How The Direct Line of Art History Continually Dodges Women

by Paddy Johnson on September 13, 2010 · 46 comments Opinion

Jasper Johns, The Dutch Wives (1975). Image Via: New York Magazine

A direct line can be drawn to connect the young Jasper Johns to the philosophy of Hans Hofman, who had been a teacher of Johns’ teacher Catharine Rembert” Page 36, Jasper Johns Gray, Essay by James Rondeau

The above quote is a perfect example of how women are seamlessly written out of history. Here, James Rondeau draws a “direct” line right through Johns’ most immediate influence — his teacher Catharine Rembert — to the next male in the teaching lineage. Rembert’s main role in the narrative constructed by Rondeau is as a vessel that transmits the weighty words of another, better known, man.

  • http://www.judithannbraun.com Judith Braun

    Paddy, thank you for drawing attention to such a subtlety in what could otherwise just read as a historical statement. I’m pretty sure I read things like that all the time and don’t notice.

  • http://www.judithannbraun.com Judith Braun

    Paddy, thank you for drawing attention to such a subtlety in what could otherwise just read as a historical statement. I’m pretty sure I read things like that all the time and don’t notice.

  • Erik D-H

    Your post + the title of the John’s piece reminded me of Judith Leyster

    http://www.google.com/images?client=safari&rls=en&q=judith%20leyster&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi

    I wonder if her work is valued as highly as Frans Hals?

  • http://erikdavisheim@blogspot.com Erik D-H

    Your post + the title of the John’s piece reminded me of Judith Leyster

    http://www.google.com/images?client=safari&rls=en&q=judith%20leyster&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi

    I wonder if her work is valued as highly as Frans Hals?

  • j.d. hastinga

    Yikes

  • j.d. hastinga

    Yikes

  • Dustin

    Did Hans Hofman steal his philosophical ideas from his student, Catharine Rembert?

  • Dustin

    Did Hans Hofman steal his philosophical ideas from his student, Catharine Rembert?

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Dustin, if you wish future comments approved you’ll need to submit your full name.

    I’m not suggesting that Hofman stole his ideas from Rembert, only that Rembert’s role as a teacher is being diminished. Imagine if Johns’ teacher was Josef Albers who had studied under Hofman? I bet Rondeau’s interpretation would look a lot different.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Dustin, if you wish future comments approved you’ll need to submit your full name.

    I’m not suggesting that Hofman stole his ideas from Rembert, only that Rembert’s role as a teacher is being diminished. Imagine if Johns’ teacher was Josef Albers who had studied under Hofman? I bet Rondeau’s interpretation would look a lot different.

  • http://tuckerneel.com Tucker

    Right on!

  • http://tuckerneel.com Tucker

    Right on!

  • http://ethangreenbaum.com Ethan Greenbaum

    I also wonder how much this is a double whammy of sexism and fame-ism ( I may be inventing the term right here, right now?) If Johns’ teacher had been a lesser known male artist, I can imagine the line reading much the same.

  • http://ethangreenbaum.com Ethan Greenbaum

    I also wonder how much this is a double whammy of sexism and fame-ism ( I may be inventing the term right here, right now?) If Johns’ teacher had been a lesser known male artist, I can imagine the line reading much the same.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think there’s some truth to that.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I think there’s some truth to that.

  • Worried Scientist

    Are you just trying to build a drama out of an innocent quote or do you have some proof that women are generally written out of history?

  • Worried Scientist

    Are you just trying to build a drama out of an innocent quote or do you have some proof that women are generally written out of history?

  • Mitch

    Have you considered that it may not be a question of sexism and the repression/oppression of women, that instead it may simply be that Jasper John’s philosophy is more relevant to that of Hans Hoffman’s than to Rembert’s?

    You have to make the assumption that Rembert shares the same philosophy as Hoffman, for the sentiment that she has been overlooked to hold true. And we should never make assumptions, because it leads to misinterpretation. (An alternative is that she educated her pupils of her teacher’s philosophies, whilst not holding them true herself).

    Furthermore, if it is Hoffman’s philosophy (and not someone else’s that he has adopted) then to say that John’s adopted the philosophy of Rembert would be a fallacy. She would merely be the vessel through which John’s was introduced to HOFFMAN’s philosophy. And this is how it has been portrayed in the above caption.

    No doubt women are “seamlessly written out of history”, but to say this is an example of that, in my opinion, is incorrect.

  • Mitch

    Have you considered that it may not be a question of sexism and the repression/oppression of women, that instead it may simply be that Jasper John’s philosophy is more relevant to that of Hans Hoffman’s than to Rembert’s?

    You have to make the assumption that Rembert shares the same philosophy as Hoffman, for the sentiment that she has been overlooked to hold true. And we should never make assumptions, because it leads to misinterpretation. (An alternative is that she educated her pupils of her teacher’s philosophies, whilst not holding them true herself).

    Furthermore, if it is Hoffman’s philosophy (and not someone else’s that he has adopted) then to say that John’s adopted the philosophy of Rembert would be a fallacy. She would merely be the vessel through which John’s was introduced to HOFFMAN’s philosophy. And this is how it has been portrayed in the above caption.

    No doubt women are “seamlessly written out of history”, but to say this is an example of that, in my opinion, is incorrect.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ sally
  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ sally
  • http://darteboard.com J.D. Hastings

    I don’t have a lot of time to re-read the text or go into it too deeply, but the Paddy mentioning Josef Albers reminded me of this chapter from a beautiful book on Eva Hesse’s drawings that examines her relationship to ANNI Albers. The article also addresses a connection between Anni and another of Josef Albers’s students, Rauschenberg and by proxy, Jasper Johns (see the end of p.65)

    The article is by “Drawing as Binding/Bandage/Bondage” by M. Catherine de Zegher
    http://tinyurl.com/2549vwb

  • http://darteboard.com J.D. Hastings

    I don’t have a lot of time to re-read the text or go into it too deeply, but the Paddy mentioning Josef Albers reminded me of this chapter from a beautiful book on Eva Hesse’s drawings that examines her relationship to ANNI Albers. The article also addresses a connection between Anni and another of Josef Albers’s students, Rauschenberg and by proxy, Jasper Johns (see the end of p.65)

    The article is by “Drawing as Binding/Bandage/Bondage” by M. Catherine de Zegher
    http://tinyurl.com/2549vwb

  • Jackson

    This article should be retitled, “How The Direct Line of Art History Is Continually Thought To Be Dodging Women When It Isn’t”.

    Hans Hofman is important in Art History. Catherine Rembert is much less so. It is natural to cite the important people. There is no attack on women here. Just an imagined one.
    If Jasper Johns had studied under some less influential male teacher who in turn was taught by Louise Nevelson, the article would skip over the male teacher and focus on Nevelson.

  • Jackson

    This article should be retitled, “How The Direct Line of Art History Is Continually Thought To Be Dodging Women When It Isn’t”.

    Hans Hofman is important in Art History. Catherine Rembert is much less so. It is natural to cite the important people. There is no attack on women here. Just an imagined one.
    If Jasper Johns had studied under some less influential male teacher who in turn was taught by Louise Nevelson, the article would skip over the male teacher and focus on Nevelson.

  • Rachel

    Jackson: have you considered the possibility that the reason why Hans Hoffman is more important to “art history” than Catherine Rembert is because art history and the institutions that create it have systematically excluded women and minimized their importance? Art history isn’t some sort of objective, neutral set of truths about which artists are more important than others — it’s created precisely through articles like the one Paddy cites.

  • Rachel

    Jackson: have you considered the possibility that the reason why Hans Hoffman is more important to “art history” than Catherine Rembert is because art history and the institutions that create it have systematically excluded women and minimized their importance? Art history isn’t some sort of objective, neutral set of truths about which artists are more important than others — it’s created precisely through articles like the one Paddy cites.

  • Jackson

    Rachel, I have considered that, but I don’t think it is true in this case. I guess that would be the critical point though wouldn’t it? The truth of the original article hinges on the argument as to whether Hans Hoffman is the more important figure in this line of people, or if Rembert is secretly the more important and influential figure who has been covertly submerged due to her gender.
    I guess if you want to make that point then you will have to create an argument that refutes all the current knowledge showing Hoffman as more influential and important person.
    It does seem a bit wanton for the original writer of this piece to just casually throw out the oft-used gauntlet of female oppression with no facts or even ideas to back it up.

  • Jackson

    Rachel, I have considered that, but I don’t think it is true in this case. I guess that would be the critical point though wouldn’t it? The truth of the original article hinges on the argument as to whether Hans Hoffman is the more important figure in this line of people, or if Rembert is secretly the more important and influential figure who has been covertly submerged due to her gender.
    I guess if you want to make that point then you will have to create an argument that refutes all the current knowledge showing Hoffman as more influential and important person.
    It does seem a bit wanton for the original writer of this piece to just casually throw out the oft-used gauntlet of female oppression with no facts or even ideas to back it up.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Jackson, You are offering a very narrow interpretation of my post and then complaining that I’m overstating the problem. My argument was not Rembert is secretly more important and influential, but that the author’s choice of words diminishes Rembert’s actual influence. Clearly Rembert had a greater role her than the one assigned to her. The author could have at least cast that sentence a little better.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Jackson, You are offering a very narrow interpretation of my post and then complaining that I’m overstating the problem. My argument was not Rembert is secretly more important and influential, but that the author’s choice of words diminishes Rembert’s actual influence. Clearly Rembert had a greater role her than the one assigned to her. The author could have at least cast that sentence a little better.

  • Clem Vimson

    Jackson, the writer of this piece is just throwing out an idea in order to start a discussion. I believe that’s why she filed it under the category of ‘Opinion’.

  • Clem Vimson

    Jackson, the writer of this piece is just throwing out an idea in order to start a discussion. I believe that’s why she filed it under the category of ‘Opinion’.

  • Rachel

    “One of [Johns's] teachers there, Catharine Phillips Rembert, who had studied with Hans Hofmann and knew the New York art scene, became a close friend and mentor. She invited him to dinner at her house almost every night. (Her dining table, which Johns bought from her a few years ago and enlarged, is now his dining table in Connecticut.)”
    From Calvin Tomkins’ book Lives of the Artists (http://books.google.com/books?id=Wj-mhozWsFEC&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=catharine+rembert&source=bl&ots=l953OSTXzP&sig=TP1RXAryIyBbco09hIHQankNK7A&hl=en&ei=2cmRTK2NF4O8lQew7P2nCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CD4Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=catharine%20rembert&f=false)

    Jackson, I have a lot of problems with your statement, but addressing your most immediate point, this quote from Tomkins is an example that not only points to Rembert’s significance for Johns, but also a way of linking Johns to Hoffman without writing her off as a total footnote.

  • Rachel

    “One of [Johns's] teachers there, Catharine Phillips Rembert, who had studied with Hans Hofmann and knew the New York art scene, became a close friend and mentor. She invited him to dinner at her house almost every night. (Her dining table, which Johns bought from her a few years ago and enlarged, is now his dining table in Connecticut.)”
    From Calvin Tomkins’ book Lives of the Artists (http://books.google.com/books?id=Wj-mhozWsFEC&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=catharine+rembert&source=bl&ots=l953OSTXzP&sig=TP1RXAryIyBbco09hIHQankNK7A&hl=en&ei=2cmRTK2NF4O8lQew7P2nCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CD4Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=catharine%20rembert&f=false)

    Jackson, I have a lot of problems with your statement, but addressing your most immediate point, this quote from Tomkins is an example that not only points to Rembert’s significance for Johns, but also a way of linking Johns to Hoffman without writing her off as a total footnote.

  • Mitch

    I don’t think Jackson interpretation is it all a narrow – I think it is reasoned and backed up by history. Neither do I think the author’s words diminish the role Rembert played, merely they highlight the role Hoffman played.

    It IS all in the interpretation of the author’s words after all, and those who crusade for women’s rights, rather than equality between the sexes, can infer sexism and oppression everywhere.

    I find that a sharp intellect can find whatever it is looking for in any text. That is to say we have the ability to put forward a convincing argument for something we don’t hold true. For instance, if asked to, we could all argue that “animal testing is a good thing” even though none of us are likely to be of that opinion. My logic being, we have the intelligence to find evidence to back-up both sides of any argument. Therefore we must not be blinded by a beliefs/preconceptions. It is our duty to always present both sides of an argument, and perhaps Paddy could have cast his argument a little better, conceding that Hoffman was more influence, but that shouldn’t diminish the important role that Rembert played.

  • Mitch

    I don’t think Jackson interpretation is it all a narrow – I think it is reasoned and backed up by history. Neither do I think the author’s words diminish the role Rembert played, merely they highlight the role Hoffman played.

    It IS all in the interpretation of the author’s words after all, and those who crusade for women’s rights, rather than equality between the sexes, can infer sexism and oppression everywhere.

    I find that a sharp intellect can find whatever it is looking for in any text. That is to say we have the ability to put forward a convincing argument for something we don’t hold true. For instance, if asked to, we could all argue that “animal testing is a good thing” even though none of us are likely to be of that opinion. My logic being, we have the intelligence to find evidence to back-up both sides of any argument. Therefore we must not be blinded by a beliefs/preconceptions. It is our duty to always present both sides of an argument, and perhaps Paddy could have cast his argument a little better, conceding that Hoffman was more influence, but that shouldn’t diminish the important role that Rembert played.

  • http://www.judithannbraun.com Judith Braun

    I’m with Rachel on this. “Art history isn’t some sort of objective, neutral set of truths about which artists are more important than others”

    Mitch: Yes, these things are case by case: what did this author really mean, how many ways there are to interpret a text….for one’s own purposes etc. That’s all reasonable but it’s also a way of dismissing other kinds of perception about the cultural, historical patterns that are veiled and deeply ingrained. Only those who really have a stake in changing them will be noticing and caring. Hey…there’s a reason why many women “infer sexism and oppression everywhere”! No one is being vigilante for us….

  • http://www.judithannbraun.com Judith Braun

    I’m with Rachel on this. “Art history isn’t some sort of objective, neutral set of truths about which artists are more important than others”

    Mitch: Yes, these things are case by case: what did this author really mean, how many ways there are to interpret a text….for one’s own purposes etc. That’s all reasonable but it’s also a way of dismissing other kinds of perception about the cultural, historical patterns that are veiled and deeply ingrained. Only those who really have a stake in changing them will be noticing and caring. Hey…there’s a reason why many women “infer sexism and oppression everywhere”! No one is being vigilante for us….

  • Rachel

    Mitch: I can’t speak for Paddy, obviously, but how is this related to a “crusade for women’s rights”? The post at no point argues, or even implies, that Hoffman isn’t an important artist, nor does it state that Rembert should be as famous as Hoffman simply because she’s a woman — that’s also not what I meant to imply in my initial comment. You and Jackson both seem to be taking “art history” as an objective set of facts and truths rather than acknowledging the fact that the canon of “important” artists is completely constructed through articles, exhibitions, museums collections, etc. Rembert may not be as significant an artist as Hofman, but she was clearly an important mentor for Johns, something that has been diminished in this particular article (and most conventional scholarship) because the “direct line” from Hofmann to Johns makes for a more compelling narrative (eg great male artist to great male artist.) Language isn’t neutral — word choices reveal and transmit a particular ideology on the part of the author. In this case, what Rondeau seems to think is of exclusive importance is the relationship between Hofmann and Johns, treating Rembert, as Paddy argued, as a kind of vessel or conduit for the transmission of Hofmann’s great ideas. Johns obviously valued Rembert as a lifelong mentor and friend, so surely art historical narratives about him and his work should acknowledge her influence as an artist independent of Hofmann.

  • Rachel

    Mitch: I can’t speak for Paddy, obviously, but how is this related to a “crusade for women’s rights”? The post at no point argues, or even implies, that Hoffman isn’t an important artist, nor does it state that Rembert should be as famous as Hoffman simply because she’s a woman — that’s also not what I meant to imply in my initial comment. You and Jackson both seem to be taking “art history” as an objective set of facts and truths rather than acknowledging the fact that the canon of “important” artists is completely constructed through articles, exhibitions, museums collections, etc. Rembert may not be as significant an artist as Hofman, but she was clearly an important mentor for Johns, something that has been diminished in this particular article (and most conventional scholarship) because the “direct line” from Hofmann to Johns makes for a more compelling narrative (eg great male artist to great male artist.) Language isn’t neutral — word choices reveal and transmit a particular ideology on the part of the author. In this case, what Rondeau seems to think is of exclusive importance is the relationship between Hofmann and Johns, treating Rembert, as Paddy argued, as a kind of vessel or conduit for the transmission of Hofmann’s great ideas. Johns obviously valued Rembert as a lifelong mentor and friend, so surely art historical narratives about him and his work should acknowledge her influence as an artist independent of Hofmann.

  • Jackson

    I’ve had my coffee now and I am feeling much more agreeable.
    Judith makes a good point that “no one is being vigilant for us.” It is primarily up to women to look out for women. There definitely are a lot of places where they will get skated over in the narrative of events. So I can’t really criticize the original article too much.
    On the other hand, if you look at any text there are going to be references to many people in there. Some male, some female. Some will be mentioned more. Some will be mentioned less. It is very easy to find dozens of instances where a female name is referred to very briefly while a male name is focused on. Conversely you can also find dozens of instances where a female name is focused on while a male name is passed over. How do we know if it is gender bias that makes the author ignore the real contributions of that person, or if it is just an author focusing on the most important and relevant people in any given instance?
    I would argue that it is up to the person pointing it out to illustrate why that person is being wrongly ignored due to gender bias. If you just point out a sentence and say “that woman was not focused on” that is not a very helpful action.
    Apparently I need more coffee.

  • Jackson

    I’ve had my coffee now and I am feeling much more agreeable.
    Judith makes a good point that “no one is being vigilant for us.” It is primarily up to women to look out for women. There definitely are a lot of places where they will get skated over in the narrative of events. So I can’t really criticize the original article too much.
    On the other hand, if you look at any text there are going to be references to many people in there. Some male, some female. Some will be mentioned more. Some will be mentioned less. It is very easy to find dozens of instances where a female name is referred to very briefly while a male name is focused on. Conversely you can also find dozens of instances where a female name is focused on while a male name is passed over. How do we know if it is gender bias that makes the author ignore the real contributions of that person, or if it is just an author focusing on the most important and relevant people in any given instance?
    I would argue that it is up to the person pointing it out to illustrate why that person is being wrongly ignored due to gender bias. If you just point out a sentence and say “that woman was not focused on” that is not a very helpful action.
    Apparently I need more coffee.

  • Daniel Nilsson

    Jackson: It is not the point that woman was not focused on, but that she was totally ignored. Yes, mentioned by name, but only as someone so insubstantial that the “direct” line goes straight through her. The choice of language and focus is important here as women still are not equal in this country or this world. And this inequality is perpetuated, among many other things, by language. Often it is done subconsciously, as.this ideology is absorbed by osmosis from birth. It is a legitimate and important point made by Paddy.

  • Daniel Nilsson

    Jackson: It is not the point that woman was not focused on, but that she was totally ignored. Yes, mentioned by name, but only as someone so insubstantial that the “direct” line goes straight through her. The choice of language and focus is important here as women still are not equal in this country or this world. And this inequality is perpetuated, among many other things, by language. Often it is done subconsciously, as.this ideology is absorbed by osmosis from birth. It is a legitimate and important point made by Paddy.

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