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Who hasn't wondered where--aside from Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo--all the women artists are? In many art books, they've been marginalized with cold efficiency, summarily dismissed in the captions of group photographs with the phrase "identity unknown" while each male is named. Donna Seaman brings to dazzling life seven of these forgotten artists, among the best of the Who hasn't wondered where--aside from Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo--all the women artists are? In many art books, they've been marginalized with cold efficiency, summarily dismissed in the captions of group photographs with the phrase "identity unknown" while each male is named. Donna Seaman brings to dazzling life seven of these forgotten artists, among the best of their day: Gertrude Abercrombie, with her dark, surreal paintings and friendships with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins; Bay Area self-portraitist Joan Brown; Ree Morton, with her witty, oddly beautiful constructions; Lois Mailou Jones of the Harlem Renaissance; Lenore Tawney, who combined weaving and sculpture when art and craft were considered mutually exclusive; Christina Ramberg, whose unsettling works drew on pop culture and advertising; and Louise Nevelson, an art-world superstar in her heyday but omitted from most recent surveys of her era. These women fought to be treated the same as male artists, to be judged by their work, not their gender or appearance. In brilliant, compassionate prose, Seaman reveals what drove them, how they worked, and how they were perceived by others in a world where women were subjects--not makers--of art. Featuring stunning examples of the artists' work, Identity Unknown speaks to all women about their neglected place in history and the challenges they face to be taken as seriously as men no matter what their chosen field.


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Who hasn't wondered where--aside from Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo--all the women artists are? In many art books, they've been marginalized with cold efficiency, summarily dismissed in the captions of group photographs with the phrase "identity unknown" while each male is named. Donna Seaman brings to dazzling life seven of these forgotten artists, among the best of the Who hasn't wondered where--aside from Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo--all the women artists are? In many art books, they've been marginalized with cold efficiency, summarily dismissed in the captions of group photographs with the phrase "identity unknown" while each male is named. Donna Seaman brings to dazzling life seven of these forgotten artists, among the best of their day: Gertrude Abercrombie, with her dark, surreal paintings and friendships with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins; Bay Area self-portraitist Joan Brown; Ree Morton, with her witty, oddly beautiful constructions; Lois Mailou Jones of the Harlem Renaissance; Lenore Tawney, who combined weaving and sculpture when art and craft were considered mutually exclusive; Christina Ramberg, whose unsettling works drew on pop culture and advertising; and Louise Nevelson, an art-world superstar in her heyday but omitted from most recent surveys of her era. These women fought to be treated the same as male artists, to be judged by their work, not their gender or appearance. In brilliant, compassionate prose, Seaman reveals what drove them, how they worked, and how they were perceived by others in a world where women were subjects--not makers--of art. Featuring stunning examples of the artists' work, Identity Unknown speaks to all women about their neglected place in history and the challenges they face to be taken as seriously as men no matter what their chosen field.

30 review for Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    My thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for an eARC copy of this book to read and review. I think this is a case of, it's not the book, it's me. I just didn't gel with the writing style at ALL. Which is very sad, as this is a very important topic. It is important to not discount any group of people, in this case women, from the contributions they made and make to the world, in this case, art. The women were all amazingly interesting. The creative process, their history, how what they lived throu My thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for an eARC copy of this book to read and review. I think this is a case of, it's not the book, it's me. I just didn't gel with the writing style at ALL. Which is very sad, as this is a very important topic. It is important to not discount any group of people, in this case women, from the contributions they made and make to the world, in this case, art. The women were all amazingly interesting. The creative process, their history, how what they lived through shaped their lives and their art. It was fascinating to read. What wasn't so fascinating? The copious overuse of adjectives and nouns to describe the artwork and influence on the artists. Seriously, 34 adjectives in a row in one sentence is a bit much. And it happens every other page or so. Editor, where were you? What I found to be ironic, given the title of the book, was that many of the pictures in the book (of which there were too few for a book discussing artists and their works), had photographer unidentified. To piggy back off of the pictures thing, I hope the finished copy has more pictures. Because the constant describing of the artwork or photographs was kind of annoying. This is a book about artists and their art. I want to actually SEE what is being discussed in the writing of the book. My imagination isn't bad, but it isn't equal to what was being discussed. And the last artist was evil. After I got to her saying she used old, rare, beautiful books by ripping the pages out for her own artwork, I skipped past her section and have vowed to never read about her or look at her artwork EVER. Lenore Tawney. Book lovers, be warned. So, the positives. This book discusses a very important topic, the fact that many women in the art world have been overlooked and forgotten. It makes one think about where others have been dismissed because they weren't white men. No offense white men, but you have been rather hoggish of the spotlight for most things in the past and maybe a smidge nowadays too. When the author isn't just showing that she knows how to use a thesaurus and isn't attempting to describe a piece of art, the writing grabs the reader. It could be because the subject matter is so engrossing, but six of one, half-a-dozen of the other, it all gets and keeps the reader's attention. I just couldn't ignore the endless lists of words and the describing of artwork I couldn't see unless I got off of my butt from my comfy reading chair and went into the room with the computer to look up what she was talking about. I just couldn't be bothered. It's COLD where I am right now, and getting up from my cocoon of warm blanket to go through two colder rooms, just to look up a piece of art, wasn't going to happen. So one star deducted for the endless lists and one deducted due to describing what there were no pictures for. There may be pictures in the finished copy. This was an advanced read. Hopefully the finished copy will have more pictures. The artwork all sounded stunning. I will look it up, just not right now. Three stars total. Not a bad book, but it didn't really grab me. I think it would probably be more interesting to those who have a serious interest in contemporary/modern female artists. I'm more into Renaissance art myself, so not quite my focus. Not bad, but not in my personal wheelhouse.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Scott

    I picked this up because of the concept behind it and my wife’s background in art and art history. Often, we see photos of famous artists, scientists, or writers with a caption identifying them, but the women left unknown. The motivation behind this is rooted in sexism, laziness, and dismissiveness. I am reminded of a discussion on Twitter about a science conference in the 1970s with an accompanying photo. Everyone was identified except one black woman. The determined researcher reached out to ot I picked this up because of the concept behind it and my wife’s background in art and art history. Often, we see photos of famous artists, scientists, or writers with a caption identifying them, but the women left unknown. The motivation behind this is rooted in sexism, laziness, and dismissiveness. I am reminded of a discussion on Twitter about a science conference in the 1970s with an accompanying photo. Everyone was identified except one black woman. The determined researcher reached out to others who were identified in the photo and to conference organizers, but most could not place her. Many even dismissed her as someone’s secretary or even a passerby. This all played out live with her followers on Twitter participating. She uncovered that the woman was Sheila Minor, a researcher with her BA and MA. (full article here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/20/health...) So many like her are likely uncredited. In Donna Seman’s work, she looks to uncover and re-discover women who had such a profound impact on modern art. Many of these artists would have their own retrospective exhibitions at the end of their careers, yet they were still lost to history or overshadowed by other artists. Seaman unearths, identifies and restores the artists to their proper place. Artists Discussed: Louise Nevelson created sculptures out of recycled and discarded objects mostly out of wood with a monochromatic finish. Gertrude Abercrombie called "the queen of bohemian artists" and was friends with the jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parks, and Sarah Vaughn. Louis Mailou Jones who worked in textiles and paint. She was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. She wished to be known as an American painter with no labels. Ree Morton associated with post-minimalist art movement out of the 1970s and feminist in nature Joan Brown Figurative Painter based in San Francisco, the second generation of Bay Area Figurative Movement. Christina Ramberg Associated with Chicago Imagists, a group of representation artists focused on the depiction of female body parts forced into submission Lenore Tawney Influential figure in the development of fabric art A thorough examination of these artists and their lives. She re-contextualized their contributions in the larger art movements we enjoy today. Favorite Passages The initial Abstract Expressionist movement was dominated by male painters, yet women artists, including sculptors, kept abstract art alive and thriving in the ensuing decades. In the third and final edition of his influential magnum opus, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (1989), Hartt observes that abstract sculpture was “more exciting than recent painting in the richness of its development and the multifarious shapes of its creations,” and credits the ascendancy of abstract sculpture in great part to Nevelson, “who ranks as one of the best artists of the twentieth century.” P31 As the interview proceeds, the volume of the city soundscape rises and Morton has to compete with the churn and honkings of traffic and the calls and whoops and screeches of children playing, as though a school has just turned its students loose into a playground. She talks about the immediacy of working with materials, how tactile it is, how sensual. She is emphatic about the visual experience, about how she wants her work to have a visual impact, and no, she replies to a query, there isn’t one way for the viewer to respond. The work must speak for itself. “It should trigger associations that you have because of who you are and where you come from. I would have no idea about that. And that’s cool. I don’t want it closed, I want it open.” 164

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan Ferguson

    Seven forgotten American women artists that were all well-known and respected during their lifetimes, but seem to have been forgotten over time. But their work is just beginning to be rediscovered - museums are digging out their works they've had in storage, recognizing the talent behind the work. The women worked in various mediums, and the book has photos of their work and talks about the goals of the artists and what they were trying to express, using journals the artists made notes in of the Seven forgotten American women artists that were all well-known and respected during their lifetimes, but seem to have been forgotten over time. But their work is just beginning to be rediscovered - museums are digging out their works they've had in storage, recognizing the talent behind the work. The women worked in various mediums, and the book has photos of their work and talks about the goals of the artists and what they were trying to express, using journals the artists made notes in of their work. The artist gets a bit gushy at times over the work of the artists. I didn't care for some of their work, but that's art. And it doesn't reflect on their talent -just my tastes and preferences.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan Downing

    These seven essays on the life and work of artists are the sort of thing we usually find in exhibition catalogs or books featuring the work of a particular artist. The chapters here are a step above the run of the mill product of this type, and with good reason. Ms. Seaman has an agenda and follows it well; she is a fine writer and sensitive critic. What makes reading this book a two-week effort vs. the usual time for a 400 odd page volume is that we now have a supplement to art books: the world These seven essays on the life and work of artists are the sort of thing we usually find in exhibition catalogs or books featuring the work of a particular artist. The chapters here are a step above the run of the mill product of this type, and with good reason. Ms. Seaman has an agenda and follows it well; she is a fine writer and sensitive critic. What makes reading this book a two-week effort vs. the usual time for a 400 odd page volume is that we now have a supplement to art books: the world wide web. As unknown as an artist may be---and the seven being discussed here are not very obscure---one can be sure of finding something about them on the internet, barring a search for the summer dauber on the beach. Before, after and during each chapter I had the pleasure of pulling up dozens, maybe hundreds, of pictures of the art being discussed. Painting, sculpture, fiber work, and the work of the many artists mention in passing require shifting gears frequently. Highly Recommended* * Assuming access to the Net. Subtract a Star for refusing to go to the library.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists by Donna Seaman is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December (Boxing Day). Seaman's writing style is rather a lot like a long-form biographical article than an art critique, social humanities book, a work that upholds American feminism, or woman's non-fiction. Her seven female artists of choice are Louise Nevelson (procurer and constructor of urban driftwood), Gertrude Abercrombie (jazzy, declarative, eclectic horizontal Surre Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists by Donna Seaman is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December (Boxing Day). Seaman's writing style is rather a lot like a long-form biographical article than an art critique, social humanities book, a work that upholds American feminism, or woman's non-fiction. Her seven female artists of choice are Louise Nevelson (procurer and constructor of urban driftwood), Gertrude Abercrombie (jazzy, declarative, eclectic horizontal Surrealist), Lois Maillou Jones (multicultural muralist and creator of colorful, angular portraits), Ree Morton (visual artist fond of banners, dioramas, and ladders), Joan Brown (post-Impressionist portraits and monuments informed by world travel), Christina Ramberg (the female form and adornment), and Lenore Tawney (earthly celestial geometric weaver).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    A self-indulgent writer and an impatient reader doth not a happy union make. This book is crying for an editor, but the awkward thing is that it's written by Donna Seaman, an editor, so her editor probably assumed that she knew what she was doing when she wrote it and, therefore, didn't edit it. Because once a book starts to inch towards the 400 page mark (this one logs in at 414), an author might want to ask herself, "Gee, is everything I am writing interesting enough to ask a reader to read ov A self-indulgent writer and an impatient reader doth not a happy union make. This book is crying for an editor, but the awkward thing is that it's written by Donna Seaman, an editor, so her editor probably assumed that she knew what she was doing when she wrote it and, therefore, didn't edit it. Because once a book starts to inch towards the 400 page mark (this one logs in at 414), an author might want to ask herself, "Gee, is everything I am writing interesting enough to ask a reader to read over 400 pages?". I can hear her now telling me that she is writing about seven female artists. SEVEN! And, and, they have been forgotten and don't they DESERVE to get all the words that can be give to them? Seaman gets carried away by seven subjects and by anything related to her subjects. It's a noble thing to try resurrect female artists who fell into obscurity after they achieved great fame, and as I know very little about female artists in general, I was hoping to learn about these seven. All seven had to figure out who to reconcile being a woman and an artist and making a life for themselves. Their struggles with identity, society's expectations, and their needs are important for every women learn about whether or not they are an artist. Women have to make choices on the type of life they want, and as much we are told that we can "have it all", most can't; or, at least, not all at once. All of the artists she writes about grapple with these choices. There is much to learn from them. However, Seaman includes so much necessary information that reading her book is a slog. She includes little biographies of almost everyone else mentioned, and most do not add to her overall meaning; she spent two pages describing another woman who shared similarities with one of the artists, but the two never met and have nothing to do with one another. She follows such whims often. To compound this issue, the writing is choppy and lacks organization and transitions. It's hard to follow and I can't anticipate what's coming up next. She also spends and inordinate amount of time describing paintings (some which are featured in the book) but does not explain the significance of what she is describing. I started scanning these sections. Her work on Loïs Maillou Jones is her best. It's organized, focused, and only fifty pages. Jones was an African-American painter who faced the double-bind of being both black and a woman. As such she was expected to both represent her sex and her race in her work; I admire her because she defined her own style and altered it over time. She was also a teacher and world traveler, and she took her students overseas. Jones held herself to an exceptionally high standard and her self-respect shines through in the quality of the relationships she had with her peers, her students, her friends, and the global leaders she met. Part of her high standards stemmed from her race; she had to be a cut above everyone else. Her white counterparts (who make up the other six of the book) could live the life of an "artist" with all of its charms and avoid such close scrutiny. As much as I appreciate Seaman's enthusiasm for her topic, it is a disservice when readers do not want to finish the book. One's own curiosity cannot compensate for copious information.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jes

    What an inspiring book for artists of all types. I enjoyed the writing style, but will warn some of you that this isn't a firmly biographical approach. It feels more like a series of expanded booklets you'd find in a gallery featuring the artists' work. For me, this is ideal and gave me just enough to dive in to what's been made available to view online by closed museums and galleries. What an inspiring book for artists of all types. I enjoyed the writing style, but will warn some of you that this isn't a firmly biographical approach. It feels more like a series of expanded booklets you'd find in a gallery featuring the artists' work. For me, this is ideal and gave me just enough to dive in to what's been made available to view online by closed museums and galleries.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cyrus Hutton

    I am a big fan of books about artists as you can see from the books I have rated today. However I am not a fan of this book-in large part because of the writing. The book is basically a tribute to adjectives, with little or no discussion of the art created by these women. So, if you are interested in art and artists, skip this one.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Attended an author event & enjoyed her enthusiasm for her subjects. An area museum is having an exhibition of women artists who are virtually unknown. If they were male artists, their names would be up in lights.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bill Wells

    What a wonderful book! I picked it up mainly to read about Christina Ramberg, but found the rest of it quite inspiring. Needless to say there is also an element of sadness in the fact that these women have faded into obscurity for the general public. Seaman needs to turn this into a series.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I waded my way through this book. Got bogged down at times with the extensive listing and description of the artists' work with few photos to reference. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thank you Goodreads First Reads for my free copy. I waded my way through this book. Got bogged down at times with the extensive listing and description of the artists' work with few photos to reference. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Thank you Goodreads First Reads for my free copy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This is the third book I have read in recent months where the author has tackled a really interesting topic, but doesn't have the writing chops to pull off an interesting book. It's so frustrating. This is the third book I have read in recent months where the author has tackled a really interesting topic, but doesn't have the writing chops to pull off an interesting book. It's so frustrating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robyn Martin

    Audible

  14. 5 out of 5

    Betty Collins

    A good idea but writing a bit obtuse and too many adjectives!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Raven

    fun to learn about women artists previous unknown to me, but not in love with writing style

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    709.22 S4388 2017

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Dickman

    A great asset for our Art Department and helpful when they need research on artists.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This was a great idea-brief bios and critiques of seven recently working women artists who are under recognized and appreciated. But what a balls-up it turned out to be. Donna Seaman compulsively overwrites, never using one adjective or noun when seven would do, and purpling up her prose at every turn. But that's not all. Seaman insists on following every irrelevant tangent such as describing the grand parentage of one artist's teacher or discussing Frida Kahlo for three pages because both Kahlo This was a great idea-brief bios and critiques of seven recently working women artists who are under recognized and appreciated. But what a balls-up it turned out to be. Donna Seaman compulsively overwrites, never using one adjective or noun when seven would do, and purpling up her prose at every turn. But that's not all. Seaman insists on following every irrelevant tangent such as describing the grand parentage of one artist's teacher or discussing Frida Kahlo for three pages because both Kahlo and Joan Brown (the subject) painted self portraits. And there's more. The illustrations rarely match the discussion, so you are left with only Seaman's fulsome descriptions to imagine the paintings for yourself. The best I could do was skim most of this, and I ended up with little insight into the lives and works of these seven women.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Thanks to Goodreads and Bloomsbury Publishing for a free copy of this book. Identity Unknown shares the stories of seven female artists, acclaimed in their day but virtually forgotten now: Louise Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Lois Mailou Jones, Ree Morton, Joan Brown, Christina Ramberg, and Lenore Tawney. Their stories are fascinating and inspirational as, not only were they original and daring, they also had to overcome many obstacles due to sexism. Lois Mailou Jones further became adept at "tur Thanks to Goodreads and Bloomsbury Publishing for a free copy of this book. Identity Unknown shares the stories of seven female artists, acclaimed in their day but virtually forgotten now: Louise Nevelson, Gertrude Abercrombie, Lois Mailou Jones, Ree Morton, Joan Brown, Christina Ramberg, and Lenore Tawney. Their stories are fascinating and inspirational as, not only were they original and daring, they also had to overcome many obstacles due to sexism. Lois Mailou Jones further became adept at "turning adversity into opportunity" as she also had to deal with racial discrimination. Donna Seaman presents their stories in an interesting manner complementing them with a wealth of information about the culture of the time and significant people in their lives. I only wish that there could have been more photos and illustrations of their art included. I found myself skimming over the detailed descriptions, especially if I couldn't find a visual copy online.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Lentz

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurie sharp

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Avalon

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda Brunner

  26. 5 out of 5

    Corby Roberson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carissa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Feathers

    Fills in some of the gaps in our history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ciaobella

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bloomsbury Publishing

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