Dictionary of Women Artists (Two Volume Set)

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9781884964213: Dictionary of Women Artists (Two Volume Set)
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First Published in 1997. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

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Penny Dunford's Biographical Dictionary of Women Artists in Europe and America since 1850 (Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1990) deemphasized commercial success as a criterion for inclusion and discussed social, cultural, and familial challenges to female artists. Dictionary of Women Artists (DWA) expands this approach chronologically and geographically while targeting a smaller number of artists for more intensive treatment. DWA includes excellent introductory surveys and exceptionally insightful, scholarly articles on 600 women who worked as professional or amateur artists in a variety of media. The selection of biographees and the point of view reflect the redefinition of standards for art-historical significance that has occurred over the last 25 years. The introductory surveys and biographical essays note challenges and impediments women faced when attempting to obtain training and professional recognition, including prohibition from studying live models, the necessity of male protection or patronage, exclusion from academies, and overshadowing by the artist's spouse or partner. The purpose of DWA is to consolidate and make available to researchers and students the wealth of information that has been uncovered and recovered, as scholars have attempted to write women artists back into history.

The dictionary is the work of a stellar group of 330 advisors and contributors, most of whom are museum professionals or faculty members of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Europe. Twenty introductory essays provide the context for the biographies. The excellent essays should be considered required reading for anyone undertaking an investigation into women's roles in artistic production. The essays on medieval women artists are especially fresh and innovative, discussing new ideas about women as cultural patrons, female presence in guilds, and the importance of women's work in minor arts such as precious metals. Each essay is signed and includes footnotes and an extensive, chronologically arranged bibliography.

The 600 biographees were selected from lists drawn up by the advisors and contributors. Because emphasis is historic rather than contemporary, subjects born after 1945 were excluded. Also excluded were architects and interior, garden, and fashion designers. The scope includes artists from the Middle Ages to the present in Europe, America, and Australasia. An inescapable Anglo-American bias results from an abundance of literature on artists in these areas. Priority was given to earlier artists, those who have attracted critical comment, those whose work was relevant to women's issues, and recent artists with public profiles and strong exhibiting careers. Articles cover all the expected, well-known artists, but strengths of the dictionary include its coverage of less-familiar amateur artists with exhibit careers and some professional recognition and artists working in the decorative arts, including book arts, ceramics, textiles, flower painting, embroidery, and glass calligraphy.

A chronological list of artists reveals that Ende, a Spanish illuminator who worked around A.D. 975; Hildegard of Bingen (1098^-1179); and Herrad, abbess of Hohenbourg (active 1178^-1196), are the earliest artists represented by articles in DWA. Barbara Kruger, Susan Rothenberg, and Dana Zamecnikova, all born in 1945, are among the most recent. Some of DWA's scholarship on earlier artists is groundbreaking. For example, Pamela Patton of Southern Methodist University presents here for the first time discussion of Teresa Diaz's fourteenth-century choir frescoes in Toro, Spain.

Articles are arranged alphabetically by the artist's professional name, with cross-references from alternate names. Headnotes indicate the main area of the artist's activity and her dates. Articles are generally one to six pages in length and include basic biographical information, awards, a list of exhibitions, a list of selected writings by the artist, a bibliography arranged chronologically, and a signed critical essay. English-language editions are cited in the bibliographies wherever possible. Significant collections of manuscripts are also noted. The articles provide lengthier, more analytical, and timelier information and more about the social context of the artist's life than most other biographical sources. The article on Judy Chicago, for example, discusses not only her famous Dinner Party and Birth projects but also her work with pyrotechnics in her Atmospheres performance pieces and her experiments with art pedagogy in her Feminist Art Program at California State University, Fresno. It also mentions where scripts and descriptions of Chicago's performance pieces can be found and names the collaborators that were necessary for the Dinner Party project.

A general bibliography includes reference sources, dictionaries, bibliographies, surveys, women's art periodicals including special issues of more general periodicals devoted to women artists, indexes, resource centers, and Internet resources. Librarians will find this bibliography, as well as the bibliographies included with the introductory essays and articles on individual artists, useful for collection assessment and development.

Most artists are represented by one or two black-and-white reproductions from one-quarter to a full page in size. Users in search of one-stop shopping for images of artists' works may find DWA disappointing, although no more so than many other art-reference books. The bibliographies will surely help readers identify books and articles that include the images they seek.

Dictionary of Women Artists does not displace other biographical dictionaries of women artists but complements them by providing articles of greater depth on a smaller number of artists that have been significant in the reassessment of women's art. Dunford's Biographical Dictionary of Women Artists includes about 800 artists while covering a much shorter time span. Its coverage extends to artists born after 1945, such as Laurie Anderson. Chris Pettey's Dictionary of Women Artists: An International Dictionary of Women Artists Born before 1900 (G.K. Hall, 1985) consists of much briefer entries on approximately 21,000 artists. Although the monumental Dictionary of Art [RBB D 15 96] is a rich source of biographies, it excludes many of the women represented in DWA, such as illustrator Wanda Gag and Swedish ceramists, printmakers, and designers Lisbet and Gocken Jobs.

Dictionary of Women Artists is a landmark reference source for the history of women's art. It is essential for art and academic libraries and for most larger public libraries.

From Library Journal:

Incomparably rich, monumental, and up to date, these two volumes present the finest scholarship on women in art "from the Middle Ages to the present day, in countries throughout Europe as well as America and Australia." More than 20 key survey essays preface the main body of the dictionary and contextualize the latest knowledge found in the biographical and bibliographical entries of 600 women artists born before 1945. Twenty-three specialist advisers and 330 contributing scholars have amassed the most unqualifiedly comprehensive work yet completed on women artists (with an admittedly Anglo-American emphasis, owing to the many studies in these areas). This work should be available to all who hope to teach the nuanced history of art as it is known today; others interested in women's studies should at least read the essay "Why a Dictionary of Women Artists at This Time?" One of the finest publications on women artists since Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin's Women Artists: 1850-1950 (LJ 5/1/77), the first really substantial publication in this area, this indispensable set belongs on all library reference shelves.?Mary Hamel-Schwulst, Towson State Univ., Md.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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