Feminism and art in the United States
- Fenella Crichton
Women have made art that deals with their status in society and with the range of economic, social, and psychological forms of oppression this may entail: such art, having political aspects, may be called feminist. It developed over the later 20th century from the early, and important, notion that ‘the personal is political’ toward a view that sees art as a means of exposing the myths of a patriarchal society, in particular the social construction of femininity.
The Women’s Movement (initially called Women’s Liberation), which began in the USA in the late 1960s, encouraged women to protest against discrimination within the art world, particularly the ludicrously small percentage of women included in major museum shows. The most important single event, however, was the setting up in 1971 of the first Feminist Art Program by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro at the California Institute of the Arts. Their exhibition Womanhouse involved the transformation of 17 rooms of an old house ‘to concretize the fantasies and oppressions of women’s experience’ (Lippard) and included a bridal staircase and a menstruation bathroom. It was important not only because the project was essentially collective but also because it challenged the stereotype that domesticity was inimical to art. Much of early feminist art practice was thus to do with celebrating femaleness as something positive and creative and by implication different from the careerist ambitions of mainstream male artists. The result was that separatism—a conscious decision to isolate themselves from male-dominated culture and only mount exhibitions for their own audiences—became a chosen policy for many feminists....