Vasari and the Perfect Wife: ‘Fempathy’ as a strategic method in teaching art histories and theories

Zoe Freney
2015 Conference

This paper proposes alternative suggestions for teaching art history and theory in art schools in a contemporary global culture, in which women remain a minority among artists represented in commercial galleries, despite their over-representation at art school. I propose that by teaching art histories informed by contemporary feminist methodologies we will not only continue the revision of received art history but will offer new opportunities for female arts graduates as they begin their careers out of art school. The paper will tap into a current wave of feminist research and art making, which seeks to reposition women and mothers, not as subservient to the narrowing models of womanhood and motherhood as proposed by consumer culture, but as thinking, creative agents. I propose a new strategy, ‘fempathy,’ teaching with compassion and emotion, which by no means eliminates the necessary intellectual rigour for ongoing engagement in the field but opens up new possibilities and interpretations. This approach may inspire a rise in productivity from emerging artists, especially from women whose graduation into real world art careers often coincides with their emergent motherhood. This paper will build on the work of second wave feminists who excavated the western canon to explain why women were excluded asking, if Georgio Vasari were a woman, what would the first, and subsequent, art histories have looked like? The paper will argue for a poetic reading of history that fully acknowledges the fallacies of progress and genius, and may offer alternative, sustainable roles for future generations of artists.

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About the author

Zoe Freney is an Adelaide Hills based writer, artist and educator, currently lecturing at the Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA). In 2010 she graduated from the Masters in Art History (Research) at Adelaide University with her dissertation on women’s roles and representation in the Indian Mughal courts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Zoe has been selected to participate in writing masterclasses in Adelaide and interstate. She has written for internet publications and the local arts industry and student publications, exhibition essays, wall texts and reviews.