A first step. In 1970, Judy Chicago founded the Feminist Art Program at Fresno State College in California. In her introduction to the 1995 edition of her book, “Through the Flower,” Chicago wrote:
If a woman recognizes, as I did, that the only way women can ever live in real dignity is to make the society a place where both men and women can share its responsibilities and rewards equally, then she must commit herself to the struggle for women’s freedom. Coming to grips with this has been very difficult for me. Even now, I feel resentful that my choice is to submit or to fight. I have to live in a narrow stratum of reality, because I cannot bear the values that are reflected in the movies, on TV, in popular magazines, even in the art museums. I tried to close my eyes to the fact that society’s contempt for women is really a reflection of a distortion in the entire value system that emphasizes competition, exploitation, and the objectification of human beings, both men as well as women. But once I faced it I had to take responsibility to try to change it.
Over succeeding decades, we as women artists and teachers have gained and reaffirmed similar core understandings. We believe that women need to be encouraged to see that they have something of value to contribute to the world. As women, their experiences of life are valuable and rich, providing material for work in the world and for art.
If women’s work is seen as a side issue, it is dismissed, as it has been for 5,000 years. Post-feminism is a term that seeks to subsume feminism into a larger (masculine) “critical” project.
What makes art feminist is the concentration of energy toward shared understanding of the experience of being a woman. We began this consciousness-raising work in the 1970s. We are not there yet.
What makes art feminist is deliberate storytelling about what it is to be alive in a woman’s body, conscious of the culture in which she lives.
In the 70s, we were looking for opportunities to talk with other women artists. We had read Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and were deeply affected by the truth she described. Looking around the Twin Cities, we saw how few women artists were shown in galleries. There were no women on the faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and only one in the University of Minnesota art department. We were invited to a living-room gathering of women artists and jumped at the chance.
This gathering led to the great social experiment, the formation of WARM (Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota), and to the creation of our gallery, WARM: A Women’s Collective Artspace. Women’s solo and group shows, by members and invited women artists, happened monthly for 14 years. We brought in many visiting artists; visual artists; Alice Neel and Grace Hartigan; Joan Snyder and Joan Semmel; and writers Germaine Greer and Robin Morgan. We published the WARM Journal with articles and reviews. Our governance was collective and collaborative. We listened; we found our individual voices.
With each exhibit we included a presentation and critique. Here we forged for ourselves an understanding of the question: What is feminist art? The enormous diversity of approaches to formal issues and the wide range of content that we viewed then have only grown and developed over time.
It all came out of the creative ground of safety, the acknowledgment of vulnerability, the encouragement to be rigorous and honest. For us, feminist art appropriately remains true to these roots, even as the forms of expression have developed and matured.
Joyce Lyon and Elizabeth Erickson were both founding members of WARM: A Women’s Collective Artspace. Lyon is associate professor in the art department at the University of Minnesota. Erickson is professor emeritus at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and founder of the Women’s Art Institute (WAI), a four-week summer studio intensive program. FFI: 651-690-6636 or WAI: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go:
What: “The House We Built: Feminist Art Then and Now”
When: through Feb. 23, 2013
Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the Univ. of Minn. Regis Center for Art and Wilson Library’s T.R. Anderson Gallery
What: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s documentary film, “!Women Art Revolution”
When: Fri., Feb. 11, 2013, 5 p.m.
Where: Univ. of Minn. Wilson Library, 4th Floor
What: “The House We Are Building” panel discussion on history and future of feminist art movement in Minnesota.
When: Thurs., Jan. 31, 2013, 7 p.m.
Where: InFlux Space, Univ. of Minn. Regis Center for Art
What: Researching Feminist Art Then and Now. Students discuss their research on artists who founded feminist art organizations of the 1970s.
When: Thurs, Feb. 7, 2013, 4 p.m.
Where: Wilson Library, 4th Floor
What: WARM@40th Anniversary exhibit
When: Feb. 6-28, 2013
Where: Robbin Gallery, 4915 42nd Ave. N., Robbinsdale
What: “A View Down the Road: Four Decades of Feminist Art” salon
When: Sun., Feb. 10, 2013, 2 p.m.
Where: Robbin Gallery