Monthly Archives: December 2013

“Elles”: The Impact of French Women Artists

December 17, 2013
Rosa Bonheur: Study of a Cow. Courtesy en:Figge Art Museum, oil painting, c.1840

Rosa Bonheur: Study of a Cow. Courtesy en:Figge Art Museum, oil painting, c.1840

In Dr. Anna Tahinci’s upcoming class, “”Elles”: French Women Artists”, French women’s contributions to the visual arts from the 18th century until today will be examined. According to Tahinci, “the class emphasis will include not only stylistic developments, but also the way French women artists interacted with the ideas and values of their time and culture”. Recently we visited with Tahinci to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What things would surprise us to know about the French women artists?

Tahinci: It was extremely difficult for a woman in France until the very end of the 19th century to receive proper artistic training because of the impossibility to have access to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the official School of Fine Arts. It was only in 1897 that a special section for women was created (separated from the male section) at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, thanks to a battle organized by sculptress Hélène Bertaux. Women had to wait until 1900 to have access to the study of nude male models and 1903 to be allowed to be part of the special exam for the prestigious Prix de Rome, that allowed them to study in Rome and obtain official commissions. As a result, only women who were daughters, sisters, wives or family members of artists could receive proper artistic training. Women were considered as “muses” and “models” of male artists, excelling mostly in the decorative arts and crafts.

Marie-Antoinette with the Rose, 1783

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun: Marie-Antoinette with the Rose, 1783

WIH Reporter: What is the biggest misconception we have about women artists of that time?

Tahinci: “Women’s Art” is not the same as “feminine” or “feminist Art”. One could argue that thought-provoking art is (and should be) genderless and that gender is a mere social construct, reminding us of the iconic quote by French feminist, social theorist and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex (published in Paris in 1949): “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” The transformation of the condition of women is a major economic, social and cultural fact of our 21st century (although there is still room for improvement). This mutation is also represented in the history of art and we will study how French female artists played a central role in this revolution and why their life and work made a lasting impact on modern and contemporary art.

WIH Reporter: What media will you use in your class?

Tahinci: We will increase our visual literacy and will deepen our awareness and appreciation of the cultural and conceptual framework in which French artworks were created by women. We will study and interpret a wide range of artworks by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Rosa Bonheur, Séraphine Louis, Berthe Morisot, Marie Bracquemond, Camille Claudel, Suzanne Valadon, Marie Laurencin, Sonia Delaunay, Niki de Saint Phalle, Annette Messager, Orlan, Louise Bourgeois, and Sophie Calle, and examine their relationship to the society that produced them: patrons, viewers, the cultural and artistic contexts of these works. French women fashion designers (Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, Madame Grès, Sonia Rykiel, Agnès b, Isabel Marant) and recent exhibitions, like the “Elles” exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou (when the Centre Georges Pompidou decided to consign in storage all artworks created by male artists in order to exhibit for the first time in the world the feminine side of its permanent collection) will be special highlight of the class.

For more information about Anna Tahinci’s 10-week class, which starts on February 3, 2014, at 10:00 am, click here.

The 20th Century European Novel: War and Experimental Fiction

December 17, 2013

A period of great innovation and experimentation resulted from the carnage of the two great world wars of the 20th Century, coupled with the rise of Modernism. The old culture, based on Enlightenment optimism and the 19th century’s belief in progress, was invalidated by the destruction, and new ways of understanding the new world had to be invented. Terry Doody’s class, “The 20th Century European Novel: The Rise Of Modernism In Literature” examines that extremely creative period through the lens of  such seminal books as Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise”, Bely’s “Petersburg”, Pasternak’s “Dr Zhivago”, Colette’s “Cheri” and the “Last of Cheri”, Hrabl’s “I Served the King of England”, Saramago’s “Baltasar and Blimunda”, Kertesz’s “Fateless”, and Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”. We visited with Dr. Doody to find out more about this intriguing class. 

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about the works you have chosen for your class? For instance, tell us a little about “Suite Francaise”.

Doody:  Irene Nemirovsky was born a Russian Jew. Her family moved to France, she became a novelist, and in 1942 she was put to death by the Nazis. That year she also published the first two movements of her “Suite Francaise”, which deals with the German occupation, the animosity between the classes in France, and the delicate question of her heroine’s attraction to the German officer assigned to the house she lives in with her mother-in-law. Nemirovsky’s sense of her character’s moral integrity is unforgettable.

So is the reaction of Imre Kertesz’s narrator to his experience in the camps. Although these two novels are fairly traditional, others such as “Petersburg” and “I Served the King of England” are experiments their authors found necessary in representing the enormities of the Russian Revolution and the Third Reich.

WIH Reporter:   How do the authors and works you have chosen for your class show the effect that war, destruction, and turmoil have on artistic innovation and creativity? 

DoodyWar and experimental fiction are not the strange bedfellows they seem to be. All war stories are anti-war. Great novels are written as though to set the record straight. The important fiction of twentieth-century Europe embodies both of these imperatives.

For more information about Dr. Doody’s 12-week class beginning on February 6th, 2014 at 1:00 pm, click here.


A Portrait of Houston: History, Personalities & “Can-Do” Spirit

December 30, 2013

Houston skyline by Hequals2henry

Over the last 178 years, Houston has evolved from a muddy bayou outpost to a city with one of the largest ports in the world, major oil and space industries, the world’s largest medical center, a full complement of performing and visual arts, and the most diverse population of any city in the country. In her upcoming class, historian and Houston expert Betty Trapp Chapman covers Houston’s history, personalities, and  “can-do” spirit. We asked Chapman for a preview of her upcoming class.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class?

Chapman: We will look at Houston’s history and how it created the city we know today. However, we will not just look at facts and figures, but, rather, we will try to  understand the mind-set and attitudes of the Houstonians who were always involved in what was happening as the city grew and developed. There were always those who thought Houston could stretch beyond its present boundaries whether  in business, culture, industry or any other area. That is what has become known as Houston’s “can-do spirit.” Having said that, we will look at many specific individuals who played a role in our historic past.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about Houston?

Chapman: One little–known fact is the role women played in the city’s development, especially in the cultural arena. At a time when women had few legal rights and were conceded little influence outside the home, Houston’s female community was responsible for initiating many of the cultural institutions we still enjoy today. It is revealing to see how this was accomplished.

WIH Reporter: What are the misconceptions that people have about Houston?

Chapman: There are many misconceptions about Houston as a city. First and foremost, we are sometimes considered to be “western” in our genetic make-up. Actually, Houston was more southern than western in its formative years and beyond.  Cowboys and cattle drives were not prominent in the city’s formation. Rather, business always took precedence and that, of course, has led the city in its development. Unfortunately, we are not always thought of as a cultural oasis when, actually, we are ranked among the top cities in the county for our arts scene.

 WIH Reporter: What materials you be using in your class?

Chapman: Media will include PowerPoint presentations utilizing many historic photographs, as well as current ones.  There will also be historic maps to scrutinize  up-close. Books pertinent to particular subjects will be brought to class and there will be an extensive Bibliography distributed for those who want to explore Houston’s history on their own.

Chapman’s 6-week class begins at 1 p.m. on March 18, 2014. For more information, click here.