While Griselda Pollock strongly supports expanding research into women artists of earlier periods, she finds fault with the approaches that some feminist art historians have taken in doing so. In her article “The Female Hero and The Making of a Feminist Canon,” she takes issue with scholar Mary Garrard’s assertion that heroism is a key element in Artemisia Gentileschi’s work. Pollock suggests that such a narrow focus can strengthen misconceptions about the exceptional nature of women artists as people living outside of social conventions. Although identifying special personal qualities can increase understanding of the psychological makeup of women artists, overly stressing such qualities is likely to mask how they, like all women, negotiated the prevailing social and cultural currents of their day.
Pollock recommends locating women within the broader artistic during the era in which they lived and worked. It is both inadequate and misleading, she suggests, to try to supplement the existing male canon by adding a few idiosyncratic female geniuses. Rather than just emphasizing the individual’s biography, art historians should thoroughly address the historical context of artistic production.
For Pollock, feminist art historians who focus on the traumatic experiences of women artists are doing a disservice to those artists. Her view is that placing too much emphasis on how women may have used such experiences, notably rape, in their art relegates the woman’s achievement to a therapeutic vehicle, which thereby reduces recognition of her artistic accomplishments.