... archetypical figures, branded into the collective consciousness, order the book’s chapters. Venus, befittingly the first, is especially engrossing ... A stellar section called 'Monstrous Women' asks if 'Medusa was originally a Black African deity from Libya' ... However, McCormack’s analysis snags on pop culture ... The relitigation of these issues reads as an attempt to be 'topical,' which feels unnecessary given the timeliness of the work overall ... Women in the Picture mounts a sensitive and probing critique of the motifs, the preordained poses and affectations of the female figure in art. If feminism aspires to render itself obsolete, McCormack’s project too yearns for a future when critiquing such postures—the flayed victims, the temptresses and the sexless 'mammies'—will no longer be necessary. For now it is.
Mixing feminist polemic, a few blinding flashes of the obvious and the cri de coeur of a working mother, McCormack grounds her analysis in feminist art history and theory, the insights of racial and sexual justice movements, and her own story as an emerging professional from a working-class background who moves in elite zones of the art world ... Yet at times she seems to be fighting battles that have been won, as if unaware that much of the art world has moved on. She gives only minimal consideration to the question of what is to be done with problematic images of women if we can’t just lock them up ... McCormack’s chapter on mothers as artists and as subjects of artists is perhaps the strongest and most coherently argued ... McCormack’s mad dash through and around the confluence of issues of gender, power and representation in art is a passionate, serious, yet often entertaining introduction to issues that will be with us for the foreseeable future, their historic context and their implications for women.
The book is bang up to date, but it can feel like scrolling through the homepage of Jezebel, the self-styled ‘supposedly feminist website’. McCormack is the founder of the ‘Women and Art’ study programme at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, and I see how these chapters lend themselves to lively, engaging lectures. On the page they are hard work ... McCormack isn’t wrong. I’m with her on a lot of it, but the tone of grudge, gripe and the grievance of millennia does the case no favours. It’s what put me off feminist art history at university. It’s what puts a lot of people off ... You catch more flies with honey than vinegar and you catch more readers with good prose than bad. The writing...is pedestrian. One sentence plods after another ... Man, I felt depressed reading...narratives of struggle, misogyny, marginalisation, being overlooked and being always on the outside looking in.