Table of contentsSynopsis
Most Important Art
Concepts and Styles
|Judy Chicago is an American feminist artist and author. Originally associated with the Minimalist movement of the 1960s, Chicago soon abandoned this in favor of creating content-based art. Her most famous work to date is the installation piece The Dinner Party (1974-79), an homage to women's history.|
Art Story: Judy Chicago Artist Page
|Miriam Schapiro is a leading figure in the feminist art movement. Often tied to the 1970s era Pattern and Decoration movement, Schapiro creating a path forward for herself and her colleagues as she worked to resurrect the reputations of women artists who had been forgotten or dismissed by art historians. She is perhaps best known for co-founding, along with colleague Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute for the Arts.|
Art Story: Miriam Schapiro Artist Page
|Barbara Kruger is an American conceptual artist. Much of Kruger's work merges found photographs taken from existing sources with pithy and aggressive text. Her captions engage the viewer in the work's greater struggle for power and control.|
Art Story: Barbara Kruger Artist Page
|Carolee Schneemann is an American visual artist, known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender. Her work is primarily characterized by research into visual traditions, taboos, and the body of the individual in relationship to social bodies. Schneemann's works have been associated with a variety of art classifications including Fluxus, Neo-Dada, the Beat Generation, and happenings.|
Art Story: Carolee Schneemann Artist Page
|Now seen as an iconic and path-breaking Feminist artist, Wilke's performances and photography are a crucial component of the Feminist movement in their use of the artist's own body in ways that addressed issues of female objectification, the male gaze, and female agency|
Art Story: Hannah Wilke Artist Page
|Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual and mixed-media artist. Her work is best known for using a variety of text, propaganda imagery, sound, video and light, all of which she attempts to incorporate into public spaces, thus bringing artistic experience directly into the world.|
Art Story: Jenny Holzer Artist Page
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|Faith Ringgold is an African American artist, best known for her painted story quilts.She was greatly influenced by the fabric she worked with at home with her mother, a fashion designer, and has used fabric in many of her artworks. Her painted story quilts blur the line between "high art" and "craft" by combining painting, quilted fabric, and storytelling.|
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|Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-American performance artist who created work in the late twentieth century focusing on violence against the female body, as well as pieces involving a close connection with nature and the landscape.|
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|Martha Rosler is an American multi-media artist and educator. Her work with performance, video and photography in particular has garnered wide attention in the so-called postmodern era for its feminist connotations, addressing body image issues and domesticity. Rosler's work has also explored the imagery of war, from Vietnam to the second Iraq war.|
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"Because we are denied knowledge of our history, we are deprived of standing upon each other's shoulders and building upon each other's hard earned accomplishments. Instead we are condemned to repeat what others have done before us and thus we continually reinvent the wheel."
The Feminist art movement emerged in the late 1960s amidst the fervor of anti-war demonstrations as well as civil and queer rights movements. Hearkening back to the utopian ideals of early twentieth-century modernist movements, Feminist artists sought to change the world around them through their art, focusing on intervening in the established art world, the art historical canon, as well as everyday social interactions. As artist Suzanne Lacy declared, the goal of Feminist art was to "influence cultural attitudes and transform stereotypes." There is no singular medium or style that unites Feminist artists, as they often combined aspects from various movements and media, including Conceptual art, Body art, and Video art into works that presented a message about women's experience and the need for gender equality. Feminist art created opportunities and spaces that previously did not exist for women and minority artists, as well as paved the path for the identity art and activist art of the 1980s.
Most Important Art
More Art Works
The Dinner Party (1974-1979)
The Dinner Party is one of the most well-known pieces of Feminist art in existence and is permanently housed at the Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The installation consists of a large banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine notable women from history and mythology. The settings have gold ceramic chalices and porcelain plates painted with butterfly- and vulva-inspired designs. In addition to the thirty-nine settings, there are the names of 999 other women painted on the tiles below the triangular table. The Dinner Party participates in the feminist revision of history, initiated during the 1970s, in which feminists worked to re-discover lost role models for women, re-writing the past that had previously only included male voices. In the combination of intricately wrought textiles, tile, and porcelain, Chicago reclaimed the realm of "high art" to include what had traditionally been relegated to the lower status of "women's work."
Painted porcelain plates, silverware, chalices, fabric, tiles - Brooklyn Museum
Feminist art production began in the late 1960s, during the "second-wave" of feminism in the United States and England, but was preceded by a long history of feminist activism. The "first wave" of feminism began in the mid-nineteenth century with the women's suffrage movements and continued until women received the vote, shortly after the end of World War I. No feminist art was produced during this early period, but it laid the groundwork for the activism, and thus the art, of the 1960s and 1970s. Feminist organizing effectively ceased between 1920 and the late 1960s, but women's concern about their role in society remained. Some artists expressed this in their work and have been posthumously identified as proto-feminist. For example, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois created works in that theme because much of their artwork contained imagery that dealt with the female body, personal experience, and ideas of domesticity, even if the artists did not explicitly identify with feminism. These subjects were later embraced by the Feminist art movement that began producing work during resurgence of the larger women's movement in the late 1960s, also referred to as the "second-wave" of feminism. The Feminist artists of the "second-wave" expanded on the themes of the proto-feminist artists by linking their artwork explicitly to the fight for gender equality and including a wider visual vocabulary to help describe their goals.
In New York City, which had a firmly established gallery and museum system, women artists were largely concerned with equal representation in art institutions. They formed a variety of women's art organizations, like Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) and the AIR Gallery, to specifically address feminist artists' rights and concerns in the art community. These organizations protested museums like Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney, which exhibited few, if any, women artists. Protests of the Whitney Annual led to a rise in the number of women artists, from ten percent in 1969 to twenty-three percent in 1970. In California, women artists focused on creating a new and separate space for women's art, rather than fighting an established system. Prime examples are the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) and the Woman's Building. In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven created the FSW - a two year program for women in the arts that covered feminist studio practice as well as theory and criticism. The FSW was a part of the Woman's Building in Los Angeles, which was created by Feminist artists as an inclusive space for all women in the community, and contained gallery space, a cafe, a bookstore, and offices for a feminist magazine, among other resources.
Art critics also played a large role in the 1970s Feminist art movement, calling attention to the fact that women artists had been completely omitted from the canon of Western art and seeking to re-write male-established criteria of art criticism and aesthetics. In 1971, ARTnews published critic Linda Nochlin's provocatively titled essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" The essay critically examined the category of "greatness" (as it had largely been defined in male-dominated terms) and initiated the Feminist revision of art history that led to the inclusion of more women artists in art history books. In England art critics Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock founded the Women's Art History Collective in 1973 to further address the omission of women from the Western art historical canon.
With the end of the 1970s, an era of radical idealism in the arts came to a close with the new conservatism of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. The feminist artists of the 1980s focused more on psychoanalysis and Postmodern theory, which examined the body in a more intellectually removed manner than the embodied female experience that dominated the art of the 1970s. Artists continued to expand the definition of feminist art and although they were not always aligned with a coherent social movement, their works still expressed the need for women's equality. The Feminist artists of the 1970s made many advances, but women were still not close to equal representation. This continued discrepancy spawned the Guerrilla Girls, a group formed in 1985, best known for fighting against sexism and racism in the art world by protesting, speaking, and performing at various venues while wearing gorilla masks and adopting pseudonyms to hide their identity to avoid real-world repercussions for speaking out against powerful institutions. The Guerrilla Girls took Feminist art in a new direction by plastering posters all over New York and eventually buying advertising space for their images. Their posters used humor and clean design to express their pointed political message. Other 1980s Feminist artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger also focused on mass communication that drew on the visual vocabulary of advertising in both use of graphics and the distillation of complex political statements into catchy slogans. These artists sought the destruction of male-dominant social precepts, and focused less on the differences between men and women associated with 1970s Feminist art.
Concepts and Styles
Feminism and Performance Art
Feminist art and Performance art often crossed paths during the 1970s and beyond, as performance was a direct way for women artists to communicate a physical, visceral message. It had the impact of being face-to-face with the viewer which made it more difficult to disregard. Performance kept the work on a highly personal level, as there was no separation between the artists and the work itself. For example, Mierle Laderman Ukeles explored the idea of domestic work with her Maintenance Work series: she eliminated the separation between art and life by performing typical household chores within the museum. Viewers had to walk around her while she cleaned the steps of the entrance, and maintenance work was made into art that could not be ignored. Carolee Schneemann and Yoko Ono created performance pieces during their careers to narrate personal messages.
Feminism and Body Art
Body art was another medium that was conducive to Feminist artistic concerns, as it provided a means to convey an immediate message to the viewer that was unequivocally connected to the personal space of the artist. Often Body and Performance art overlapped in Feminist art. Lucy Lippard stated, "When women use their own bodies in their art work, they are using their selves; a significant psychological factor converts these bodies or faces from object to subject." Artists often distorted images of their bodies, changed their bodies with other materials or performed self-mutilation not only to shock, but to convey a deeply felt experience in the most visceral manner. Artist Ana Mendieta used blood and her own body in her performances, creating a primal, but not violent, connection between the artist's body, blood, and the audience. Mendieta and many other Feminist artists saw blood as an important symbol of life and fertility directly connected to women's bodies.
Feminism and Video Art
Video art emerged in the art world just a few years before Feminist art, and provided a medium, unlike painting or sculpture, that did not have a historic precedent set by male artists. Video was viewed as a catalyst that could initiate a media-revolution, placing the tools for television broadcasting in the hands of the public, and thus providing the Feminist art movement with vast potential to reach a broader audience. Artists like Dara Birnbaum used it to deconstruct women's representation in mass-media by appropriating images from television broadcasts into her video-collages, re-presenting them in a new context. Martha Rosler also used video to explore women's relation to mass-media as well as the various facets of female and domestic life. The Woman's Building housed the Los Angeles Women's Video Center (LAWVC), which provided women artists with unprecedented access to the expensive new equipment required for making video art.
Feminism and Textile Art
Following from many Feminists' interest in gender and the domestic realm, many artists chose to adopt fiber and textiles in their art, intending to remove the division between "high art" and "craft." Miriam Schapiro coined the term "femmage" to describe works she began to make in the 1970s that combined fabric, paint, and other materials through "traditional women's techniques - sewing, piercing, hooking, cutting, appliqueing, cooking and the like..." to use "women's work" as a means to complicate the category of traditional "high art." Artists Faith Wilding and Harmony Hammond, among many others, used fabric in their works to interrogate and eliminate this division in the arts.
Currently a new generation of women artists, like Kara Walker and Jennifer Linton, continue to speak directly about sexism in their works. However, building on the precedent of the 1980s, many women artists began to produce work that focused on their individual concerns and less on a general feminist message. Cindy Sherman, for instance, photographed herself in the roles of different iconic stereotypes portrayed in film and history and by doing so she reclaimed those stereotypes while at the same time questioning the male gaze so prevalent in cinematic theory and popular culture. Because of the progress made by previous generations of Feminist artists, many contemporary female artists no longer necessarily feel the responsibility to identify as "women artists" or to explicitly address the "women's perspective." (For example, while Cindy Sherman's work has developed within and is heavily informed by the context of the Feminist movement, her intention is not to make a primarily political feminist statement.) In the 1990s artists such as Tracey Emin showed the influence of Feminist art by focusing on personal narratives and using non-traditional materials, such as the famous piece My Bed, which consisted of her own slept-in bed strewn with used condoms and blood-stained underwear. These varied practices, even if not directly identified as feminist, grew from and are connected to the First and Second Generation Feminist artists and critics in the variety of materials, roles, and perspectives they exhibit.
Useful Resources on Feminist Art
| Art and Feminism (Themes and Movements) |
By Helena Reckitt, Peggy Phelan
| Feminist Art Criticism: An Anthology |
By Arlene Raven, Cassandra Langer, Joanna Frueh
| Feminist-Art-Theory: An Anthology 1968-2000 |
By Hilary Robinson
| Framing Feminism: Art and the Women's Movement 1970-1985 |
By Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock
| The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Essays on Feminist Art |
By Lucy Lippard
| The Power of Feminist Art |
By Norma Broude, Mary D. Garrard
| WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution |
By Lisa Gabrielle Mark
| Women, Art and Power and Other Essays |
By Linda Nochlin
| Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art || The Feminist Art Project |
| Guerrilla Girls web site || Womanhouse |
| The Woman's Building |
| What is Feminist Art? |
By Blake Gopnick
| What Women Have Done to Art |
By Richard Lacayo
| Why Have There Been There No Great Women Artists? |
By Linda Nochlin
| Guerrilla Girls || Judy Chicago and Suzanne Lacy |
| Judy Chicago on Feminist Art || Miriam Schapiro on Feminism |
| WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition opening |