University of Tasmania
whole_DawRobyn1999_thesis.pdf (31.15 MB)

Hors-d'oeuvres : ornamental decoration and gender

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posted on 2023-05-27, 00:36 authored by Daw, Robyn
In this thesis I propose to make explicit the historical basis of the connection between ornamental decoration and the feminine and reveal this as not just something inherently 'female', but a product of historical conventions and interpretation. I wish to show how this has impacted on the way artists and theorists have approached ornamental decoration, its reception in the public domain, and how contemporary artists have achieved a critical approach that both relies upon and is distinct from previous artists' and critics' interpretations. The 'feminine' is as much an historical construction as the link between it and ornamental decoration: neither are biologically determined. Yet it is still difficult to dissuade viewers from this assumption. In order to achieve my aims, this thesis investigates the evolution of the link between ornament and the feminine through an analysis of the terms 'ornament' and 'decoration' and traces the history of the feminisation and subsequent denigration of ornamental decoration through a discussion and comparison of historical and modern writers on the subject. It addresses how ornament has become connected to the feminine and indicates the implications for artists who choose to use it. It also investigates various attempts to reinsert ornamental decoration into contemporary visual art, paying specific attention to the exploitation of the 'feminine', and the critical reception of these attempts. What is revealed is that, even when ornamental decoration is used to critique or subvert the historical construction that gave rise to the dichotomy, often it serves to reinforce its reductive, essentialist position, to the extent that it remains problematic for women artists to use it without being perceived solely as taking a 'feminine' position, and falling victim to the dichotomies that have denigrated it as trivial and extrinsic to form. Through investigating contemporary visual art and theory, particularly those which suggest alternative models for approaching the construction of gender, I propose a possible direction by which the dichotomy that sees ornamental decoration as extrinsic to form, can be transcended.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 1999 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Vol. 2 contains appendices I and II. Library has additional copy on microfiche. Thesis (M.F.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1999

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