Literary history and art history had long remained devoted to the questions of national heritage, serving a national narrative transmitted by the educational system. In this context, women’s works have been marginalised, ignored or forgotten. Starting from the 1980s and inspired by the emerging gender theories, American researchers in the history of art and literature began to question the "canon", i.e. the Western system of ideological values that had long served to legitimate, in the name of aesthetics, the lack of recognition for female artists and writers. Today, new areas of research are opening up: the question is no longer of simply making the canon more flexible or comprehensive, or even of writing a history of female artists, but instead to look at the ways in which taking women’s work into account can change the large historical narratives and help us formulate a new theory of aesthetics, by complicating the periodization of art history or literary history and questioning the aesthetic categories that govern the classification of works of arts and over-determine their reading and reception.
Revaluating and rereading these works also means examining their visual or literary language. Continuing the research on the poetics of differences, started in France in the 1970s and enriched by the "queer" readings of art and literature of the 1990s, the aim is also to elaborate ways and protocols of reading that would allow us to examine the modes of inscription of gender stereotypes or configurations in artistic production, as well as to analyse how these can be circumvented, complicated or subverted through the play of literary or visual writing.
In the artistic field, the contributions made by feminist theories and gender studies scholars have been part of this historiographical movement of re-contextualising works of art and thinking about their reception. Breaking away from the highly formalistic and a-historical approaches to artistic production, this movement started in the English-speaking world in the 1960s, when a number of art historians began to incorporate Marxist, structuralist and psychoanalytic theories, and using them in a different way, in what then became known as “New Art History". This new approach to art history points out that artists remain social agents "just like others" and that artistic production is therefore a social practice fuelled by the artists’ interaction and socialisation and affected by power relations (class, race, sex..) as well as by the contemporary discourses and representations.
The social history of art which emerges from these modes of gender inquiry is no longer willing to study works and ideas as separate from the social world. Moreover, it is now also interested in the role of institutions and in the trajectories of those who make these "art worlds" exists (not only artists and not only those who are recognized as such); it studies the different configurations of spaces of artistic production ("worlds", "fields", "markets”) and their connections with the political sphere, questions of the reception of art, etc. It is interested in the way in which artistic production has been shaped by ideology, but also in the way that the arts (music, writing, painting, sculpture, embroidery, drawing...) have been able to constructed - or not, depending on the time period or geographical location - spaces of empowerment or forms of expression that give voice to women, the marginalised or racial minorities. Gender-informed analyses have not only helped shed new light on art production, but also highlighted the normative biases that continue to affect the ways in which art history is written and transmitted.