Top Books on Women's Art History

Here are ten selections that cover most aspects of feminist Art History, both practical and esoteric. You will note that all ten were written by women. The authors, many of whom have sterling credentials, all share a passion for examining the large exclusion of women from Western Art History, introducing us to female artists and attempting to explain reasons for the traditional gender bias. Not every book is for everyone, but these are good starts for those who care to give the topic thought.

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Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany

( Broude, Norma; Garrard, Mary. Westview Press; 1982. ISBN: 0064301176 ) A series of 17 essays which follow art history chronologically from the Egyptian practice of matrilineal descent (and how this is never taken into account when analyzing Ancient Egyptian art) to the present. Written by scholars, it is a chewy, readable book which covers those forgotten areas of women artists in Antiquity. Highly recommended as essential reading for those interested in feminist revisionism in Art History.

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Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History

( Broude, Norma; Garrard, Mary. HarperCollins Publishers; 1992. ISBN: 0064302075 ) The even chewier sequel to the above, containing 29 essays on women in the visual arts from the Renaissance right on up through Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party." Specific examples of gender bias in the work of Western white male artists abound. Again, highly recommended reading.

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Women, Art, and Power : And Other Essays

( Nochlin, Linda. Perseus Books; 1989. ISBN: 0064301834 ) The classic series of seven essays examining the power - or lack thereof - that women have historically "enjoyed" in the visual arts. Delves into the ways art represents and upholds stereotypical societal views of women and their alleged places. Any book with a chapter whose title includes the words "Subversive" and "Rococo" in the same breath deserves one's undivided attention.

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The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work

( Greer, Germaine. Tauris Parke Paperbacks; 2001. ISBN: 1860646778 ) Obstacles galore are examined: social, political, economic and, worst of all, psychological (it's the internal obstacles we assign ourselves that are the most problematic). Ms. Greer's insightful writing could make the history of housework a fascinating read, so her sketches of better-known women artists -- and their individual struggles -- are well worth the time.

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Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories

( Pollock, Griselda. Routledge; 1999. ISBN: 0415067006 ) An engaging exploration of both masculine and feminine canons in Art History, this book manages to move between the two without man-bashing or failing to be objective about feminist revisionism. In other words: well written, thought provoking and targeted to the crux of the male v. female artist "issue." Ms. Pollock does flawless research; anything she has written on the topic of women in Art History is highly recommended reading.

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Women Artists in History: From Antiquity to the Present

( Slatkin, Wendy. Prentice Hall; 2000 (4th edition). ISBN: 0130273198 ) A good introductory text of women who've contributed to the visual arts - either as 'professional' or decorative artists, or patrons (an often overlooked, but extemely significant role). Not intended to be exhaustive, the book serves as a source of starting points for those seeking names and basic biographical information.

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Women, Art and Society

( Chadwick, Whitney. Thames & Hudson; 2002 (3rd edition). ISBN: 0500203547 ) This examines the broad picture -- it wasn't merely the Art World that conspired against women artists. Fathers, husbands, lovers and even fellow women had a hand in things too. The results were that many works have been traditionally misattributed (or correctly attributed, but marginalized) and many great female artists doomed forever to obscurity. Happily, Professor Chadwick isn't shy about naming names.

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Women Artists: An Illustrated History

( Heller, Nancy. Abbeville Press; 2004 (4th edition). ISBN: 0789207680 ) Six centuries' worth of women artists are profiled, right up to the present day. Interesting commentary on the myraid ways in which the women found 'workarounds' in order to get their art seen. Naturally, not everyone could be included, but those who were enjoy lavish illustrations and entertaining text. Very user-friendly.

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The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art

( Guerrilla Girls. Penguin Books; 1998. ISBN: 014025997X ) Irreverent and sarcastically funny, this short revision of the history of Western Art is light reading on a weighty topic. Images of famous masterpieces have been slightly revised to become mistresspieces throughout. The Guerrilla Girls are anonymous female artists and art professionals with an agenda to expose nasty "-isms" (sex, race, etc.) in the Art World. They have a collective sense of humor that is refreshing and rare.

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Defining the Renaissance Virtuosa

( Jacobs, Fredrika H. Cambridge University Press; 1999. ISBN: 0521664969 ) Valuable for offering mention of some 40 Renaissance women artists (far beyond Sofonisba Anguissola and Artemisia Gentelleschi), this book also examines why these women are unfamiliar to us today. Though they were notable in their own time, early Art History writings largely ignored them and, more importantly, that which they created. You are hereby granted three guesses as to the genders of early Art History writers.