Issues in the construction of identity of some contemporary women artists

  • Gillian Hugman Perkins

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is based on an empirical study of forty-three contemporary women artists. The aim of this research was to explore how a number of factors impact on these women’s construction of their identity as artists. The women were selected through the East Midlands Arts register of artists, and therefore targeted women who had already identified themselves as practitioners. Although they all registered themselves as painters, their use of such terms as painter and artist, as my research revealed, was fluid, being dependent on changing perceptions of self. The research was conducted in line with feminist theories, which privilege gender as a defining characteristic of people’s experience. This is not to sanction notions of essentialism and therefore the research does not seek to universalise the position “woman”, but rather attempts to gain an understanding of the diversity of women’s experiences. To that end, the research data were collected through the use of both questionnaires and in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Five main categories emerged from the interviews, which formed the basis of the data analysis and interpretation. These were: issues concerning the conventional image of the artist and the limited availability of role models this provides for women artists; the relationship between women’s sense of their identity as females and its impact on their ability to combine that with an artist identity; the role of higher art education in constructing images of the artist; the part played by women artists’ social relations, including their relationships and roles within the family; and the models and realities of working practices, including the implications of the site of production and forms of dissemination. Two patterns emerged in my sample group regarding the various ways of constructing an artist identity. They largely reflected the impact of socialisation which, it would appear, requires women to adopt either a traditional female role around which the artist identity somehow has to be worked, or a traditional artist role which still challenges the adoption of a certain kind of female identity. The women in my sample group, however, showed signs of attempting to negotiate their own pathways towards complex and multiple identities; a process made more intricate for women with an additional identity of mother
Date of Award1999
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorGabrielle Griffin (Supervisor)

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