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Jennifer Purtle. Women in Asian Art: Guan Daosheng and the Idea of a Great Woman Artist

Women artists in male-dominated societies are only exceptionally—if ever—recognized for their talent. It is not so much the case that such societies are necessarily prejudiced against female artists. Rather, the unique ability of female bodies to bear children gives form to women’s lives, the demands of child-rearing (and more generally, of household management) precluding sustained engagement with the arts. Even when wealth makes possible equal access to education and a well-staffed household, the responsibilities of wife/mother/chatelaine offer conditions for the practice of art different from those available to her male counterparts. Pressure to conform to expectations about gendered behaviour may further shape the possibilities for women artists in male-dominated societies, foremost among them normative notions of gender and agency: men invent while women reproduce; men read and write while women listen and perhaps speak; men are visible and act in the public sphere while women are correspondingly absent from it, the propriety of an elite household such that its inner workings, especially the non-normative ones pertaining to its female members, would be unknown beyond its walls.

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Mar/Apr 2018
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