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Carolee Schneemann Photo

Carolee Schneemann

American Performance Artist and Video Artist

Born: October 12, 1939 - Fox Chase, Pennsylvania
Died: March 6, 2019 - New Paltz, New York
Movements and Styles:
Feminist Art
Performance Art
Body Art
"Sensuality was always confused with pornography,"
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Carolee Schneemann Signature
"I’m still a painter and I will die a painter. Everything that I have developed has to do with extending visual principles off the canvas."
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Carolee Schneemann Signature
"I always thought, 'This is something they need. My culture is going to recognize it's missing something.'"
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"It was in the body that the energy and the confirmation of what I'd seen and lived was coherent. That was an area that hadn't been colonized."
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"I can make something taboo so formally compelling the taboo becomes the after-effect. That makes it much more powerful."
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"As I hacked at the excluding vital surfaces of Abstract Expressionism, my entire body ripped through the canvas to emerge on the other side in actual time and space as an active and activating form."
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Carolee Schneemann Signature
"By the year 2000 no young woman artist will meet the determined resistance and constant undermining which I endured as a student. Her studio and history [sic] courses will usually be taught by women; she will never feel like a provisional guest at the banquet of life or a monster defying her 'God-given' role; or a belligerent whose devotion to creativity could only exist at the expense of a man, or men and their needs. Nor will she go into the 'art world,' gracing or disgracing a pervading stud club of artists, historians, teachers, museum directors, magazine editors, gallery dealers - all male, or committed to masculine preserves. All that is marvellously, already falling around our feet."
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Carolee Schneemann Signature
"I was always discouraged, ... Even when I had a fellowship for painting, some of my teachers were very hostile. 'You're taking this too seriously. You're only a girl. Don't set your heart on art.' My boyfriends in college stole my brushes and my books, like, 'We need this more than you do.'"
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"The female nude is part of a revered tradition, although she is not to take authority over depictions of her nudity. She is just to be available."
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"I thought it would be seen as an integrated, powerful event. It wasn't. It was taken as narcissism and self-indulgence by the critics. They said, 'If you want to paint, put your clothes back on.' It's always been like that."
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Carolee Schneemann Signature

Summary of Carolee Schneemann

Throughout her career Carolee Schneemann has used her body to examine the role of female sensuality in connection to the possibilities of political and personal liberation from predominantly oppressive social and aesthetic conventions. Drawing on the expressive possibilities of film, performance, photography, and installation, among other media, she has explored themes of generation and goddess imagery, sexuality, and everyday erotics, as well as personal biography and loss. Although renowned for her work in performance and other media, Schneemann began her career as a painter, stating, "I'm a painter. I'm still a painter and I will die a painter. Everything that I have developed has to do with extending visual principles off the canvas." She continues to perform, film, and record through the present day, and has been acknowledged by many as progenitor of Feminist art, as well as performance and multimedia art.


  • While still in college, Schneemann adopted a feminist perspective, citing the hierarchal ideals of the 1950s American gallery system, the negative attitudes of male teachers, and the erasure of women's art history as influences. She incorporates feminist ideas into her art as well as her writing, teaching and lecturing, constantly reaffirming her position as a pivotal figure in the feminist movement.
  • Schneemann's explorations in the early 1960s opened performance art to include inquiries about sensuality and sexuality. Prior to her works, the majority of performance art was formal experimentation, rather than a specific investigation into the taboo realm of the liberating possibilities of the sexual female body.
  • By using her body as her primary medium, Schneemann emphasized women's agency, situating women as both the creator and an active part of the creation itself, giving the female form in art a subjectivity it previously lacked. She firmly established her practice in opposition to the traditional representation of women merely as nude objects.

Biography of Carolee Schneemann

Carolee Schneemann Life and Legacy

Carolee Schneemann was born and raised in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. She began drawing at a young age and cites this as an early premonition about her future career. She visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a young adult and recalls feeling a strong connection to the artwork. She was the first woman in her family to attend college and received a full scholarship to Bard, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree. While at Bard, she studied painting at Columbia University, where she met her first husband, James Tenney, an experimental music composer. She received her MFA from the University of Illinois in 1962 and she and Tenney returned to New York.

Important Art by Carolee Schneemann

Progression of Art

Three Figures After Pontormo

This Abstract Expressionist-inspired painting is one of Schneemann's early works, done before she started exploring other media. The title refers to the Mannerist painter Jacopo da Pontormo, known for his elaborately posed figures. Although abstract, this painting is not completely non-objective, as there is a central nude figure with his back to the viewer and another figure on the left of the canvas. Schneemann has always stated that she is first and foremost a painter and that anything else she did was an extension of painting. The gestural brushwork and action painting of the Abstract Expressionist style provides the theatrical background for her later work that would move beyond the two-dimensions found on canvas.

Oil on canvas - Collection of the artist


Eye Body

Eye Body is a series that consists of thirty-six photographs of the artist in an environment she created with various objects such as broken mirrors, dress mannequins, and plastic tarps. To become a piece of the art herself, Schneemann covered herself in various materials including grease, chalk, and plastic and created thirty-six "transformative actions" in the setting while a colleague photographed her, one action for each frame of film. She describes the series as integrating the artist's self as image and image-maker, melding the two through an improvisational collage in space and time. The series marks her transition from painting to working with a much wider range of media. When she first showed the photographs to curators, they dismissed the suite as purely narcissistic exhibitionism; however, Schneemann viewed the set as a way for her to reclaim the strength of a woman's sexuality. She stated that, "since the female body had always been usurped by traditions of art history and then by Pop art, ... I wanted to see what would happen with this energy of sensuality... that I felt." Clearly influential on her later works, Eye Body paved the way for Schneemann to use her body to explore female sensuality in greater detail in works like Meat Joy (1964) and Fuses (1964-1967).

Photograph - Collection of the artist


Meat Joy

Meat Joy was a performance done first in Paris, then filmed and photographed at the Judson Memorial Church in 1964,and consisted of nude men and women dancing and playing with substances like raw chicken, fish, sausage, scraps of paper, and wet paint. This Dionysian-inspired ritualistic rite was a "celebration of flesh as material" and is similar to Kaprow's happenings, as it used improvisation but focused on the concept behind the work as opposed to its execution. Rooted in erotic sensuality, Meat Joy is another early manifestation of Schneemann's concern about women's control over their bodies and their sexuality, as it emphasizes that women can be as overtly and openly sexual or sensual as men. Schneemann wanted to challenge social taboos against open and public sensuality, as well as female sexuality, and used this performance to begin to break down existing barriers.

Raw meat and fish, paint, plastic tarp, performers


Interior Scroll

For her performance at the Women Here and Now conference in East Hampton, Long Island, Schneemann entered the room covered in a sheet with only an apron beneath. She disrobed in the center of the space, climbed onto a table where she outlined her body in mud and struck "action poses" as if for a life-drawing class. She read from her book Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter, and then slowly extracted a paper scroll from her vagina and read from it. Schneemann drew upon ritualism while using her whole body as an integral part of the art; she stated, "I thought of the vagina in many ways - physically, conceptually, as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation." According to art critic Robert C. Morgan, Interior Scroll must be understood within the contemporary context of the 1970s and feminist art in particular: by locating the root of artistic creativity at her genitals, Schneemann shifted away from the masculine precedent in art toward a feminist exploration of her body.

Paint, paper scroll, Schneemann


Up to and Including Her Limits

Inspired by the physicality of Pollock's painting technique, Schneemann translated that gesture into performance. She was suspended in a harness, nude and drew on the wall and floor with a crayon. The movement of her body was more important than the marks she made; it was this movement that was the art and is clearly inspired by her work in kinetic theater at the Judson Memorial Church. The rhythmic motions of Schneemann swinging back and forth at different speeds have an almost therapeutic effect and this piece was created after a particularly difficult time in her life. Schneemann performed the piece at various locations throughout 1973-1976, with many performances in New York City, but also in California, England, and Europe as well. In 1984, Schneemann created a video by editing footage from six of these performances together.


Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta

Schneemann created this work as a multi-media homage to her friend and colleague, artist Ana Mendieta. Schneemann based the work on a dream she had about Mendieta right after her death from falling from an apartment window during a fight with her boyfriend artist Carl Andre (it is not clear whether Mendieta fell or was pushed). Upon waking from the dream, Schneemann first ran into the snow, then returned inside and started making drawings of the image from the dream - "Ana's hands falling in empty space." She saw the hand gestures form hearts, and then saw herself drenched in red paint that became blood. The dream was choreographed into a performance in which Schneemann etched the heart shapes into the snow with her bare hands, using paint, blood, ashes, and syrup. A photographer who specialized in photographing accidents recorded the performance, and the action persists in the photographs that make the central panel of the triptych. The hands and the red hearts of this panel echo Mendieta's piece Blood Sign 2 where Mendieta smeared blood onto a wall with her hands. The side panels consist of painted images that echo the hand/heart theme of the performance and demonstrate Schneemann's continued dedication to painting.

Blood, ashes, syrup, snow - Collection of the artist

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Useful Resources on Carolee Schneemann

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Carolee Schneemann Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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