Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Story of Amanda Vickery with Some Art

I've just caught episode 3 (the final episode) in the series The Story of Women in Art.  I blogged about episode 1 HERE.

In it, perky Prof Amanda Vickery marches purposefully around various scenic locations, leans doe-eyed against various walls in a curiously lumpy frock, and generally wastes a lot of time smouldering in front of the camera before explaining she now only has enough time left to talk about 6 artists.


Except they're not all artists.  We do have three  - historical painter and war artist Lady Butler

Lady Butler (Elizabeth Thompson), Scotland Forever!

forgotten Impressionist Berthe Morisot 

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle (1872)

and minxy is-that-a-petunia-or-a-vagina painter, Georgia O'Keeffe.  

Georgia O'Keeffe, Blue Flower, pastel 1918

But then the other half of the programme - 50% of the airtime! - is taken up with gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a Swedish woman who made her house lovely with some nice interior design (Karin Larsson), and a dress designer, Madeleine Vionnet.  I mean, what the...?

"All trailblazers!" declares Vickery, marching cheekily from Paris to America to Sweden - boy, can that woman march about.  But for crying out blinking loud woman, trailblazers they may be, but fine artists they are not.  

Daisies, cushions and frocks might all indeed be artistic expressions, and very meaningful, wonderful, life-affirming, life-changing expressions they are too.  In fact, I'd love to see a separate programme about Jekyll, Larsson and Vionnet. It would be fascinating.  I'd watch it.

But - and this is a very important but - they are not FINE art, and this programme is about FINE art - ie. sculptors and painters.  Which, by including these women, is doing a massive disservice to the actual subject matter of the programme, by elbowing out the real thrust and focus of the argument.

Good grief, it's not as if there's a shortage of subject matter.  There are loads of female fine artists out there, crying out for recognition - huge oceans of them, not waving, but drowning in a sea of historical obscurity.  But what does Vickery do?  Hold out a hand and lift them aboard the raft of scholarly acclaim?  Oh no.  It's daisies, cushions and frocks.  No cliches there, eh? 

Which brings us back to basic problem with Amanda Vickery as the presenter.  Because although she can walk down a street, and swagger through the streets of Paris in a mac with her hands in her pockets (but no handbag), and stride across the deserts of America, she doesn't know how to make a decent, scholarly, informed, focussed, pertinent programme about fine art.  And the reason we get daisies, cushions and frocks is because Vickery is a lecturer in in British social, political and cultural history, and so the subject matter is derailed into her area of interest.

So was it too much to ask an actual Art Historian to make an art history programme??   Or are there no pretty lady art historians who can walk attractively and lean up against walls seductively?

Women artists deserve better.

You can see Episode 3 HERE on BBC i-Player.

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