The "Feminist art movement" began in the early 1960s. Women’s roles were questioned in society and thus were questioned in art in an article by Linda Nochlin called “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” She argued that there were few women artists because they were held back by a system that denied them equal opportunity (academies and guilds). Also in a society in which the home was run and child rearing was done entirely by women, women did not have the opportunity to engage in academia or the arts. Generally, if women were artists, they had to have male family members representing or teaching them. Painting was the only subject a woman could engage in, but nude models were forbidden for female painters, thus never reaching complete potential for academy standards. Italian Baroque painter Artemsia Gentileschi was one of the few female artists who was able to rise above this.
Artemisia Gentileschi. Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) Oil on canvas
Women painters painted vernacular works (life and children). Women have always been creating things, but it was always derided as craft. Women artists in the 1970s decided to raise up the things that were regarded as weaknesses and used them to their advantage in their artwork. They embraced the personal, the homey, with references to the kitchen and child raising (this is our home, and it is as important as politics). They used craft materials, things that were soft and textural, and non-traditional practices. They used the antithesis of high art and materials. They focused on the female body as a thing in flux. The female body is not controlled, and considered evil in both medicine and philosophically.
Mary Kelly. Post Partum Project (1974-79) Mixed Media
The new feminists felt the need to celebrate the bodily differences and changes that occur in the female form. The changes affirm life, and change implies growth and life. They began to explore what was called the “messy worlds” of the body; the life forces of the body. Rather than take the usual western philosophical stance of the mind and body split, feminists wanted to praise the body on equal footing with the mind.
Shigeko Kubota .Vagina Painting (1965) Performance
Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party
Judy Chicago: The Dinner Party. Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 x 576 in. (1463 x 1463 cm).
Judy Chicago's most celebrated piece is The Dinner Party. The installation includes women in history who were disregarded or vilified. She wanted to bring women to the forefront. She acknowledges all the people who worked on the dinner party and all the people in the dinner party. She used the shape of a triangle because it represented equality and the pubic area of women. There are a total of 39 women honored with place settings and the floor is decorated with the names of 999 other women from history. Each plate and place setting was made to match the place and time the woman lived. Each plate is designed to look floral or vaginal. She wanted to celebrate the craft and of women and the human body. The women represented by place settings are as follows:
"I was a young woman in the seventies, a time so full of hope. Many of us shared the belief that we as women could help to transform the world, not only for women but for everyone. As an artist, I believed that I could contribute to this transformation through art. I believed that art has the power to transcend differences, to help us see the world through other people’s eyes, and thereby help to create a sense of empathy with those who would otherwise be entirely unknown to us."
Sojourner Truth Place Setting
"I have continued to create art with this goal in mind, and I have seen many positive changes, many of them brought about by the women’s movement. At the same time, feminism has been turned into a dirty word. Several generations of young women—along with many of their male peers—have been persuaded that two centuries of effort by countless women and some men which brought previously unheard of rights and opportunities to these same young women was not something to be proud of, but rather to disown."
Virginia Woolf Place Setting
"Why do I insist upon being called a Feminist artist now, in the 21st century, when many pundits insist we live in a post-feminist world? My definition of such a world involves a toppling of the hierarchy of white male dominance. Since neither our male-dominated world nor the art museums that carry its visual messages have changed enough, I see no reason to abandon the feminism which is one of the few alternative philosophies around. Also, as my underlying feminist philosophy shapes my art, I remain a Feminist artist."
Hatshepsut Place Setting
"It is also important to note that Feminist art is an ongoing, contemporary art movement. It is practiced today by women artists—and some men—all over the globe. It is stylistically diverse yet always focused on the authentic, distinctive, personal content of each artist, a personal content mediated by culture, geography, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and all the many attributes of human individuality."
Emily Dickinson Place Setting
"Do I still hope that Feminist Art can make a difference in the world? My answer is yes. I continue to believe that we need an art that can help us see the world through other people’s eyes and thereby lead us to a future where the world will be made at least a little more whole." - Judy Chicago via Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum
Contemporary Feminist artist Nicole Hand
Nocturnal Respite, etching, lithograph
Nicole Hand is a contemporary printmaker whose works deal with femininity, motherhood, and traditional female roles. She is currently on faculty at Murray State University where she teaches Printmaking, paper making, and bookbinding.
Departed Maturity, etching, lithograph
"Ideas, beliefs, and skills are passed from one generation to the next. The skills that were passed down to me were based on a traditional domestic structure. The duties within my household were divided according to gender roles, influencing my family structure, while at the same time I questioned their validity. The questioning of these roles inspires my work through an autobiographical perspective."
Intimate Discourse, etching, lithograph
"Themes of maternity, reproduction, femininity, closure, transitions, and correspondence are also apparent in my work. I use objects, placed in reliquary-like spaces, which have literal and abstract symbolism within a composition.The interaction between these objects explores the conventional and non-conventional roles of family and at the same time, documents a change of lineage. Layering objects and placing them in dream-like atmospheres suggests change, transition, and reflection. This allows me to preserve history and suggest tension, repetition, and change. The work becomes a documentation of these ideas as well as an organized time line of events with a feminist perspective."
"The techniques of printmaking and bookbinding complement my image development and need for repetition. While the processes are different from the skills I was taught as a child, both need to follow an exact recipe in order to have a desirable outcome. This, combined with my love of drawing, initiates my object-oriented narratives." - Nicole Hand via thINK editions 2011