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Reviewed by:
  • Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada ed. by Kristina Huneault and Janice Anderson
  • Alicia Boutilier (bio)
Kristina Huneault and Janice Anderson, eds. Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850–1970. McGill-Queen’s University Press. xxvi, 443. $65.00

The editors’ claim holds true. Rethinking Professionalism is “the first published collection of scholarly essays on women, art, and history in Canada.” While Canadian scholars and curators have actively contributed to the field of feminist art history from its beginnings, there have been no tomes like The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History (1992) for the Canadian context. But that’s not surprising. As Kristina Huneault and Janice Anderson point out, the lack of a “critically engaged synthetic look” is the consequence of Canadian (unlike European and American) art history itself being a relatively new field of study when feminist art history hit the scene. Organized by the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (CWAHI), this collection plays catch-up but in a way that employs both historical and methodological approaches, expands the notions of art and artist, and focuses its study through a particular paradigmatic lens. All thirteen essays contend with the issue of professionalism, which rose in the late nineteenth century and indelibly marked the Canadian art world and its record in various ways.

The introduction by Huneault serves as the historical and methodological backbone for the rest of the book. A compact tour de force, it provides a critical overview of the role of professionalism in writings on Canadian women artists and untangles the history of women, art, and professionalization in Canada to the mid-twentieth century.

In part 2, “Professionalizing Art,” Kirk Niergarth, Lianne McTavish, and Alena Buis investigate the shifting terrain of the mid-twentieth-century Canadian art world and the changing nature of its professions. According to Niergarth, the period after the Second World War witnessed the reassertion of the professional artist as ahead of, rather than of, the public, in opposition to continued efforts by women artists to advance prewar cultural democracy. McTavish similarly explores competing visions of the role of museum professionals – again, populist versus elitist models, with the latter winning “the battle.” From another perspective, Buis reveals how Anne Savage’s popularizing impulse in her “Development of Art in Canada” radio broadcasts was structured by a professionalizing project that enshrined a nationalistic narrative, leaving little room for women artists. [End Page 428]

Essays in part 3, “Careers for Women,” by Jennifer Salahub, Mary O’Connor, Cynthia Imogen Hammond, Loren Lerner, and Sandra Paikowsky examine the different strategies by which women participated in the professional and relatively masculine art world. According to Salahub and O’Connor respectively, Hannah Maynard’s incorporation of domestic craft into her photographic practice aligned her professional status with Victorian acceptability, while Margaret Watkins’s modernist transformation of domestic and feminine images gained her entry into the professional domain of 1920s commercial photography. Hammond’s essay on the Canadian Home Journal’s February 1953 issue provides a chronological pivot for this section in analyzing the journal’s conflicting modern visions of the professional woman and feminized domesticity. Lerner writes that by producing empathetic drawings of Inuit mothers, Kathleen Daly used her position as a professional artist in the 1960s to resist invasive socio-economic forces in the North. Paikowsky argues that women abstract painters in Montreal, finding neither Automatiste gesturalism nor Plasticien geometry satisfactory for capturing their experiences of the world (particularly “the changing world of Quebec’s grande noirceur”), combined both in a liberating “armature.”

Sherry Farrell Racette, Ruth B. Phillips, Anne Whitelaw, and Annmarie Adams analyze “The Limits of Professionalism” in part 4 and call for new art historical frameworks. Racette emphasizes that art history was “written around” Aboriginal women artists, despite many having been honoured within their communities and even beyond in their own time. Phillips reveals that while Onkwehonwe beadwork has until recently been categorized as traditional and ethnographic, mid-nineteenth-century settler society celebrated its inventive mix of Western and Indigenous styles. Turning to museum scholarship, Whitelaw argues that professionalization is “always the shadowy bar” against which women volunteer societies have been measured and rendered invisible. And, as Adams describes, another...


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pp. 428-429
Launched on MUSE
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