Friday, August 24, 2007

Patriarchy and Berthe Morisot

Just added a new blog (Flexible Knowledges) to my blogroll. One entry spoke to me about difference (well, i am blogging about it, ain't I?). The blogger was talking about her visit to a Berthe Morisot exhibition along with a male friend, who:

went from each of Morisot's oils on display, naming the (male) artist of whose work he found that painting "derivative." Thus: "Monet, Degas..." and so on.
flexible knowledges: I don't like the term derivative

Understandably, the blogger in cause was upset, for each work was traced back to one painted by a man. Now, you'd say, don't we do this in academic all the time, tracing whatever we produce back to their intellectual legacy? Yes, but in this particular case, the tracing was done along a gender line which implied that whatever the woman created is a mere derivative (as the blogger says) of an 'authentic' or 'original', man-made painting. In this sense, the difference here was constructed as one between the copy and the original, replicating a quite old, Christian vision of Eve derived from Adam's rib.

I still remember asking my teacher as a child as to why there aren't any women who created something original, something as big as a Mozart or a Renoir. She said: because somebody had to take care of the house and of the kids. But I realized that this is only part of the answer: it's also because I have been trained to recognize the genious of originality in men's work, while women's work didn't make it in the canon, except maybe marginally. I've been trained to see the difference between works in terms of the gender of the author. And to evaluate greatness or originality in terms of furious passion, roughness, directness, possession, aggressivity and the list could go on.

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