(For all the writing I have not done: my research paper on Feminism and Art)
Men and women have both been creating art as long as the human species has existed. The techniques and tools of selected crafts have evolved alongside our population, exponentially improving the quality of one’s work. Showcasing of these, however, has never been quite equal between the sexes. Men have primarily proceeded to run and be exhibited for centuries, undermining the work of females. Generic art history books could almost all be re-titled “The History of White Male Art”. (Käthe Kollwitz, Guerrilla Girl) Thus was born feminist art. Feminist art can be simply defined as art by women expressing the status of gender inequality. (Tate Collection)
For a long time, women’s status in Western society have been as mothers, caregivers
and housewives. Husbands generally worked long days to bring home money for their families. In 1707, French-born Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston became the United States’s first female working portrait artist in Charlestown. Wife of Reverend Gideon Johnston and mother, Henrietta continuously helped financially supplement her family by her commissions. Arriving to Massachusetts, Reverend Johnson became Rector of the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and often received late pay of his salary. In one of his letters he writes: “were it not for the assistance of my wife gives by drawing of pictures…I should not be able to live.” (Martha R. Severens)
Later, in the 1945, the famous splatter-painter Jackson Pollock married fellow artist Lee Krasner. Recognized as Mrs. Jackson Pollock, Krasner began taking lessons with Hans Hofmann. Hofmann, so “intrigued” by Krasner’s work, told her, “This is so good that you would not know it was done by a woman.” (Broude, Garrard) Patriarchal dominance in the west at the time undervalued women as artists, labeling them as incapable.
Mexican “surrealist” painter Frida Kahlo and wife of muralist Diego Rivera, for many years traveled internationally for exhibition and commission of her husband. Frida was ignored as an artist herself, on these trips, and was continuously referred to as Mrs. Rivera. Slowly accumulating representation in selected galleries, Frida strived to become financially independent of Diego through sales of her paintings. Unlike many female artists, by early 1940, Frida’s reputation as an artist was booming and her paintings were exhibited in Paris, New York, San Francisco and Mexico. (Mike Brooks) Nearly fifty years after her death in 1954, Frida Kahlo is considered the first artist to display the “interior reality of a women’s life” narrating the truths of disablement, rejection, miscarriage, suffering, homosexuality, revolution, subversion and devotion. (Germaine Greer)
Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait: The Broken Column 1944
Many women artists took on the wife-of role, supporting their artist husband who
soon would become better known than herself, until the Feminist Art Movement came up to par in the late 1960s. Women have now become particularly interested in their difference from men and what makes their art unique. Even in the 20th century, painted images of flowers and landscaped are perceived as "womanish" and are deemed illegitimate. (Jeannie Shubitz) Products of the Feminist Art Movement, however addressed patriarchal dominance, discrimination and sexual objectification in representation of genitalia, birth, menstruation, rape, et cetera. For centuries art was produced aesthetically appealing, appropriate for décor, and these subjects were new and shocking to society.
An incredible influence to the art world was artist, educator and author, Judy Chicago. Chicago pioneered a new type of teaching instruction to help art students find their individual voices. Judy Chicago remembers for a woman to openly express her own content in the late sixties, early seventies as "extremely dangerous, it was tantamount to risking one's modest reputation". "[Women were] faced with these attitudes, like you can't be a woman and an artist too, the idea that there was no such thing as female content, that woman didn't have different point of view. What does that do to a young woman who is raised in an environment of visual form that comes out a male's experience?" (Judy Chicago) Chicago set up the first feminist art program focusing on women students at the California State University. Later Chicago brought her program to the California Institute of the Arts, collaboratively creating the first female-centered art installation, Woman House. (Judy Chicago Educator) Each women involved in the Womenhouse installation was given a room or space in a seventeen-room abandoned building in Hollywood that was soon to be demolished, to create some sort of consciousness-raising exhibit. The first night of the opening was only available for women, later receiving general audiences. Judy Chicago changed the female station in the art world, exhibiting her solo and collaborative work in many galleries and museums.
Another group that surfaced in skepticism of the art industry was the Guerrilla Girls. Originally commencing in New York in 1985, when several women noticed the small number of female artists on display in "An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The Guerrilla Girls are particularly known for their peculiar costume of fishnets, short skirts and gorilla masks. They refer to each other by name of famous deceased women artists, executing their fine and performance art humorously. Their well known piece speaks of the walls women face as artists:
Women have frequently been portrayed as objects of admiration rather than intellectual subjects. In 1989 the Guerrilla Girls released a poster posing the question: "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" stating that less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female." Sixteen years later, they did a recount, assuming things had improved. Numbers decreased however, in 2005 only 3% of the artists in the modern art sections were women and 83% of the nudes were female. (Guerrilla Girls)
In contrast, photographer Rion Sabean recently revealed “Men-Ups”, featuring masculine men posing in theme to the classic pin-up girls. Sabean says, "My works focus on gender and sexuality, wherein I attempt to bring light to the scrutiny and judgments of society through the use of exaggerated story-telling." Many billboards and commercials use female sex appeal for advertisement regularly and this series ridicules how a pose can be acceptable and provocative for one sex, but not the other. (Emma Gray)
Also, in 2011, SOMArts held the show “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze”, switching the stature of what art critic John Berger observed, "Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” In this show, men are provocatively exposed and objectified. Many pieces in the show are satirical and men are portrayed similarly to classical portraits with luscious smooth skin, select curves and indifferent expressions. (Platts, Georgia)
Currently nationwide (2004-2007), 52% of professional trained artists and art historians are female, yet 98% of art the National Gallery of Art showcases has been created by males. (Klebesadel, Helen) In 2011, sixty percent of all the School of Visual Art graduates were female (SVA Annual), yet only twenty-three percent of solo exhibitions in New York feature women. (Martin, Courtney E.) Such ratios of successful art industry participants seem much too uneven.
Though present women’s’ circumstances in the art industry is less than sufficient, much has progressed. ”The art world has changed forever in terms of its representation of women. The sheer amount of attention toward women artists is worth noting and it is where we need to be at this moment. The attitude toward feminist art has really changed and ten years from now we will not be having this conversation in the exact same way,” says Catherine Morris, third director and curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The art world will evidently change as it has over its existence. Looking back at prehistoric cave painting in comparison to now, exponential growth is clear and suggests the future equality of female artists.
Brooks, Mike, Frida Kahlo Fans, Complete Biography, (viewed March 1, 2012)
Broude, Norma and Garrard, Mary D., Power of Feminist Art, Harry N. Abrams (September 1, 1996)
Chicago, Judy, On Being a Woman Artist video, SFMOMA Release Date: October 2000, (viewed March 11, 2012)
Chicago, Judy Educator, Woodman, Donald, judychicago.com, (viewed March 8, 2012)
Forsyth Alexander, ed. “Henrietta Johnston: Who Greatly helped…by drawing pictures.” Winston-Salem, N.C.: Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, 1991, (web. viewed March 8, 2012)
Guerrilla Girls, guerrillagirls.com webpage, poster index 1989, 1990, 2005, (viewed March 2, 2012)
Gray, Emma, 'Men-Ups': Rion Sabean's Gender-Bending Photos, Huffington Post (October 6, 2011), (viewed March 11, 2012)
Greer, Germaine, Patron Saint of Lipstick and Lavender Feminism, Tate Collection
Shubitz, Jeannie, Women, Art and Gender: A History, NMWA, (1998), (viewed March 11, 2012)
Klebesadel, Helen, The Feminist Art Movement, Who Does She Think She Is? documentary, (August 24, 2012), (viewed March 11, 2012)
Kollwitz, Käthe, Guerrilla Girls
Martin, Courtney E., Why smart women still don’t make it up the career ladder, Christian Science Monitor, Opinion: (May 24, 2011), (viewed March 8, 2012)
Middleton, Margaret Simons. Henrietta Johnston of Charles Town, South Carolina: America’s First Pastellist. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, (1966), (viewed March 2, 2012)
Platts, Georgia, Ms Magazine blog, Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze, (October 8, 2011), (viewed March 11, 2012)
Severens, Martha R., Johnston, Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering (ca. 1674-1729), (viewed March 8, 2012)
Severens, Martha R. “Who was Henrietta Johnston?” The Magazine Antiques. (November 1995): 704-709, (viewed March 8, 2012)
SVA Annual 2011, Student Demographics, Graduate Enrollment Statistics: Percentage Female, (viewed March 12, 2012)
Tate Collection, Glossary: Feminist Art, (viewed March 5, 2012)
Weil, Harry J. "Great women artists: a conversation with Catherine Morris." July-Aug. 2010: 14+. . (viewed March 1, 2012)