The Role of Privilege and Power in Creative Expression

In Week 2, we focus on how privilege and power impact women’s freedom for creative expression. In our discussion of this topic, the concept of intersectionality is important. Intersectionality can be defined as the ways that interconnected social categories such as race, class, and gender interact to form experience and identity, especially as related to power.

Although the power structures are different from contemporary society, the dynamics of power and privilege are evident in the life and work of poet Phillis Wheatley, composer Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677), and artist Betty Ratcliffe (c. 1735–c. 1810). Ironically, the young Wheatley lived with limited privilege, but still enjoyed some advantages for a black woman of her time. A slave by virtue of her race, she was privileged within the Wheatley’s home to become an educated woman. Barbara Strozzi, on the other hand, was the daughter of a Venetian poet (but not a member of the nobility), so enjoyed the literary circles of her father. Another example was Betty Ratcliffe who was a servant by virtue of her class but encouraged by her employer. The essential point here, however, is the way the complex identities of these women impacted their work.

For this journal assignment, analyze how the dynamics of privilege and power played a part in woman’s creative expression during the 1600s and 1700s (sometimes called the Baroque era). In your discussion of power and privilege, address at least one of the following categories in addition to gender: race, class, or ethnicity. As you reflect on this topic, consider some of the following relevant questions:

  • Did the creative woman benefit from family support or professional networks or was she excluded from them?
  • Were training, education, and networking available to her?
  • If she did challenge existing power structures (for example, religion, social custom, laws, etc.), how successful was she in doing so?

Use supporting examples from at least two creative women from different genres (for example, music and sculpture) of this era from our required or recommended resources. Be sure to provide examples from their work (poems, paintings, sculpture, music, excerpts from larger writings, etc.) to support your discussion.