Part revisionist history, part coffee-table book, part collective portrait, part archival treasure hunt, Hessel’s treatise covers the 1500s to the present in an attempt to make good on its title ... Efficiently introduces us to a mosaic of artists ... The result is an engaging but necessarily clipped perspective. Through her narrative form and focus on representation, Hessel’s lineage of milestones obscures both the political history behind women’s exclusion from the canon and the possibility of struggle against it ... But although her index of names succeeds in providing some answer to the question posed in Linda Nochlin’s trailblazing 1971 essay 'Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,' Hessel does less than Nochlin did, 50 years ago, to unsettle the terms of the question itself. Can inserting women into the art-historical canon interrupt the system of canonization itself? Why does Hessel rely on the same methods of archival organization — linear history, market-based tastes, distinct genre boundaries — that played a part in producing women’s very exclusion? ... No book could repair those wrongs — but especially not one that remains concerned with indexing and inclusivity, rather than with a broader and more fervent social critique.
Mapping women along a loose timeline, Hessel covers huge swaths of history in lively, lucid prose, positioning these artists within (or against) dominant genres. She documents not just what they created but also the obstacles they surmounted in doing so ... Almost every piece Hessel references appears in a photo, most in color and some in luscious, two-page spreads ... Hessel’s sweeping (though Western-heavy) 500-year-history is free of both academic jargon and essentialist rhetoric ... But in her (generally effective) effort to condense, Hessel occasionally drops key plot points ... Even so, what Hessel achieves here is extraordinary ... [A] spellbinding book.
[A] positive, beautifully written corrective, which should become a founding text in the history of art by women ... Brings centuries-old figures to life while giving form and gravitas to emergent voices and covering every substantial movement from dadaism to civil-rights-era antiracist art along the way ... It is thick with fascinating details, so that even readers who pride themselves on being exhibition hounds, art historians and gallery hoppers will discover new names ... Hessel balances her research with an easy, intimate approach to each artist’s work, combining a sense of their historical significance with an extraordinary ability to encapsulate their unique style ... Inspiring and indispensable.
This is a spirited, inspiring, brilliantly illustrated history of female artistic endeavour ... Hessel gives credit where credit is due ... Reading Hessel is a pleasure and a spur. The tone is without gloom or grievance ... I come here to praise. The Story of Art Without Men should be on the reading list of every A-level and university art history course and on the front table of every museum and gallery shop.
After reading Katy Hessel’s The Story of Art Without Men, several educators may aspire to redesign their art history surveys and syllabi — and perhaps trade some Picassos or Pollocks for Merians and Gegos ... The Story of Art Without Men is a measured, even study, albeit one that occasionally presents the artist as 'heroic,' while lacking in in-depth analysis (this could offer an opportunity for future research). It may be best to consider the volume as an introductory survey of several women artists who have not yet been appreciably researched or entered the art canon.
Hessel’s particular version is tinged with the boosterism of girlboss feminism, which is perhaps not surprising for a book born out of an Instagram account ... Neatly packaged products like these answer loud, ongoing calls for more cultural representation. Yet they also run the risk of oversimplifying their subjects ... It’s impossible to read these stories without feeling haunted by the accumulated what-ifs, all the art that wasn’t but could have been ... Hessel’s later efforts at inclusion often feel clumsy, like she’s trying to shoehorn outsiders into a master Western narrative ... Attempting to re-create Gombrich’s famously sexist text under the guise of inclusivity is not the best way to address art’s gender problems.
An indispensable primer ... While the author progresses mostly movement by movement, her broader tangents are particularly profound. One of many highlights is a generous overview of queer artists of the Weimar era. Hessel is occasionally uneven with how much content she allots each artist, and some perfunctory profiles feel like the result of trying to highlight as many names as possible. Nonetheless, even the shortest gloss provides enough intrigue to be a successful introduction to an artist who might otherwise be forgotten ... An overdue upending of art historical discourse.