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Hypatia 18.4 (2003) ix-xx

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Feminism and Aesthetics

Peg Brand and Mary Devereaux

It is with great enthusiasm that we present this special issue of Hypatia on feminism and aesthetics. It has been more than twelve years since guest editors Hilde Hein and Carolyn Korsmeyer put together the first special issue of Hypatia on this topic (1990). Then in its initial stages, feminist theorizing about art and aesthetics introduced considerations of gender into discussions of creativity and genius, the nature of art and its appreciation and interpretation, the imagination, and other traditional questions of philosophical aesthetics. The result was an unprecedented challenge to the existing philosophical literature. Pioneers of work in feminism and aesthetics raised the possibility of a specifically "feminine aesthetic," identified the "male gaze" implicitly assumed by visual representations of the female body, called attention to the interests embedded in purportedly disinterested responses to art, and argued for the importance of attending to African-American women's literature and other previously ignored aesthetic traditions. This early work directed philosophic attention for the first time to women's experiences, including women's experiences of their own bodies and their sense of themselves as creators. One result of this theoretical work was a flurry of interest in the body as an object of fashionable adornment, or alternately, as a vehicle for political activism and/or embodied sexuality.

From the perspective of more than a decade later, we can chart the development of the issues that preoccupied those first doing feminist work in aesthetics. Some of the early questions have been answered or set aside. So, for example, many contemporary feminists now reject the idea of a uniquely feminine aesthetic and the essentialist thinking about women and women's art on which it relied. Other concerns retain their hold. Work on the question of how gender affects traditional philosophical notions, for example, genius, aesthetic autonomy, and disinterested judgment, continues, as does attention to the social, economic, and institutional barriers confronting women who seek to have their art accepted in the mainstream art world. The result of the past dozen years is an abundant and mature body of scholarly work—work that continues to nourish and provoke.

As readers will learn from this special issue, the past decade or so has also witnessed an expansion of work into realms for the most part previously unexplored: a concern with aesthetic pleasure and the pleasures of the body, the gendered aspects of beauty and the sublime, the relation of aesthetics and ethics, the impact of feminist jurisprudence on aesthetics, and the role of the imagination in political art. [End Page ix]

The annotated bibliography presented in this volume provides a good starting point for charting the ebb and flow of a decade or more of feminist work in aesthetics. Presenting only a small proportion of the available publications in this area, author Joshua Shaw begins with the two pivotal volumes published in 1990: Hypatia (republished as Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective, 1993)and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (republished as Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics [Brand and Korsmeyer 1995]). Shaw's emphasis, like that of Brand, Hein, and Korsmeyer, is on work in analytic philosophy. The resulting bibliography reveals the wealth of material now available on women artists, feminist re-visioning of art history, and feminist theory, work that originates in feminist visual theory, film theory, cultural studies, and art history. Material in this area has blossomed beyond expectations. Detailed and thorough texts now exist on an incredible variety of women artists, past and present (see bibliography for texts by Fiona Carson and Claire Pajaczkowska, Marsha Meskimmon, Helena Reckitt, and Ella Shohat). Such studies of individual artists are greatly enhanced by the sophisticated theoretical frameworks used to explain both their work and their place in history, frameworks unimaginable in the early 1970s when women artists were first taking their rightful place at the forefront of feminist scholarship and legitimization (see bibliographic entries by Katy Deepwell and Griselda Pollock).

The bibliography also details the innovative and expanded range of topics that have come to take center stage in feminist philosophical inquiry...


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pp. ix-xx
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Archived 2009
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