Below the Surface of Women’s Art, Centuries of #MeToo, Misogyny

Viewers who take the time to look closely at Tate Britain's "Now You See Us" will uncover a great deal about the plight of professional women artists over the last 400 years. 

Below the Surface of Women’s Art, Centuries of #MeToo, Misogyny
Laura Knight, A Dark Pool, 1917 © Estate of Dame Laura Knight. All rights reserved 2024 / Bridgeman Images.

Can an assemblage of polite portraits, sentimental botanical prints, and charming “needlepainting” say something new about women’s efforts to be taken seriously as artists? 

An exhibition at London’s Tate Britain, Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920, aspires to do just that, showcasing 200 works by women who forged artistic careers in spite of the societal expectations of their time. 

Curators have indeed gathered some fascinating works, but—dare we say it—is the theme a little done

Enough to create change?

A woman's group show is hardly a new idea, or in itself a very compelling one. The first all-female international art exhibition was held almost half a century ago, in 1976, and since then curators have been recycling this premise with little variation. The forgotten women, the overlooked women, the erased women—we’ve heard it all before. Even Linda Nochlin, the feminist scholar who wrote the foundational 1971 essay,Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” suggested in her writing that merely showing more examples of works by under-appreciated women—technically superior though they may be—isn’t enough to create change.