History of Feminist Art
Making a stand
With the freedom that women gained through the successful suffragette movement, women have found it much easier to gain access into male dominated spheres. They have made great progress in being recognised for the quality of their work and respected on the same par as their male colleagues.
Judy Chicago (b. 1939) and Miriam Schapiro (b. 1923) were two important co-founders of the Feminist Art Movement in San Diego. They championed the feminine contribution which took the form of an appreciation of domestic arts on as a high a level as graphic, sculptural and architectural works that were exhibited in museums, galleries and private spaces, and allowed the viewer to appreciate the works on a “fine art” basis.
In 1972, both women created Womanhouse at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), and welcomed students who worked collaboratively on various projects, exhibits and performance art in a newly refurbished house. It helped to make people more aware of the Feminist Art Movement and the issues that they were attempting to highlight.
Striving for equality
Feminist artists faced a lot of issues within their work such as the discussion of stereotypes about women, issues of gender, discrimination, roles in society etc and have made it clear that they have an important message to share, although it can be agreed that not all female artists had the same preoccupation with the difference between men and women.
Some were just satisfied that they could be accepted on an equal par with their male counterparts, whilst others collaborated, producing controversial pieces that would provoke strong critique. One goal being at the time was to raise awareness of ugly truths in society, such as rape and domestic violence.
Because many of their subjects dealt with taboo subjects, they were able to make huge statements and raise awareness of such crimes and encourage debate, that led to change within legislation to help protect women in society.
Although some women did take the movement to the extreme by suggesting that society should have a gender reversal and a society ruled by women, it was indicative of the fact that there was a lot of pent up frustration being vented at the time.
Although it cannot be said when there was a definite feeling that women artists should unite as one voice, a group of artists in New York known as the New York group Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) split away from the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) because they would not support their female colleagues. A number of demonstrations were organised to make a statement against the Corcoran Biennial in Washington D.C. and gallery owners for not exhibiting the work of women artists.
The liberation of women artists
Feminist art is recognised as an international movement which begun in the 1960’s as a reflection of the efforts and accomplishments of feminists, using both the practice of art and art history to give women a much stronger voice in the production and reception of contemporary art.
Although not always immediately apparent from historical sources, it has always been accepted that women have played a significant part in the history of art. However it is clear that the contribution that they made was often overshadowed by male domination within society of the time.
Although we can often find examples of women artists and their work, their contribution is often overlooked because of a lack of appreciation and neglect of their talents in their own age.
Feminist art not only asked difficult questions about the male, white heterosexual element within art, they also reintroduced previous female artists such as FridaKahlo and Lee Krasner, the wife of Jackson Pollock.
Feminist Art was attacked by some art critics as being essentialist. They commented that many women artists were claiming a universal connection with their experiences – even though the women artist herself may not have said this. Arguably tensions arose from anti-feminist propaganda that deemed all feminist artists to be lesbians or man haters, which in turned created a rejection of all things feminist in some quarters.
Ultimately the final question that can be asked is whether using feminist art restricted woman to a biological identity or whether it allowed men to view them in a more positive way, and subvert the female stereotype, to make its own statement about feminine autonomy.
It cannot be argued that the feminist art movement gave women artists the real chance to air a critical social opinion and the opportunity to share their experiences within the academic medium of fine art.
And although the statements made can be said to be in many instances base and shocking, it cannot be denied that there was a real effort to get a collective philosophical message across about the importance of gender equality and the socially restrictive divisions between the male and female artist.