La Trobe University (AUSTRALIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN09 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 2933-2940
ISBN: 978-84-612-9801-3
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain
In this paper I shall outline and argue for an appropriate research methodology to write biographies of women artists. Feminist researchers have argued for approaches which place women at the centre of the inquiry and which ask women’s questions. Until the late twentieth century, artists’ biographies generally followed a particular genre which can be traced back to 1550 and Giorgio Vasari’s The lives of Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Because Vasari singled out a small number of women for attention, as have later historians, thus making a tokenistic recognition of the contributions of a few, feminist art historians and biographers have rejected this genre as being phallo-centric and as having served to marginalise or exclude women in the past.

Feminist researchers have established an extensive critique of masculinist and positivist research methodologies. The methodology reported here recognises the basic tenets for research about women put forward by these authorities. It has been adapted from my doctoral research methodology, an innovative approach to allow the researcher to view how women negotiated their careers in visual arts in the arts mainstream. Following a thorough reading of the literature on Welsh visual artists in 2003, I was struck by the lack of writing about women artists. From this developed my current project to write biographies of women artists in Wales.

Life history was chosen as the most suitable approach as it allowed the artists to collaborate in the research process. The use of life-lines, text-based data such as curricula vitae and exhibition catalogues, and photographs provided by the artists contributed to a rich source of data to support and cross-reference the data from the in-depth interviews - the life stories as narrated by the women. The interviews allow the artists to speak for themselves and, importantly, to revisit the transcribed data at a later date for correction, elaboration and confirmation.

The conversational context of the in-depth interview provides rapport establishing “interpretative space”. The mutual trust developed through these conversations allows the interaction at times to go beyond the telling of a story to heightened awareness and insight. In a rare instance such insights may give rise to an epiphany, but it is more likely that transformation or empowerment may be experienced.

The case for this methodology will be supported by some of the early discussions around the results of the study.

life history, biography, feminism, women artists.