Any list of influential female artists is likely to include Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassat, but many other women have produced profound and powerful work without the same name recognition. Upper school Art History students can now add seven more women to the list, after reading an acclaimed book and exchanging insights with its author, Booklist critic Donna Seaman.
Seaman’s biographical anthology, “Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists,” delves into the lives of lesser-known American artists Lousie Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Lois Mailou Jones, Joan Brown, Ree Morton, Lenore Tawney and Christina Ramberg. She discussed the work of each one via teleconference with Mark Luce’s students on Wednesday, May 9, and said she found their questions “smart and sensitive,” and their observations “important and astute.”
Each student chose an artist to study and discuss. Prompted by their questions, Seaman explained how Ramberg’s Cubist- and Surrealist-inspired paintings depicted her military upbringing and her belief that by attaining strength in beauty, women become powerful. She told them Brown’s whimsical paintings were inspired by her own life, “which was a radical act for a woman at the time because she was saying she was as interesting as any man.” She explained how Jones helped lead the art world to recognize the strength and beauty of African-American art, and why Abercrombie’s reputation as a party girl and “Queen of the Bohemian Artists” was at odds with her inner loneliness and solitude.
Mr. Luce said bringing in subject-area experts like Seaman gives students new perspectives on what they learn in the classroom and opportunities to apply critical thinking skills.
“The students were able to translate what they had read and presented into sophisticated analysis of the artists and excellent questions for Donna. This type of interaction with authors and artists not only enhances student learning, but it also reminds them of how the art canon’s construction never rests solely on merit.”