Art Historians and their Hierarchies

A response to the AAH New Voices Conference: Art and its Hierarchies (The University of Nottingham, 24th November 2012)

Last Saturday I attended the morning sessions of the AAH New Voices conference held within The Department of Art History at The University of Nottingham (I unfortunately had to leave at half-time). The diverse array of papers was enticing: from the use of art in fashion images, ceramics, the development of the I.L.E.A collection, Irish political satire and the relationship between art and writers during the 20th century (and they were only the morning sessions!). None of the papers disappointed, with the authors supplying clear and interesting perspectives on the types of hierarchies currently faced by the new generation of Art Historians.

The one thing that struck me, however, and this comment was also made by Laura Gray from Cardiff School of Art, was the distinct lack of males in the room. Out of a 30-strong audience, only three men were in attendance; all of whom had specific roles to play during the event. Why had this happened? Are the new breeds of Art Historians mostly female and if so, is this going to cause an oestrogen fuelled riot or an all-out party, at some point in the not-too-distant future?! Or, do the male Art Historians like to keep themselves to themselves in fear of their safety?

Within The Humanities Department at The University of Nottingham (upon which I base my limited experience), there is an obvious imbalance between male and female academics. However, within The Department of Art History there is an equal weighting between male and female staff members. The undergraduate and postgraduate cohorts on the other hand are drastically female dominated. I can only speculate as to whether this is the same at other institutions, but I wonder why a discipline which was only twenty years ago (or less) rigorously male-orientated is slowly becoming female-friendly. Alternatively, Art History classrooms may always have been comprised of largely female students, leaving me to wonder about the gender bias existing in some institutions…

These are not new or radical observations, but it was strikingly obvious on Saturday that there may be a specific gender hierarchy emerging amongst the new generation of Art Historians.

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