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

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If men and women are equally capable of genius, why have there been no female artists of the stature of Leonardo, Titian or Poussin? In seeking to answer this question, Germaine Greer introduces us to major but underestimated figures in the history of Western painting--Angelica Kauffmann, Natalia Goncharova, Suzanne Valadon, Berthe Morisot, Kathe Köllwitz--and produces a b If men and women are equally capable of genius, why have there been no female artists of the stature of Leonardo, Titian or Poussin? In seeking to answer this question, Germaine Greer introduces us to major but underestimated figures in the history of Western painting--Angelica Kauffmann, Natalia Goncharova, Suzanne Valadon, Berthe Morisot, Kathe Köllwitz--and produces a brilliantly incisive and richly illustrated study. She explains the obstacles as both external and surmountable and internal and insurmountable in the race for achievement.


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If men and women are equally capable of genius, why have there been no female artists of the stature of Leonardo, Titian or Poussin? In seeking to answer this question, Germaine Greer introduces us to major but underestimated figures in the history of Western painting--Angelica Kauffmann, Natalia Goncharova, Suzanne Valadon, Berthe Morisot, Kathe Köllwitz--and produces a b If men and women are equally capable of genius, why have there been no female artists of the stature of Leonardo, Titian or Poussin? In seeking to answer this question, Germaine Greer introduces us to major but underestimated figures in the history of Western painting--Angelica Kauffmann, Natalia Goncharova, Suzanne Valadon, Berthe Morisot, Kathe Köllwitz--and produces a brilliantly incisive and richly illustrated study. She explains the obstacles as both external and surmountable and internal and insurmountable in the race for achievement.

30 review for The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work

  1. 5 out of 5

    G.G.

    Greer’s important and oddly overlooked book raises what she describes as:the true questions contained in the false question, "Why were there no great women painters?" The real questions are "What is the contribution of women to the visual arts?", "If there were any women artists, why were there not more?", "If we can find one good painting by a woman, where is the rest of her work?", "How good were the women who earned a living by painting?" The real questions are based not in the notions of gre Greer’s important and oddly overlooked book raises what she describes as:the true questions contained in the false question, "Why were there no great women painters?" The real questions are "What is the contribution of women to the visual arts?", "If there were any women artists, why were there not more?", "If we can find one good painting by a woman, where is the rest of her work?", "How good were the women who earned a living by painting?" The real questions are based not in the notions of great art entertained by the "layman", which are essentially prejudices, but in the sociology of art, an infant study still in the preliminary stages of inventing a terminology for itself. (p. 6) Greer concludes:There is then no female Leonardo, no female Titian, no female Poussin, but the reason does not lie in the fact that women have wombs, that they can have babies, that their brains are smaller, that they lack vigour, that they are not sensual. The reason is simply that you cannot make great artists out of egos that have been damaged, with wills that are defective, with libidos that have been driven out of reach and energy diverted into neurotic channels. Western art is in large measure neurotic, for the concept of personality which it demonstrates is in many ways anti-social, even psychotic, but the neurosis of the artist is of a very different kind from the carefully cultured self-destructiveness of women. In our time we have seen both art and women changing in ways that, if we do not lose them, will bring both closer together. (p. 327) It's not necessary to agree with this emphasis on the "neurosis of the artist", for Greer's chapters on individual artists also give due weight to the endless economic and social circumstances that (mostly) prevented women from achieving their artistic potential. If you missed this book when it was first published in 1979, the 2001 reprint is still readily available--and Greer's argument still well worth attending to.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jo Jones

    I read this as a teenager, and it was massively influential in confirming that I did in fact want to go to art school, and was in fact a feminist in the making! (I still consider myself, aged 48, as both an artist and a feminist 'in the making' - pretty sure I haven't got the hang of either properly yet!) At the time there weren't the huge number of books that are now available on women artists - the only art history I'd been taught was exclusively about male artists, and it was a revelation to I read this as a teenager, and it was massively influential in confirming that I did in fact want to go to art school, and was in fact a feminist in the making! (I still consider myself, aged 48, as both an artist and a feminist 'in the making' - pretty sure I haven't got the hang of either properly yet!) At the time there weren't the huge number of books that are now available on women artists - the only art history I'd been taught was exclusively about male artists, and it was a revelation to me to find out about the lives of women who have made art in the past.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    I'm not in very good charity with Germaine Greer. I was deeply offended by her abuse of Steve Irwin after his death. She made it clear that she knew NOTHING about the man, and had never listened to a word he said. If I had been as badly impressed by her when I acquired this book, I probably wouldn't have read it. But I did. I'd always known that Greer was arrogant. I have to say that I almost completely disagree with her judgments on the work of the artists she profiles. But the descriptions of th I'm not in very good charity with Germaine Greer. I was deeply offended by her abuse of Steve Irwin after his death. She made it clear that she knew NOTHING about the man, and had never listened to a word he said. If I had been as badly impressed by her when I acquired this book, I probably wouldn't have read it. But I did. I'd always known that Greer was arrogant. I have to say that I almost completely disagree with her judgments on the work of the artists she profiles. But the descriptions of the conditions the painters worked under is interesting, and in many cases the artists were people I'd never heard of before. So in the absence of a better reference source, I chose to read the book through. And I'll keep watching for that better source. One thing: There's little description in this book of women as art CRITICS. Thus the book discusses Mrs Graham in Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but doesn't discuss Charlotte Bronte's criticism of artwork, acting, etc in her own book Villette. I personally am not as offended by Rubens' work as Charlotte Bronte was: I like zaftig women. But I did appreciated a lot of the points about objectification of women subjects in paintings, and about the double standards concerning which works were 'appropriate' for male and female viewers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Brumby

    Germaine Greer says it took her eight years to research this book. It is indeed full of references and detail. Sometimes this just becomes lists of women's names. As in 'White Beech', where the detail is in lists of plant names, the factual detail can be almost unreadable. She does not sufficiently link the references to ideas. A stylistic quirk of beginning paragraphs with forward looking link, often a name, which does not show the link backwards to previous paragraphs, adds to the unreadabilit Germaine Greer says it took her eight years to research this book. It is indeed full of references and detail. Sometimes this just becomes lists of women's names. As in 'White Beech', where the detail is in lists of plant names, the factual detail can be almost unreadable. She does not sufficiently link the references to ideas. A stylistic quirk of beginning paragraphs with forward looking link, often a name, which does not show the link backwards to previous paragraphs, adds to the unreadability. The book needed clearer introductions to each section and a conclusion. Nevertheless it contains much interesting information and throws down a gauntlet inviting further study, which no doubt made an impact at the time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carol Tensen

    The Obstacle Race is a piece of ground breaking work. As an art student in the 70s, we had almost no exposure to women artists in our art history classes. A few years back I went to an exhibit of women sculptors at the Hauser Wirth, and felt cheated that the art history curriculum had deprived us of Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, and Lee Bontecou - all of whom were well-known and active the decade before I entered college. Greer’s book contains a wealth of information about women’s art prior to t The Obstacle Race is a piece of ground breaking work. As an art student in the 70s, we had almost no exposure to women artists in our art history classes. A few years back I went to an exhibit of women sculptors at the Hauser Wirth, and felt cheated that the art history curriculum had deprived us of Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, and Lee Bontecou - all of whom were well-known and active the decade before I entered college. Greer’s book contains a wealth of information about women’s art prior to the 20th century. Getting through it was another matter. Her writing reminds me of the kind of peer-reviewed literature that I hoped to never encounter in my retirement. That being said, this is still worth the read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    Good book! c 1979. [Greer born 1939] I read it a long time ago and believe I still have it -- unless I lent it to someone. I wonder if Agnes might have given me this book? I don't know if Greer was the first one to write an art history of women [in the West]; certainly she was one of the first. Good book! c 1979. [Greer born 1939] I read it a long time ago and believe I still have it -- unless I lent it to someone. I wonder if Agnes might have given me this book? I don't know if Greer was the first one to write an art history of women [in the West]; certainly she was one of the first.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bob Cat

    A very thorough look at the constraints and public attitudes towards women painters. There is a lot of new information in this that gives a good background and asks a lot of questions about why women and their art haven't been taken as seriously as they might through the ages. A good amount of new-to-me women artists and their lives and times, in well researched context. A very thorough look at the constraints and public attitudes towards women painters. There is a lot of new information in this that gives a good background and asks a lot of questions about why women and their art haven't been taken as seriously as they might through the ages. A good amount of new-to-me women artists and their lives and times, in well researched context.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greg Robinson

    substantial work by a substantial person; a new perspective on art history; valid contribution

  9. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    This book was well written, full of useful information and made many interesting points and counterpoints. However, I think that my taste in art is vastly different from the author's tastes in art. She gave a lot of space to artists I don't care for, and I felt she gave short shrift to my favorites. Other than that disappointment, this was a solid and engaging book for anyone interested in art. This book was well written, full of useful information and made many interesting points and counterpoints. However, I think that my taste in art is vastly different from the author's tastes in art. She gave a lot of space to artists I don't care for, and I felt she gave short shrift to my favorites. Other than that disappointment, this was a solid and engaging book for anyone interested in art.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joann

    A comprehensive accounting of an overlooked aspect of art: women artists through the ages. This book was published in 1979. One can only hope recognition of women artists has improved immensely since that time.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emilie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. That this book was ever printed is pretty ludicrous.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter Podbielski

    The third rereading in 40 years; each offering a more delightful understanding of how egotist, fearful, and neurotic male artists strove to bridle female talent.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is a really interesting survey of the social and economic factors that affected the success of women artists across history. It gets a little wordy at times, but the topic is interesting and the explanations are thorough.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rena Breed

    Leerde mij veel over vrouwen en hun positie in de kunstwereld maar ook in andere beroepen.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jane Hinchliffe

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dsala.Com

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michele

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kelsie

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Carter

  20. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  21. 4 out of 5

    Disastrous Antoinette

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cat

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marta

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cori North

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daphnesandham

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tami

  28. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Mui

  29. 5 out of 5

    Linda Keech

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

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