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The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel

Updated: May 4, 2023

My project on pioneering female photographers is opening up so many new insights for me as well as more avenues to explore! I was interested today to note that the Sony World Photography Awards have an 'Alpha Female Award'. As I discussed in a previous post why is this still needed in 2023? I looked through the short list to see if there was evidence of a 'female gaze' - not that I could discern. So why have a separate category for female artists?

I am finding some answers to this question in Katy Hessel's inspiring and thought-provoking book "The Story of Art without Men", which pulls together seven years of her research on women in art history, beginning in the 1500's and up to the present day, and includes pioneering female photographers.

In her Introduction, Katy acknowledges that there is a lack of women recognized as significant artists. A 2019 study showed that 87% of artwork in 18 US museums were by men (85% by white artists, which is another debate to pursue). I was shocked to learn that just 1% of London's National Gallery collection is by women artists! In 2022, Katy conducted a survey and found that only 30% of the respondents could name 3 female artists, sixty years on from the key essay by Linda Nochlin, 'Why have there been no great women artists?', who in 1971 concluded:

"The fault, dear brothers, lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education—education understood to include everything that happens to us from the moment we enter this world of meaningful symbols, signs and signals."

Katy says that she does not believe that there is "anything inherently different about work created by artists of any particular gender - its more that society and its gatekeepers have always prioritised one group in history" (p.11), with a white, male, Western narrative but reassuringly states that change is happening, with more women taking leadership positions in famous galleries, exhibitions by female artists, such as the one Action, Gesture, Paint that I enjoyed so much at the Whitechapel Gallery recently (see previous blog).

Katy also founded @greatwomenartists in 2015 in which she wrote daily posts about spotlighting female artists across every medium - including photography! I am now looking forward to wallowing in Katy's book and also listening to her podcast - so many fascinating women artists to learn about! Here is the link!


Hessel, K. (2022) The Story of Art without Men. London: Hutchison Heinemann.

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