2022 Abstracts Stage 2

Women, the Muse and the Surrealists: how the Surrealist movement systematically compelled women to assume the role of the muse

Ilsa Hartley, 2022, Stage 2

This project explores the object of the muse through the territory of feminist philosophy and the context of the Surrealist movement and its founder André Breton. I explore how the movement worked systematically to exclude women from the role of artist, allowing them only to be part of the movement only as muses, which are characterised by Breton as child-like and hysterical. I use the works of Catherine Malabou and Luce Irigaray to explore how this erasure can be looked at from a feminist philosophical point of view and later use the work of Simone de Beauvoir to suggest how women could possibly escape this erasure through transcendence. Leonora Carrington is used as emblematic of this escape in her autobiographical Surrealist novel The House of Fear: Notes from Down Below (1989) and I suggest that the only possible way for the female Surrealists to be seen as artists and not muses by the movement is by partaking in this journey Down Below and becoming new in this journey. Despite any progression in feminism since the Surrealist movement I argue that the place of women as muse remains largely unchanged and the systematic erasure and discrediting of women from art only continues as it had in the Surrealist movement.

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