UBC Theses and Dissertations
Dorothy Knowles's rural landscape painting : modernity and tradition in urban Saskatchewan Skidmore, Colleen Marie
Between 1955 and 1965, Saskatchewan painter Dorothy Knowles established her main category and style of production as "painterly" representation of rural landscape. The literature to date attributes the emergence of this practice to Knowles's encounter with Clement Greenberg, the patriarch of formalist criticism, at the 1962 Emma Lake Artists' Workshop. In fact, critic Andrew Hudson has called Knowles's work "the most important art to emerge out of Greenberg's workshop." Herein lies the problem central to this thesis: how did a woman artist negotiate (with critical and market success) the gender constraints of her artistic context while addressing additional social and artistic issues by means of rural landscape painting? Previous examinations have constructed Knowles's landscape work as an autonomous, "feminine" and artist-centred activity. These constructions are dependent on Greenberg's formalist doctrine and charged with gendered precepts that have masked, if not negated, the paintings' social roots. However, little work has been done to revise this reading. Therefore, a deconstruction of Greenberg's gendered formalist language is undertaken in Chapter I. Evidence drawn from Greenberg's written and oral comments about women artists and critics demonstrates that formalist doctrine delineated masculine and feminine roles and styles, and consequently denied women's production a place in serious art practice. Historical circumstances are then reconstructed to initialize a rereading of the elements that shaped the emergence and meaning of Knowles's rural landscapes. Two factors are documented: the urbanization of Saskatchewan in the 1950s with attendant transitions in art practice, as demonstrated by paintings and reviews produced at that time; and the literary and painting traditions of the myth of the Canadian prairie as a Garden of Eden, taken up in the idiom and content of Knowles's work. This material indicates that Knowles's rural landscape painting was not simply a result of formal manipulation of the medium nor of Greenberg's perceptive insight into the artist's "creative" inclinations. Knowles's early rural landscape painting is found to have registered seemingly contradictory and yet intermingled social desires for both an urban modernity and traditional rural prairie values.
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