The Story of Art without Men by Katy Hessel - review by Norma Clarke

Norma Clarke

Move Over, Michelangelo

The Story of Art without Men


Hutchinson Heinemann 520pp £30

In bold orange on the spine and cover of this book are the words ‘The Story of Art’. The author’s name is in blue and also in bold. The cover is yellow, and it is only in a certain light and by holding the book at an angle that you see, faintly outlined in white, the words that make up the rest of the title: ‘without Men’. It’s a visual trick that illustrates Katy Hessel’s purpose in writing this book. For so long women artists have been missing in the history of art. Now the tables are turned.

What happens to the story of art if you take out the men? First of all, it makes you question the idea of there being a story of art at all. There are multiple stories. Hessel delivers a big, baggy compendium, beginning with Renaissance Europe and encompassing China, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Africa, America and Australia. Her guiding principle has been not only to leave men out but also to resist the habits of thought that lead one to give men primacy. The women here are not presented as followers, imitators, lovers, spouses or children of men; we see them as originators, their work and ideas foregrounded. Just as few people missed the women when the story of art was told without them, so the story without men feels like a rich, interesting and complicated one.

Printed on glossy paper and profusely illustrated – there is a colour reproduction on almost every page – this is a generous introduction to some familiar and some less well-known artists. The organisation is roughly chronological (though there is the odd detour), running all the way up to the

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