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Book Review: The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Leeds chapter.

The 2022 Waterstones Book of the Year is a total rediscovery of art history. Referring to Ernst Gombrich’s famous A Story of Art, a reference work in this field, Katy Hessel offers us a feminist version, giving an overview of the most talented female artists since the 16th century. In exploring the different artistic movements throughout the decades, she brings to light women who were left in the shadow of male painters or sculptors. One of the most astonishing facts is that they were often applauded and recognised during their lifetime but left out by those who made history.

In reading The Story of Art Without Men, you can discover (or rediscover) the life and artworks of well-known female artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar or Artemisia Gentileschi, but also some Dada sculptors like Sophie Taeuber-Arp or Experimentalist photographers, such as Ishiuchi Miyako. One of the most noticeable points of Hessel’s work is her wish not to limit herself and her study to paintings only. She investigates multiple artistic genres, from painting to photography to quilt-making or performances. Finally, she hasn’t limited her study to a strictly European, ‘Occidental’ perspective, as Gombrich has done in his A Story of Art. The artists from the Mexican, Brazilian or Russian Revolutions, to name but a few, have not been forgotten; they are also highlighted in her work. 

Overall, this book is a true encyclopaedia, full of knowledge and details and, at the same time, very well written. Katy Hessel is incredibly passionate about the topic and manages to pass on her passion to her readership. The Story of Art Without Men can even be read as a novel. It is a beautiful publication worth the price (£30 at Waterstones), illustrated with high-quality pictures of the art described. A true gem that I highly recommend!

If you want further details about the book:https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-story-of-art-without-men/katy-hessel/9781529151145

Written by: Alice Lardry

Edited by: Joanne Spence-Thomas

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