the careers of nine artists and their experiences of marginalization in the institutions of cultural reception and production. The critique of education must not go unnoticed. Dr. Collet's research supports gender-inclusive curriculum that addresses social justice issues and all forms of diversity. By raising our awareness and critical consciousness of the artistic careers of women and their links with the wider world of the visual arts, Dr. Collet's work will undoubtedly lead to more inclusive arts communities while empowering women in their creative pursuits.” – Rita Irwin, Professor and Head, Dept. of Curriculum Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Art History
3. Representations of Women in the Arts
4. Language and Research Methodology
5. Asking Women’s Questions
6. Towards a Feminist Poststructuralist Methodology
7. One’s Own Voice
8. Mainstream Discourses
9. Negotiating Interpretations
10. Contesting the Mainstream Discourses

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