Feminism was a movement that developed in the late 1960’s primarily in Great Britain and the United States.
August 1970 – fiftieth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by which women gained the vote.
Women began to assess progress in various fields since 1920 – findings:
Women constituted half of the nations practising artists – only 18% of NY galleries carried the work of women artists.
Only 8 of 151 artists in 1969 Whitney Annual (prominent exhibition of living artists) were women – Woman artists expressed disappointment – lukewarm response – organised a protest at 1970 Whitney Annual – highlighted women’s exclusion and marginalised in the art scene.
It places value on genres of art associated with men and dismisses forms of art traditionally created by women. (art/craft – “high” art/low art)
Several books and papers published in the mid – 1970’s by American and English artists or critics documented the massive reorientation for women in the arts which was initiated by the arrival of a new phase of feminisim.
Eg. Linda Nochlin: Why has there been no great women artists? 1970
Eg. Lucy Lippard: From the centre , a series of biographical essays about art made by women. Lippard explained how the Women’s Movement had changed her whole approach to criticism and undermined all her inherited certainties about both art and women.
Eg. Judy Chicago: Through the Flower, 1975. Autobiographical account of her move from doing abstract metal sculptures in the late 1960’s through research into the history of women into an involvement with feminist art education and the development of a feminist imagery.
Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were the principal theorists of feminist art in the United States.
Feminism had considerable impact on both women new to the practice and established professional artists in the United States.
Aims and Strategies for challenging the patriarchy
The following methods are used by women to challenge male control of art in an effort to redress the balance.
Redressing the neglect of women’s history by reclaiming, re-presenting and celebrating that history.
Working collaboratively instead of individually.
Organising alternative exhibition spaces and educational programmes. Denying art market control by making art which is non-saleable, for example performances and earth works.
Reclaiming a Fine or High Art context for ‘crafts’. These were traditionally associated with women and sidelined as ‘minor’ and ‘feminine’ by art history discourse.
Developing ‘female imagery’ to distinguish work from art made by men. This could take the form of references to: women’s own bodies; previously taboo areas of sexuality; validation of women’s labour by reference to the domestic sphere; inclusion of female godesses, references to own experiences, reversing depictions of women as possessions or objects.
Feminist artists aimed to challenge the patriarchy by crossing previously male defined boundaries in both art and society. This included things like:
“ Art is a masculine discipline” over 90% of exhibited works in the United States were by men.
“ Women are meant for the kitchen” – art work by females was deemed ‘craft’ art, while men sold their work in galleries.
“ Art works only have one artist” – this went against collaborative attempts by women, eg large scale weaving projects.
“ There have been no major historical achievements by women” – women artists, for example , were never referred to in art retrospectives. One major survey of Abstract Expressionism failed to mention Helen Frankenthaler.
One critic wrote: “It’s so good you wouldn’t believe it had been done by a women”
In keeping with the co-operative nature of many craft forms (for example patchwork quilting), women banded together to produce a united front.
Collaborating together to produce art went against the competitive ethos of the patriarchal art world.
Women worked outside the traditional dealer/gallery system, producing combined works, which were shown in rebel galleries like Womenhouse . The Dinner Party is another good example of a work done collaboratively by women.
“ I started thinking that women have never had a last supper, but they have had dinner parties. Lots and lots of dinner parties where they facilitated conversation and nourished the people”.
Collaborative work – combined the labour of hundreds of women and several men – though conceived by Chicago and made under her direction – strategy employed in feminist art to contradict the modernist myth of the great make artist, hero creator working alone creating universal master pieces for man-kind.
Records the names of 999 notable women in gold writing in the white porcelain floor below the table – “forgotten women” – excluded /marginalised in history.
Each side of the triangular table has thirteen settings (13 is the number of witches in a coven and the number of men at the last supper) – use of symbolism to critique Christianity.