ART DEBATE(s): Three “A”s for Feminism

What it means to be a woman has evolved over the centuries and continues to mature. No longer are we or should be defined by our organs, social status, dress, or orientation. To be a woman in 2019 requires tenacity and compassion – solidarity for your fellow women and our steady upward climb to equality in rights, pay, and esteem. Today, I’ll be going over three artful “A”s to spark the feminist spirit stirring in men and women: approach, artwork, and activist. I hope many of you can animate your communities, whether at home or in the streets, to think about how far women have come in their quest for equality and the obstacles still ahead. Fighting!

APPROACH

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Barbara Kruger, Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face, 1981.

There are several approaches to art history. Scholars often pick a method or two from which they unpack an artwork’s meaning and circumstances – perspectives include formalism, psychoanalysis, and post-colonialism. The feminist methodology arose behind the footsteps of the Feminist art movement that emerged in the 1960s; this lens of art criticism analyzes the visual portrayal of women in art as well as artworks created by women artists. Feminist art critics and historians approach art with different questions in an attempt to realize their meaning both during the time of the artworks’ creation and now. Try being a feminist art historian! Ask yourselves these questions next time you approach an artwork.

  1. Does the artist identify as a woman or a man?
  2. What year was the artwork created and what were women’s social circumstances?
  3. How is a woman’s gaze different from a man’s? How does your interpretation of the artwork differ from those of your friends?
  4. What defines the sexualization of the female figure? What role, if any, does it play in the artwork?

ARTWORK

Judy Chicago is best known for her feminist approach to her art practice. The artist (b.1939) also identifies herself as a feminist, educator, and author. In her revered artwork, The Dinner Party, 1979, visitors can visit this complex multimedia project – a symbolic history of women in the Western world sitting down to break bread together. Her work lays a foundation for women artists, celebrates achievements of other pioneers, and reveals the barriers that still remain.

Chicago began her Atmospheres series at the end of the 1960s. In order to create a spectacular, bold feminist statement, she produced performances made of smoke, flares, and color; these pieces, impossible to ignore, set the deserts of California ablaze with art until 1974. Her Atmospheres work reignited in 2012 but on a larger scale. A Purple Poem for Miami is her sixth art performance in seven years.

The narrative of landscape and land art had been dominated by men,” said Chicago in an interview with New York Magazine. “Atmospheres came from the desire to insert a feminine perspective into the conversation and to soften and feminize the environment.”

In transforming the landscape through her purple nebula, Judy Chicago is sending a message that women have a voice in the contemporary art conversation. The work is part of an exhibition supported by the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA).

ACTIVISTS

Women Get Resentful, 2018
Guerrilla Girls, Women Get Resentful, 2018.

Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls, a group of feminist artists, work to confront pop culture, mass media, and art institutions – raising awareness of the too often dearth of diversity and lack of inclusion. Over 50 artists have worn gorilla masks to expose biases and injustice across through humor and spectacle. 

Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues, and away from who we might be: we could be anyone and we are everywhere. We believe in intersectional feminism that fights discrimination and supports human rights for all people and all genders. – The Guerilla Girls

The activist collective utilizes posters, stickers, videos, books, and performance to share their artwork and calls to action around the globe. Over the course of three decades, Guerrilla Girls pointedly revealed the upsidedown world of art and the marginalization of other cultural groups, not just women. Check out the feminist art group’s calendar for upcoming events and exhibitions. 

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Guerrilla Girls, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, 1987.

 

Interested in learning more? Check out the links below for people, places, and artworks referenced in this article.

Feminist Art Movement Overview

Feminist Art Book List

Judy Chicago

ICA Miami

Guerrilla Girls

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