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Art Culture

The end of the creative genius?

Women artists in Italy, 1960s-1970s lecture by Prof. Giovanna Zapperi – Université de Tours, chaired by Dr Angela Dimitrakaki feminist and Marxist lecturer at Edinburgh

Coinciding with international women’s day Prof. Zapperi proposes a revised historical approach criticising the hegemonic erasure of women and subaltern subjects from Italy’s post-war art context. In approaching feminist history, Zapperi considers feminist interventions discussing both influential art critics and artists. These include Carla Lonzi – an Italian feminist who rejected participation in the art world as complicit of patriarchal and capitalist systems –  as well as Anne Marie Sauzeau Boetti. Both critics are practically unheard of, yet their approaches help us consider histories of visual cultures in two important dimensions: on one hand, their readings allow repressed aspects of culture to become legible;, and on the other both developed and set the grounding for a feminist vocabulary which allows space for new ideas and new debates about gender and politics today.

Lonzi was interested in art existing outside of the institutional norm, or social framework that defined it as Great Art. Indeed, both critics were influential in raising feminist consciousness and pioneering a search for a new vocabulary outside the ‘mythical apparatus’ of male dominating institutions -The relevance of this theme is still evident today: with the study of the ‘creative genius’ which brings focus to the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, Damien Hirst, Vincent van Gogh, Jeff Koons. However, because of this approach history of art student would often find themselves far-fetched to name five renown women artists. 

Concerning specifically the Italian canon, the classic rhetoric of the “Creative Genius” is crucial to its historical construction as it considers a number of almost all male artist movements and groups. The notions and conceptualization of the artistic genius date back to renaissance Italy and to the birth of vibrant art scene in Italy and the west. This reverberated through history – contributing to Italian male dominated cultural ideologies. 

Zapperi offered a contextualisation of Italian culture in the 1960/70s, providing an insight into feminine dynamics in the art world and its institutions. Exploring the narrative of postwar art in Italy and the continued domination of its model of suppression: a hegemonic and linear construction of history appears, that actively contributes to ignoring women, leaving us to question whether autonomy from (male dominating) cultural politics is possible.

In the 21st century what stands out is the need to rediscover the meaning of the question What is the creative Genius? And what is normative femininity – especially in arts and visual culture? In order to contest the verticality of male genealogies, I implore the words of Linda Nochlin who asked ‘why have there been no great women artists?’. This lecture served as a reconsideration of histories, reminding us that in a world that remains actively anti-feminist, we have to be actively feminist in order to carve a space for women in places traditionally secured for the universal standard of the male artist. We have to reconsider why these institutional spaces have marginalised and excluded women all along. Should we thus support the end of the creative genius?

* NOTE* While the meeting was quickly interrupted by ZOOM hackers, displaying the hideous side of using virtual classrooms in what chairperson Angela Dimitrakaki called an,- “explicitly antifeminist and stupid disruption”, the interruption served as an apt representation of how far we have come in the quest for respect and equality in terms of feminist movements.