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Feminist Art

Feminist Art

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore Feminist Art.

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Tutorial

An overview of Feminist art.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian Connell, and today's lesson is about feminist art. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary, and as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. Describe the influences on the development of feminist art. And identify examples of feminist art.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is "feminist art." Artwork that is focused on raising political and social awareness of the experiences of women. "Civil rights." A set of legal, social, and economic rights that advocate for equality for all individuals and minority groups. Stereotype. A process of fixed thinking that standardizes groups of people, images, or values, often negative, biased, and derogatory. Central core imagery. A term used to describe artists whose work is focused on female genitalia and the body.

The big idea for today is that Linda Nochlin's essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists" was especially influential in raising the question of the exclusion of women from exhibitions and from the art world in general. We'll be looking at artwork from between 1972 and 1989 today.

And today we'll be traveling to Los Angeles, where Bettye Saar lives and works. We'll stop over in Chicago, Illinois, where Judy Chicago was born. And then over to New York, where Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, and the Guerrilla Girls all have connections.

So this is a photograph from a larger collection that parodies cliched depictions of women. Now, Cindy Sherman's work, and the other artists' work we'll look at today, share inspiration and influence that can be linked to the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s. Now, it began in and around 1963 with the literary work of Betty Friedan titled The Feminine Mystique.

Now, This work challenged the contemporary-- for the time-- notion of the female's role in a male-centric society. Now, second wave feminism informed the feminist art movement of the 1970s, which was also strongly influenced by Linda Nochlin's 1971 essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?," which helped raise the question of the exclusion of women from exhibitions and from the art world in general.

Now, feminine art transcends a specific style. It represents the empowerment of women in bringing attention to important feminine issues through art. And so it could fall within any stylistic genre. Now, Barbara Kruger took a rather unique approach to her form of conceptual art, using bold colors and short messages to grab the viewer's attention and deliver the message with as much impact as possible. She's essentially taken the mass media approach of advertising, but translated it to fine art.

Judy Chicago is a well-known artist and representative of the feminine movement, and actually coined the term "feminist art" during the 1970s. She was born in Chicago, but she changed her last name from "Cohen" to "Chicago" as a personal display of feminine independence. Then she moved to California, first teaching at Fresno State before moving onto CalArts, which is located north of Los Angeles, California, where she co-founded a project called Woman House.

Now, Woman House was a large installation project where numerous women from the community contributed works of art that function as props within the home. It was a house essentially built by and for women with no male influence, and a concept that challenged traditional gender roles. But her masterpiece is the work titled "Dinner Party," which you can see here, a large installment piece on permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Now, as the name suggests, it's set up as a large table setting for a dinner party, alluding to the fact that throughout history, women have been omitted from the historical record. The open triangle is symbolic of equality, and it's populated with place settings and objects created by dozens of people that Chicago hired to, for example, embroider the tablecloth and place mats, cast the plates, and paint them.

There's an emphasis on crafts, such as embroidery and China painting, which are typically feminine-centric categories of art that fell outside of the males' focus, and historically weren't considered forms of high art, at least in the male's perspective. There's also the use of central core imagery in the butterfly and flower imagery on the dinner plates, which represent the female vulva. Now, it's a monumental form of conceptual art, with each of the place settings representing 39 important women from history, with an additional 999 names of women inscribed on the Heritage Floor, as it's called, where the table is located.

Now, Bettye Saar's assemblage work of art, "The Liberation of Aunt Jemima," explores feminist issues in relation to race. Now, the trademark of Aunt Jemima goes back to 1893, when the racist stereotypes of the late 1800s and early 1900s, like the mammy, the pickaninny and the Little Black Sambo were prevalent, and remained commonplace in American popular culture at the time that this work was created in 1972.

Now, Saar chose to create a parody or pun on the depiction of Aunt Jemima to address these stereotypes and, in a sense, reclaim them from popular usage. She created a very stereotypical depiction of a house servant with an inset of a similar image of a housekeeper holding a biracial child. Now, the background is that of the repeated image of the Aunt Jemima advertisement. And the inclusion of the gun and hand grenade weren't condoning violence, but rather a sign of assertiveness to gain the public's attention. She actually stated in an interview that although she dislikes guns, they definitely get someone's attention. Now, the reclamation and parody of the imagery seems to function as a form of artistic catharsis in order to sort of marginalize an antiquated and derogatory depiction that was emotionally challenging and harmful for African Americans, particularly during a time when these images were really the only forms existing at large within the media.

Now, the work of the Guerrilla Girls includes posters and interventions that point out continued bias and sexism and the art world. It began in the mid-1980s, and continues to exist with anonymous female artists and feminists who assume the names of dead female artists. And through protests and the aforementioned advertisements, like you see here, function as a form of social awareness in how females are depicted unfairly in the art world internationally. Now, this particular image from 1989 poses a question addressing the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum in New York by creating a poster of a reclining nude with their trademark gorilla mask based upon the Odalisque painting by Jean Ingres, a painting whose subject matter concerns a fascination with sexual subjugation of women.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the influences on the development of feminist art? Can you identify examples of feminist art?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Linda Nochlin's essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" was especially influential in raising the question of the exclusion of women from exhibitions, and from the art world in general. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Feminist Art"


Citations

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Fair Use According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Judy_Chicago_The_Dinner_Party.JPG Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, Fair Use According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:72_aunt_jemima.gif Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/violarenate/3260589748/; Barbara Kruger, Your Body is a Battleground wikipaintings http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-is-a-battleground-1989; Guerilla Girls, Do Women Have to be Naked to Get into US Museums, Photo by Ryohei Noda, Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gti/8144240315/; Image of Odalisque Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Feminist Art

    Artwork that is focused on raising political and social awareness of the experiences of women.

  • Civil Rights

    A set of legal, social, and economic rights that advocate for equality for all individuals and minority groups.

  • Stereotype

    A process of fixed thinking that standardizes groups of people, images, or values; often negative, biased, and derogatory.

  • Central Core Imagery

    A term used to describe artists whose work is focused on female genitalia and the body.