February 17, 2011

Women, Work, and Works of Art

BWS’s blog It’s About Time features extraordinary works of art with “uncommon grace,” to use the author’s own words.

The title of the latest blog post caught my eye: "19th & 20th Century Women Working".
I’m not sure what I expected to find, perhaps depictions of women using technologies in their daily chores, or at work in an office.  (Here I admit I have been prejudiced by an ‘obsession’ with new technologies of that era.)  But I was pleasantly surprised to see women working at all manner of simple jobs, without mechanical aids.  Predictably, most women are shown doing something connected with food.

My preconceptions, I see, have coloured my judgement.  The phrase ‘working women’ immediately brings to my mind scenes of women labouring in factories, or working switchboards, or scribbling at office desks.  If not in paid employment, then the woman would be at home - cooking, cleaning, caring – with or without the aid of labour-saving devices.  Yet women work everywhere and everytime, paid and unpaid, sometimes acknowledged and sometimes not.  There is work, and then there is work.  Call me a Marxist/Feminist if you like, but if every woman woke up tomorrow morning, deciding to take the week off from domestic chores and disappear, then the whole western capitalist system would collapse, IMHO.

By necessity, some selection process would have been necessary before showing the paintings but I can imagine that there aren’t too many works of art that show women, say, using a vacuum cleaner, or working on the production line in a factory.  On this point, I would love to be proved wrong.  From an aesthetic viewpoint, bucolic scenes of women harvesting or caring for children are much more palatable and leave our sensibilities undisturbed.

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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.