Undoing Big Daddy Art: Subverting the Fathers of Western Art Through a Metaphorical and Mythological Father/Daughter Relationship

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Hoffie, Patricia

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Hawker, Rosemary

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The canon of Western art history provides a selection of artists that have supposedly made an 'original' contribution to stylistic innovation within the visual arts. Although a process of selection cannot be avoided, this procedure has resulted in a Eurocentric and patriarchal art canon. For example, the Western art canon consists of certain white male artists who are given exclusive authority and are often referred to as the 'fathers of art'. As the status of a 'father of art' pertains to the highest level of achievement within artistic creativity, I argue that this excellence in creativity is based on a gender specific criteria. This issue refers to the patrilineage within Western art history and how this father-son model, in a general sense, excludes women artists from the canon. Further, the very few women included in the art canon are not given the equivalent status as a 'father of art'. I address this patriarchal bias through focussing on the father/daughter relationship as a way of challenging the patrilineage within Western art history's patrilineage. Through this process of intervention, I position the daughter an assertive figure who directly confronts the fathers of Western art. Within this confrontation, I emphasise that the daughter has an assertive identity that is also beyond the father. On this premise my paper is based on the argument that the application of a father/daughter model, within a metaphorical and mythological sense, is useful in subverting the father figures within Western art history. That is, I construct myself as the metaphorical and mythological daughter of the Dada artist, Marcel Duchamp and the Fluxus artist, Joseph Beuys. As an assertive daughter, I insert myself into the patriarchal framework surrounding these two canonical figures in order to decentre and subvert their authority and phallocentric art practice. It is important to note that both Duchamp and Beuys are addressed as case studies (not as individual arguments) that illustrate the patriarchal constructs of the art canon. Within this premise, I draw upon the female artists Sherrie Levine and Jana Sterbak who directly subvert Western father figures as examples of assertive daughter identities. Within this exploration of the assertive daughter identity, I discuss feminist psychoanalysis (particularly the 'object relations' theorist Nancy Chodorow and the French feminist, Luce Irigaray) in order to offer metaphorical representations of the assertive daughter. These metaphors also assist in subverting the gender (male) specific criteria for creativity under the 'law of the father'.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)

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Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)


Queensland College of Art

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Western art canon


patriarchal bias

gender studies



Joseph Beuys

Marcel Duchamp

Sherrie Levine

Jana Sterbak

feminist art history

feminist psychoanalysis

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