College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Full Title of Thesis or Dissertation

Bernece Berkman and the monograph: A feminist perspective

Graduation Date

6-2011

Document Type

Thesis

College/Department Conferring Degree

Women & Gender Studies

Keywords

Bernece Berkman, women artists, Berkman-Hunter, feminist art history, monograph

Abstract

Bernece Berkman is one of many renowned women artists who has not been historically acclaimed. As women artists have been rediscovered, issues have arisen as to how they should be written about in relation to art history, because the language and canon of art history has revolved around and privileged those of dominant ideology. Writing about women artists using the current conventions of art history is using the same standards that initially marginalized women artists and artists who are not white, middle-upper class, heterosexual, Christian males. Therefore, it is necessary to consider a new language and system of evaluating art in a less exclusive way than the traditional standards. This, in turn, challenges and redefines society’s current ideals of artistic success.

In relation to her exclusion from the literature, I argue that the canon of art history perpetuates the dominant ideology at the expense of those with less power, access and agency. Art history has been dominated by monographs, which have historically glorified white male artists while marginalizing those outside the hegemonic ideals. And yet, a monograph can also clearly contextualize an artist’s social location, regardless of their historiographic success. A feminist monograph locates women’s identities and experiences within the social context that they lived and worked. By highlighting these experiences, it demonstrates the ways in which women have worked in opposition to patriarchal oppression, while identifying the various oppressions specific to each woman as an individual. A feminist monograph is appropriate for Berkman, because it allows for a historically contextualized analysis including the specific social, political, and gendered power relations that existed during her lifetime and that contributed to her erasure. Specifically, Berkman’s erasure from art history is examined within her social locations, as a woman, activist, artist, wife, and Jew within a broader context of the pre and post-World War II art world in Chicago and New York. This critical feminist analysis of Berkman’s artwork, as well as her intersecting social locations, recovers her biographical experiences while analyzing the very form of the monograph that also privileges individual biography at the expense of the social whole and totality of subject positions.

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