Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tilting The Scales

    Catlett is one of a number of American women artist, both white and black, who have attempted to create appropriate images of historical images of historical and allegorical figures to symbolize their struggle for equality,in the area of race as well as gender. It would be nice to be able to say that the works that the pioneer members of this group produced are dazzling masterpieces, sudden manifestations of repressed genius, but this is not the case. Instead they tend to be worthy, honourable attempts to say something necessary and different, which are all to some extent frustrated by their adherence to the artistic conventions of their time. 

    Of the two sculptors whose work illustrated here, Harriet Hosmer(1830-1908) is probably the best known. Her Zenobia was exhibited in the international Exhibition held in london in 1862. She was one of a group of American women sculptors - nicknamed the white marmoreal flock - who lived in Rome in the nineteenth century. Her choice of subject and her presentation of it both have things to tell us. Captive women had great appeal for the nineteenth - century audience. Another American sculptor who was living and working in Italy, Hiram Powers(1803-73), had previously scored a huge international success with his Greek Slave, shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, also held in London. Both artists worked in marble, in the conventional academic style of their period, but there is nevertheless a great contrast between their two captive figures. Hosmer's is a historical personality - Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (d. after 274 AD), who led a revolt against the Roman Empire. She is fully clothed, whereas Powers' statue is nude and represents an anonymous victim of the Greek War of Independence, then still vivid in public memory.

    Hosmer's sculpture, though never as notorious as that of Power, did attract a good deal of public attention. Part of this fascination, however, was due to the claim made in the press, notably in the Art Journal, that Hosmer could not have made it herself, but must have relied almost entirely on assistants. Hosmer thought that the attack was prompted by her gender, and contemporary evidence shows that this was the case. In later life Hosmer was identified with the women's rights movement, but even earlier, with Zenobia, her choice of subject - a captive ruler - offered a comment on the condition of women in general.   

    Hagar, by the black, and also partly Native American, sculptor Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844-after 1911), who also lived and worked in Rome, carries a similar burden of comment, simply through the choice of subject.  Hagar was Abraham's Egyptian concubine - harshly treated by his legitimate wife, Sarah- who fled into the desert and was succoured there by an angel. Later she gave birth to Ishmael, who has become the type of the outcast. But, while the subject hints at rebellion, the style is once again tamely academic. Recent reactions to Lewis' sculpture indicate the difficulty of finding any kind of middle ground in dealing with work of this type. Too much emphasis on her racial background in dealing with work of this type. Too much emphasis on her racial background and her gender have the effect of trivializing her ambition, which was to be seen not as some kind of strange phenomenon but as a sculptor working on equal terms with the other sculptors who surrounded her. When Lewis talked about her own background she tended to stress her Native American ancestry rather than her African heritage, and she made a number of sculptures on Indian themes, most of which are now lost. 

       The Awakening of Ethiopia, by another black woman sculptor, MetaVauxWarwick Fuller (1877-1968), who belonged to a somewhat younger generation, is more directly concerned with the theme of black liberation than Lewis' Hagar. A young African woman, wearing the headdress of an ancient Egyptian queen, is shown emerging from the wrappings of a mummy. The image reflects the desire to link contemporary African-American cultural endeavours with the prestigious past represented by pharaonic Egypt. Though Fuller was older than most of the male members of the Harlem Renaissance, this work in particular became emblematic of the resurgence of African- American art which took place in the 1920's, and, despite its somewhat unadventurous style, retains strong symbolic value today.

       For all their evident inadequacies, these sculptures can be regarded as genuine forerunners of the feminist art movement that arose in the United States in the 1970s. One major parallel is the concern with actual content. While the artist who created this movement raged at the oppression of women, making works which were cathartic because of their emotional violence, they also sought to celebrate women's achievements, long hidden by history. The culmination of this effort was the massive installation The Dinner Party created by Judy Chicago (b.1939). Presented in the form of a triple Eucharist, which singled out 39 famous women who had altered the course of human history - but also found space to mention numerous others - the work made a point of using skills that have been thought of as specifically female, such as stitchery and china painting, as an integral part of the presentation.

       Chicago, even more than predecessors such as Hosmer, ran into criticism for the ambitious nature of her enterprise. many male viewers, and some feminist also, took offence at the nature her imagery, which seemed to place the emphasis on the physical differences between men and women - the plates at her Dinner Party were inspired by the form of the vulva - rather on the inequalities imposed by the social context. Chicago has always said that her primary aim was not to stress difference but to celebrate women's achievement in the face of all odds. The Dinner Party is now recognized as being both a key event in the history of the women's movement and also a defining moment in the history of American art. It also signalled the return to content, long in abeyance since the triumph of Minimal Art in the late 1960s, and a new willingness to reconsider the role of the decorative. A number of male artist, such as the Los Angeles Angeles painter Lari Pittman (b.1952), have acknowledged the influence it had on their work.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Allegory Versus Reality.

 The complex history of the development and modification of Joan of Arc's posthumous reputation demonstrates how a historical figure can gradually assume allegorical and symbolic attributes, to the point where the real human personality almost vanishes beneath the weight of those accretions. Representations of women have also frequently acted as a vehicle for allegorical personification where no specific personality. They see it as a means of depriving women of their true personality is involved. Some contemporary feminist theorists object violently to this practice. They see it as a means of depriving women of their true personalities and of reducing them yet again to the status of objects.

    Nevertheless, some of these personifications have enjoyed a long life. A good example is Liberty Guiding the People, by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). Painted in 1830, the picture commemorates the July Revolution which had just overthrown the restored Bourbons of the senior line and installed in their place the more liberal Louis Philippe. Liberty Guiding the People has been an enduring success, which has long transcended the political circumstances that gave it birth. The courageous, free-spirited woman whom Delacroix shows mounting the barricades has provided a role model for women in real life and also a useful template for compositions by other artist. Elizabeth Catlett (b.1919) clearly borrows from Delacroix in her powerful woodcut Harriet - an image by a black female artist celebrating Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 - 1913 ), perhaps the most prominent black woman in the movement for abolitionist John Brown referred to her admiringly as 'General Tubman'.

     The link between Catlett's composition and that of Delacroix raises a question often asked somewhat angrily by feminists - should one refer an image of this kinda by a woman to a male source, since this (in this view) tends to diminish female achievement? The answer is that Catlett, like many other women artist, belongs to a broad artistic tradition which includes both male and females. To identify the apparent source of an image gives a better idea of how it works in its new context, but does not necessarily make it either less original or less powerful.

Warrior Women

St. Teresa can be seen, and is indeed seen by believers, as a warrior for the Christian faith. Though in theory a paradoxical reversal of established gender roles, the idea of the warrior woman is in fact deeply rooted in Western culture. From the ancient Greek world came the legend of the Amazons, a tribe consisting of women who lived separately but mated with men of another people, keeping only the female children thus produced. These they brought up to be warriors like themselves. In order to facilitate their use of the bow, they amputated one breast. Combats between Amazons and Greeks were a favorite subject in Greek art, and in the mid-fifth century BC a famous statue of an Amazon was created by the sculptor Cresilas. This is thought to survive in a number of Roman copies. 
     It is significant that Cresilas ' Amazon is portrayed as wounded - the wound, scarcely visible in the photograph, is under her raised arm and accounts for the weariness of her stance. This wound is symbolic of her loss of martial power after encountering those - presumably Greek and male - who had proved superior to her in battle. 
    The most famous 'warrior woman' in Western history is undoubtedly Joan of Arc, born c. 1412, burnt at the stake in 1431, and finally canonized in 1920. In response to visions that came to her when she was living at Domremy, a small village on the borders of Lorraine, Joan crossed France to the court of the future Charles VII at Chinon. There she inspired the dispirited French forces to raise the siege of the city of Orleans - and led the king to his belated coronation at Reims, thus legitimizing a monarch whose claim seemed precarious. 

       In one sense Joan fits a fairly common late medieval pattern- that of the individual who comes from nowhere but, claiming visionary inspiration, asserts the right to instruct and often to overrule secular power, thus leapfrogging, so to speak, all the gradations of the rigid social hierarchy of the period. Though both men and women took this path, it was of more importance to women, since it was one of the few ways in which members of the female sex could play a major role in the direction of affairs. The strategy was always high risk - the majority of these prophets and prophetesses were rapidly discredited, and then usually either imprisoned or executed. One of the few exceptions to this was Joan's near - contemporary St. Bridget of Sweden (c. 1303-73), a mystic and reformer who played a part in ending the exile of the papacy to Avignon, though this was not finally terminated until four years after her death. But Bridget's visions were not widely known until an account of them was published in 1492. Though Joan in theory failed- her execution as a heretic was meant to put an end to her influence - her story became so closely entangled with the renascent prestige of the French monarch that she remained for many years a nagging political and religious issue. Shortly after his triumphal entry into Rouen in 1450, which marked the decisive defeat of the invading English, Charles VII ordered an enquiry into her trial, which had been held there, Two years later, a fuller investigation, the so- called Trial of Rehabilitation, took place, and Joan, despite stout resistance from some of her surviving judges from the University of Paris, was officially exonerated. This exoneration was confirmed by Pope Calixtus III in 1456, and her condemnation for heresy was annulled. The medieval miniature illustrated here belongs to the first period of the revival of her reputation. It stresses her importance by making her larger than the other figures shown, but does not idealize her appearance. Though the miniature gives her such a commanding and active role, the incident it illustrates represents not one of Joan's successes but the first check in her career- her failure to take Paris in September 1429. 

    The painting of Joan by J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867), painted in 1854, belongs to a very different historical and psychological climate. Its context is that of nostalgic Bourbon legitimsim, after the overthrow in 1848 of the last Bourbon ruler of France, Louis Philippe, and his replacement by Napoleon III. Ingres' picture, which shows Joan at Charles VII's coronation in Reims cathedral, standing beside the altar carrying her banner, was intended to assert a mystical connection between the monarchy and divine right. Joan had now become a convenient emblem of this, whereas in the eighteenth century her legend had been cruelly satirized, notably in Voltaire's cynical mock-epic poem La Pucelle (1755). Ingres' picture also marks the beginning of something of more significance for the future- the French nineteenth - century nationalist upsurge which led to Joan's belated canonization following the French victory in World War I. Compared with the medieval miniature, the Joan shown here is passive. She does not act, she is content to play a purely symbolic role.   

Sainthood As Empowerment

During the Middle Ages, and also in the centuries that immediately followed, one of the few routes to genuine female empowerment was through religion- specifically through becoming a saint, though full recognition of sainthood could come only after the woman concerned was dead. Personages connected in a special way with sacred reality, saints were objects of veneration which had nothing specifically to do with their gender, and female saints were as much venerated as male ones. However, there were some limitations to this. Female sainthood was often strictly connected to the idea of the preservation of a woman's chastity. The most conspicuous apparent exception to this is St. Mary Magdalene, celebrated as a witness to the Crucifixion and the first person to see the resurrected Christ. Legend, not fully supported by the Gospels, made her a prostitute who repented of her sins and then spent the last 30 years of her life as an ascetic living in an alpine cavern. This aspect of the saint is represented in the famous statue by Donatello (1386-1466) which portrays her as an emaciated figure covered only by her long hair. The Spanish artist Luisa Roldan (c.1656- c. 1704), the only woman ever to be named sculptor to the court of Spain, follows the same tradition in her Death of Mary Magdalene- implying that sainthood involves the deliberate sacrifice of all physical attractions.

    A late medieval image of St. Walpurga (c. 710-779) presents a very different version of female empowerment, perhaps because it was made by women chiefly for women. It even uses a typically 'female' technique, embroidery. The saint is shown as a capable, dominant figure, totally unapologetic about her assumption of authority. This is in line with what we know about her life. Born in England, she was summoned by her brother St. Winebald to help him rule his newly founded monastery of Heidenheim in Germany. This institution contained both monks and nuns. After St. Winebald's death in 761, Walpurga ruled over the whole monastery.

   But her legend, too, like Mary Magdalene's, acquired an element of confusion. After her death St. Walpurga became identified with Waldborg, a German pre-Christian fertility goddess. On Walpurgis Night, the eve of her feast day which falls on 1 May, witches- in other words the servants of the old goddess, worshipping religion, later falsely portrayed as servants of the Devil - were believed to gather in the Harz Mountains. Even in nun's clothing, as she is portrayed here, St. Walpurga's image can be regarded as being yet another- wholly unexpected- example of a representation of the Great Mother figure.

    Some of the most familiar images of female sainthood represent saints in ecstasy. Perhaps the best known is the altar by Gianlorenzo Bernini ( 1598-1680) in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, which celebrate St. Teresa of Avila (1515 - 82,canonized 1622). This sculpture follows the text of the saint's own autobiography, in which she describes how an angel pierced her heart with a fiery arrow of divine love. Both the description itself and Bernini's physical embodiment have strong sexual overtones - the saint, as he shows her, seems to be in the throes of orgasm. This emphasis on a female hero's helpless bondage to sexuality might perhaps be read as a way of denying her power. There is no hint here of the capable and persistent ecclesiastical reformer which we know St. Teresa to have been , and certainly none of the intense asceticism which in reality typified her character. 

     Nevertheless, as forthright celebration of the powers of named, individual women, Bernini's altar and other works of the same genre have had a liberating effect on a number of contemporary female artists looking for new ways of asserting the achievements of their gender. The work by Amelia Mesa-Bains illustrated here is a case in point. It celebrates St.Teresa not only as a heroic woman but also as an integral part of the Hispanic heritage- someone whom Hispanic women can still look up to as an example to follow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Women In Charge

    Though women frequently appear in art playing allegorical roles, as incarnations of some abstract idea, there are remarkably few female heroes who emerge as distinct personalities in Western art. This is something that can also be said of Western culture in general-it reflects the tendency to relegate women to a passive role. Of these heroic images that do exist, many, not surprisingly, portray royal personages. The images presented here of the ancient Egyptian woman pharaoh Hatshepsut and of Queen Elizabeth I  of England and Ireland speak eloquently of the special circumstances that surrounded these remarkable women's possession of power. 

   Hatshepsut (c.1478- 1452 BC) was a queen of Egypt, one of very few who ruled in her own right. Following Egyptian royal custom, she was married to her brother, Tuthmose II. Brother-sister marriages were in an Egyptian royal custom because the succession to the throne, at least in theory, passed through the female line. When her brother died, after a brief reign, Hatshepsut assumed the regency for tuthmose III, born of a minor royal concubine. After fulfilling this role for about seven years, she seized full control of the government, had herself crowned a pharaoh and adopted no only the royal Horus name-reserved for male rulers- but also male pharaonic regalia, including the false beard worn by kings. In every outward aspect, her official statues portray her as a man, yet there is always something subtly feminine about them, thanks to the delicacy of the features.


    One of the most striking of Hatshepsut's portraits is the image which portrays her as a sphinx. The convention of showing the ruler of Egypt as a lion with a human head was long established in Hatshepsut's day. It went back as far as the Old Kingdom. The Great Sphinx at Giza, for example, is a portrait of King Khafre, the fourth king of the Fourth Dynasty ( c.2575 - c. 2465 BC). In this case the queen's face peers out from the mane of an undoubtedly male beast. The effect is not really androgynous, despite the presence of the formal false bread. Hatshepsut's  tranquil, confident face remains recognizably that of a woman.  

    From what we know, she had much to be confident about. She emphasized good administration and commercial expansion rather than war, and sent a major trading expedition to Punt, on the African coast at the southern end of the Red Sea. It is these qualities, not military triumphs, which are recorded in the reliefs which adorn her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri, one of the most elegant of all ancient Egyptian buildings.

   Elizabeth I of England ( r. 1558 - 1603) was an even more substantial figure, with an equally shrewd feeling for self presentation. One of the things we know about her is that she maintained extremely strict control over her own image, insisting, for example, that her face always be shown without shadows. She began her reign in the knowledge that there was immense contemporary hostility to female rulers. In the last year of her sister Mary's reign, the Scottish Calvinist preacher John Knox had proclaimed, in his book The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, that 'God has revealed to some in this age that it is more than a monster in nature that a woman should reign and bear empire above men.' Mary had been Catholic, which was one very basic reason for enmity, and it was part of Elizabeth's defence against ingrained sexual prejudice that she herself was a Protestant. But she knew she had to create a fresh cultural model to justify the fact of female rule. She did so by turning herself into a kinda of Secular divinity, even daring to take on some of the Characteristics her Catholic opponents allocated to the Virgin Mary. Her state portraits proclaim that she is a Virgin Queen,wedded only to her kingdom. Her semi-divinity was emphasized by the dazzling richness of her dress.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Challenging The Great White Father

One of the fascinating aspects of the revival of goddess images and the goddess cult in art has been the effort to adapt the image of female divinity to specific situations to do with race as well as gender. The African American artist Romare Bearden (1911-88), in creating the goddess image SHE-BA, looks to Africa as well as European and modernist precedents. These images not only challenge the primacy of Western art, they  challenge the Great White Father as head of the divine hierarchy. 
        This is not a new enterprise. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the protectress of Mexico, owes its origin as an image to the visions of a convert to Christianity named Juan Diego in December 1531 - that is, only ten years after Hernan Cortes completed the conquest of the Aztec Empire and began the process of turning its subjects into Christians. The cult flourished throughout the colonial period, giving rise to many representations of the Virgin as Diego had seen her, and in 1754  a papal bull made the Virgin of Guadalupe the official protectress of New Spain. But she did not remain in the hands of the Spanish.
     In 1810, Miguel de Hidalgo, who began the rebellion that led to Mexican independence, placed her image on his banner.
     The Guadalupe Virgin achieved a position in Mexico that made her in many respects more powerful than Christ Himself or God the Father. It was she to whom most Mexicans appealed-and continue to appeal - in cases of accident or emergency, as is demonstrated by the small votive pictures placed in Mexican churches, where hers is the invariable protective image. This typical image by Juan de Villegas, conventionalized to conform to the apparition that Juan Diego described, is a variant of European representations of the Virgin which had already begun to be imported into Mexico, mostly in the form of prints from the great print shops of Antwerp, then part of the Spanish dominions. But there is also a very real difference: in this version the Mother of Christ is a mestiza - a woman of mixed race.
       It is therefore no surprise to find the contemporary chicana artist Yolanda M. Lopez (1942) representing herself in the guise of the Guadalupe, nor to find that this representation also incorporates aspects of the much more aggressive Aztec deity Coatilcue. Whereas the Virgin remains a passive figure, floating tranquilly in the heavens, borne on the crescent moon, Lopez strides confidently forward. In one hand she grasps a snake, the other holds a star-studded cloak whose folds billow about her as she moves. This is the goddess reinvented for the age of feminism.

The Dark Side of the Goddess

The goddess in her more fearsome and destructive aspect occupies a larger place in the imagery of non-Western civilizations than it does in the West, where the concern has so often been to play down the power of the female. The Aztec earth goddess Coatilcue-the name means 'Serpent Skirt' in Nahuatl- was a symbol of the earth as creator and destroyer, mother of both gods and mortals. In the best known representation of her, her skirt is made of interwoven snakes, which here symbolize fertility; her fingers and toes are claws, to indicate that she feeds on corpses; and her breasts are deliberately portrayed as flabby, to indicate the myriads she has nourished. In addition to being an earth goddess she was the goddess of childbirth, but also, in another of her aspects, the deity of sexual impurity and wrong sexual behaviour.
         In the Hindu pantheon, Kali (the name in Sanskrit means simply 'black', and the goddess is often represented as black in colour) is the destructive, terrifying aspect of the supreme goddess Devi, who in her other aspects is peaceful and benevolent. Kali is shown with bared fangs and protruding tongue. She is garlanded with the heads of her victims, and her multiple arms hold attributes that symbolizes her destructiveness - a sword, a severed hand, a severed head. Among other functions, she is the patron of assassins- the thugs, gangs of professional murders who operated in India until the nineteenth century, made their offerings to her. Her best-known temple is the Kalighat, in Calcutta, the focus for a prolific output of folk paintings, like the one illustrated, which celebrate the goddess and her powers. Made rapidly to be sold as cheaply possible, these paintings are produced by both men and women, who follow traditional designs that are passed down from one generation to the next. 
           Neither of these incarnations of goddess hood represents an acceptable ideal for contemporary women, but they are included here as a reminder that the image of the female as an all-powerful nurturer does incorporate within itself much darker forces. The hidden presence of these forces undoubtedly adds to the potency of the more familiar benevolent image. The inability of Western art to come fully to terms with the goddess in her destructive aspect is significant in itself. 

The Goddess As Love

The image of the love goddess-Astarte's primary role - has in fact occupied a powerful place in the human psyche whatever religion happened to hold sway. The Hellenistic terracotta statuette of her illustrated here illustrated here comes from well to the east- it is babylonian- but it shows the impact made on the art of the region by the conquests of Alexander the Great. He and his successor kings disseminated Greek culture throughout their realms, which stretched as far as India. One of the ancestors of this comparatively humble work is Praxiteles 'Aphrodite of Cnidus,which in the mid-fourth century BC displaced the male nude from its central position in Greek art. Other ancestors are primitive representations of Asherah such as the one illustrated.
The statuette of Astarte has both Greek and near Eastern characteristics. It seems likely that the missing object she held in her extended right hand was a pomegranate-frequently used by the Greeks as Aphrodite's symbol because the way in which the fruit splits when it is ripe resembles the female sex. On the other hand, the crescent in the figure's hair recalls Astarte's role as a moon goddess. The broad hips indicate that she continues to be regarded as a goddess not only of love but also of fecundity.
       When the Renaissance began the process of secularizing European culture, it was natural that this image should reappear, as it does in resplendent form in Botticelli's celebrated Birth of Venus, painted c.1485 for the villa of Lorenzo de'Medici at Castello. Painted for a member of the family that, de facto, ruled supposedly Republican Florence, the picture represents not merely a deliberate return to antiquity but also a defiance of Church prohibitions against the representation of nudity. Venus appears resplendent, but she is purely an object for the male gaze, and the picture would probably have been kept in a room , such as Lorenzo's private study, that women did not frequent.
       The gesture of the figure, one hand covering her breasts, the other concealing her sex, is derived from classical statues of the Venus Pudica- the Venus who has suddenly become aware that she is being watched. However, the figure is much less solid and fleshy than classical prototypes, and one can see the artist's searching for ways to make her look ethereal and visionary- aphantom rather than something rooted in reality. The psychological strain involved for the artist can be gauged from his sudden subsequent conversion to the doctrines of the fiercely puritan Savonarola, who denounced paintings of this type as sinful 'vanities' and commanded that they should be burnt. So we are perhaps fortunate that this particular painting by Botticelli has survived, even if the subject and treatment are hardly satisfactory in a feminist context.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aspect of The Goddess

The suppression of goddess worship is believed to date from the triumph of the Christian faith,which imposed on its adherents the worship of a God in three persons whose identity was either wholly masculine - in the case of the Father and the Son - or  sexless in the case of the Holy Ghost, who is portrayed, if at all, in the forms of a dove. Christianity derived from Judaism - a religion which had already been powerful for centuries in the ancient world, and especially in what became the eastern half of the Roman Empire. In fact, long before Christianity began to spread through the imperial realms. often in the face of savage persecution by the authorities, Judaism had attracted camp followers, who were not jewish by birth but who adhered to many of the jewish dietary and other laws. These non-Jewish adherents had lost faith in the gods and goddesses of the Graeco-Roman pantheon. They were looking for a less complicated faith with an authoritarian ethical structure, which offered worshippers a clearer part in securing their own salvation. 
The Jewish Diaspora, which began long before the destruction of  the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus in AD 70, also altered Judaism itself, as it took Jews and their religion to every corner of the Near East. Jews, for example,became interested in Graeco-Roman philosophy. Philo Judaeus (c.20 BC-AD 40) saw Platonism as a version, albeit an inferior one, of the Jewish faith. Some authorities are persuaded that, with this Diaspora, there came a dilution of the strictest Jewish tenets. More especially, they see a tendency to dilute Jewish monotheism by the worship of a goddess who was the consort of Yahweh. The literary and archaeological evidence seem to indicate a different explanation. 
For example, Jewish women who settled in Hellenistic times at the extreme limits of Upper Egypt, at Elephantine, are known from archaeological evidence to have had a cult of a female goddess, consort to Yahweh, who was called Asherah- clearly a version of the goddess of the same name who had been worshipped in Syria, at Ugarit and other cities. She had, however, also been worshipped in Israel itself, though the biblical record is at pains to assert that the cult was alien-the works, for example, of the hated Tyrian princess Jezebel, wife of King Ahab (ninth century BC). The accumulated evidence, including a number of Hebrew inscriptions, now suggests that Asherah was not a foreign importation into Israel itself, but something indigenous, and that the Jewish women of Elephantine brought her with them, rather than borrowing her from their surroundings. Her cult was an independent form of worship confined to females, resented and often persecuted by the parallel, official cult run by males. 
Conversion to Christianity could not subdue the impulse to worship female incarnations of the divine, and the newly triumphant faith accommodated this in various ways. A local goddess would often be transformed into a saint, and a church would be built on top of, or inot the ruins of, an established pagan shrine. An example of this is the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome which, as its name suggests, occupies the site of a temple dedicated to Athena. The cult of the Virgin had reached such heights by around the year 1200 that protests were heard that the Mother of God was displacing Christ himself as the chief object of Christian worship.
       Even in near-modern times, Asherah, also known as Astarte, retained her grip on the Christian imagination, not least because of the fervent denunciations of the Old Testament prophets, known to every student of the Bible. Her image renewed its potency as a symbol of rebellion as late as the time of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti ( 1828-82). Rossetti's painting Astarte Syriaca romantically evokes the divine power of women, within the context of the nascent pan-European symbolist Movement, and can at the same time be read as a covert denunciation of patriarchal Victorian Christianity. The painting carries other messages as well. It is a near-portrait of Janey Morris, wife of Rossetti's fellow Pre- Raphaelite William Morris (1834-96),with whom Rossetti was conducting an adulterous affair. The two male figures placed symmetrically in the background speak of the goddess's- and by implication Janey's- power to ensorcell men. She is therefore both an incarnation of the goddess of love and the personification of the Fatal Woman.
One fascinating aspect of Rossetti's image, and of the other, closely similar, paintings that he made at this time, is that he simultaneously exalts the power of women and condemns it. The same theme can be found spelt out explicitly in some of the poetry that Rossetti wrote.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Re- Envisioning The Goddess

Separated from the ambiguous position she has long occupied in the traditional Christian hierarchy, the goddess figure is once again thought of as a force existing in her own right, rather than being. as the Virgin Mary is, a divinized human who exercises powers of intercession and redemption delegated to her by the Father and the son. But the analysis of the earliest goddess figures is, because of the complete absence of all written evidence, inevitably beset with difficulties.
      The most celebrated of all Palaeolithic goddess figures, the so-called Venus of Willendorf, is an example. We can go only by what we see. The Venus is a small statuette - only 11.5cm           (4 1/2 in) high - a steatopygous nude with massive buttocks and breasts, her head sunken towards her chest and with a complete absence of facial features. She is usually interpreted as an image of the life-giving mother - her rounded belly suggests she may be pregnant - whose characteristics emphasize her power to give birth, her power to nourish the infant once it is born and her power to survive famine because of her surplus body fat. In other words, she creates, she nurtures and she endures.
       However, other, rather different, interpretations can be attached to the same figurine. Physically she is close to the women of the Kung tribes of the Kalahari Desert. Recent research confirms that these tribespeople are the closest living relatives of the earliest humans so far known to us, whose remains have been found in the Rift Valley in East Africa. The Venus of Willendorf can therefore be regarded as another piece of evidence for humankind's descent from an originally black race. The 'naturalistic' interpretation - that this is a closely observed portrayal of a particular type of female - in some respects conflicts with the symbolic one. The symbolism becomes less powerful if the artist simply portrayed what he or she saw, and the religious significance is correspondingly diminished, even if it does not vanish altogether. 
        The response of some contemporary artists to this might be that his is essentially irrelevant. They have ritually identified themselves with the imagined Mother Goddess, seeking to revive and reinterpret the myth in their own work and to make it valid for others in their own time. Their attitude corresponds with a general tendency in contemporary art, which is to see the modern artist, despite the wide difference in social context, as the equivalent of the primitive shaman, who performs redemptive rituals to preserve the health of the tribe.
        One of the best known of the artists who have shaped their work following this assumption is the Cuban Ana Mendieta (1948-85), whose mud figures based on imprints made by her own body have helped to generate one of the most powerful legends in recent art. Mendieta came from a mixed culture, in which African elements were prominent, though she herself was not of African descent. Arriving at a very young age in the United States, as a refugee from Castro's revolution, she rebelled against American culture and tried to reintegrate herself with things remembered from Cuba, borrowing from Cuban Santeria rituals, which are themselves remnants of Yoruba religion brought from Africa by the victims of the slave trade. 
        One feature of these rituals, as with similar voodoo rituals in Haiti, is that the participants offer themselves to be 'ridden', or taken possession of, by a god or goddess. Essentially this is what is implied by Mendieta's images, which she preserved by taking photographs of them. They were acts of possession. A similar attitude is implied by the image of herself reclining, entwined with snakes, by the performance artist Carolee Schneeman (1939). Here, as in Minoan art, snakes are emblematic of the power of the goddess. A woman who entwines herself with them is wrapped in the goddess's aura. The phallic interpretation suggested by the story of the Fall, and followed by Freud, is here replaced by another, in which the goddess, and the priestess who is her representative, demonstrates her dominion over venomous things. 
         Certain goddess representations specifically promote the idea of a deity who is the incarnation of the power to nurture-life -giving, beneficent and fertile. perhaps the most celebrated, and certainly the most forceful,embodiment of this concept is the Diana of Ephesus, originally the cult status in the great temple at Ephesus in Asia Minor, now known to us through Roman copies. This status has also been used as a basis for striking images by leading contemporary artist, among them Louise Bourgeois (1911). In 1978 Bourgeois presented a Sculpture called Confrontation, a latex costume with multiple breasts. She devised a performance in which men and women had to parade up and down wearing versions of the costume. The performance was both a parody of fashion shows, which the artist considers to be demeaning to women, and a way of putting forward her views about the essential ambivalence of the sexes. 
           Betsy Damon used Great Goddess imagery in a similar way for one of her performances. The potency of the image is affirmed by the ease with which it bridges the huge span of time between the world of the early Greeks and our own day. There are, however, other implications as well - the many breasts of the goddess also suggest her direct links to the animal world. It is part of her power that she is not simply a human divinity, but the mistress of the whole of nature. The image is not meant to e beautiful in any conventional sense; it is, instead, meant to convey the idea of fecundity. 
            In conventional Greek mythology, Diana is the goddess of the hunt, a virgin averse to the company of men. The use of her name is this very different context reminds us that the Great Goddess was always a deity with three aspects- virgin, mother and crone. She contained within herself all the female possibilities, and those who worshipped her in the ancient world were always aware of this, just as they were aware of the fact that the nurturer could, in an instant, transform herself into a destroyer.  

The Nature of the Divine



  Carolee Schneeman, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions (Photograph of performance,1963)

Minoan Snake Goddess (Seventeenth Century BC);
 Archaeological Museum, Crete

Audrey Flack
Egyptian Rocket Goddess(1990); 
Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York

A new interest in female divinities and in spirituality involving the worship of a goddess or goddesses has been one of the more striking results of the Women's Movement. It is something which stretches well beyond the boundaries of the art world. Within the art world, as also in archaeological studies, fascination with visual representations of goddess figures has been fuelled by the publications of feminist archaeologists like the late Maria Gimbutas (1921-1994). Though these interpretations have inevitably been contested, sometimes by other feminists, they have seized the imaginations of many women and have been a continuing source of energy within feminism. They necessarily shift our perspective in looking not only at extremely ancient works but also at all art in which a goddess figure or some equivalent appears.
making images of deities is an age-old human occupation. The very first three-dimensional representations of human beings, dating from the Palaeolithic period and usually interpreted by modern scholars as divinities, are those of females rather than males. Nevertheless, when one attempts to discuss this long series of divine images, one immediately starts to run into some problems. Are they, for example, representations of a mythical universal mother figure, who manifests herself in a variety of physical guises? Or do they simply represent the common cultural phenomenon of fertility figures, responsible for only one- albeit a very important - aspect of human life?
       Images like those of the celebrated Minoan snake goddesses or the snake priestesses discovered by Sir Arthur Evan's in the ruins of the ancient palace at Knossos in Crete have been absorbed into contemporary consciousness and have thus acquired a popular life of their own. Contemporary artists like the American painter and sculptor Audrey Flack (1931) have used the Minoan snake goddess as a symbol of female empowerment. Flack's Egyptian Rocket Goddess, illustrated is a sophisticated Post-modern sculpture which combines Minoan elements with others borrowed from the ancient Egyptian representations of Isis and yet others taken from Art Deco. 
       When confronted with such an unusually complicated play of imagery borrowed from several different epochs and major civilizations, it is impossible to be sure just how seriously the artist intends her divine symbolism to be taken. One thing of which we can be certain is that the sculpture forms part of a resurgence of interest in making representations of the divine female. 
       While Flack's figure may not actually be intended as an object of worship, it does make a statement about eh importance of the feminine element  with the world. Furthermore, it presents this element as an active force and, as such, is a positive image of femininity. Association with the divine helps to reinforce the image.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago (born 1939) was an American artist and activist best known for large-scale collaborative installation artworks - "The Dinner Party" and "The Birth Project" - both based on feminist themes and "The Holocaust Project" - based on the atrocities committed by the Nazi Party during World War II.

Judy Chicago was born Judith Cohen in Chicago, July 20, 1939. She assumed the surname of her hometown in 1969 to assert her independence from the patrilineal convention which gives a woman the surname of a father or husband. The daughter of political activists, her father was a union organizer, and her mother was a professional in a time when women working outside of the home were rare. Chicago studied at the Art Institute of California and later at the University of California at Los Angeles. Married three times, the artist lived and worked in Benicia, California.

Judy Chicago first gained recognition in the 1960s as Judith Gerowitz and did large, highly crafted sculptures of simple geometric forms that could be termed "minimalist." Eschewing the more traditional sculptural media of bronze and stone, Chicago worked in a variety of materials: painting on porcelain, airbrush painting on automobile hoods, and using fireworks to make drawings in the air. From the early 1970s her work focused on feminist themes, often using the motif of a flower or butterfly to symbolize a woman's sexuality and incorporating conversational language written directly on the artwork. Her work was always noted for its high level of technical finish. In addition to her artwork, Chicago taught college art classes, established the first feminist art programs and galleries, and very notably started Womenspace, an all-female art collective.

Judy Chicago is an author, feminist, educator, and artist whose career now spans four decades. Throughout her career, Chicago has endeavored to give women control over "the recording of history, the dissemination of information, the transmitting of new values."A feminist art program that she founded in 1970 was designed to help women art students develop a positive sense of identity and to validate female experience as a source of artistic content. She is also the creator of one of the most influential installations of the late 20th century, The Dinner Party (1979). At a time when women artists had few role models and even fewer opportunities for recognition and success, Chicago looked to her foremothers for inspiration, and began to explore identity and other issues from a woman's perspective. To this day—as an artist, a feminist, and a populist—Chicago believes that each and every person is capable of changing the way others see, think and act in the real world.

Judy Chicago's recent projects have included Autobiography of a Year, a series of 140 drawings, and Resolutions, a project that includes work by sixteen artisans employing needlework and textile arts along with painting. Chicago has also written two autobiographies and published a number of books in conjunction with her art.

Chicago turned her attention to the subject of women's history to create her best-known work, The Dinner Party, executed with the participation of hundreds of volunteers. She conceptualized the project as a reinterpretation of the Last Supper where "women would be the honored guests." Triangular in configuration, The Dinner Party is made up of an immense open table, covered with white cloths and set with 39 place settings, each of which commemorates an important historical woman. The whole installation rests on a porcelain surface called the Heritage Floor which is inscribed with the names of 999 additional women of historical significance.

Ultimately, The Dinner Party evolved into a monumental symbolic interpretation of the history of women in Western civilization, from Paleolithic to modern times. For the plate designs, Chicago developed symbols for each "guest" based on flowers, butterflies, vulvae, and historical motifs. In the needlework designs of the table cloths, she created a context for each plate through visual reference to the person's life and times. By combining a distinctly female image system with the techniques of women's cultural production and domestic labor, Chicago created work that both embodied and portrayed the powerful history of women's achievements. This monumental multimedia project has been seen by more than one million viewers, and has been displayed in fifteen exhibitions in six different countries. The Dinner Party is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

History of the feminist artist in 20th Century

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party,1979

Suzanne Valadon, The Abandoned Doll,1921

                                               Lottie Laserstein, Traute Washing, 1930                             

The first half of the 20th Century brought about a great change in the world, and ultimately its perception of women artist. Innovation was the theme of the times, and with such advances as the automobile, Einstein's theory of relativity and Freud's psychological discoveries, came a questioning of all traditional values and norms of society. (NMWA,1998) World Wars I and II brought men to the battlefields and women were stepping forward to take care of businesses as well as family, and women were demanding political rights with Women's Suffrage. The art world simultaneously experienced a drastic overhaul-the academies that had, for so long, defined the value of art became out-dated, and a myriad of new styles emerged. Women artist abandoned the limiting images of home and family, and for the first time, used the image of the nude in their art. This was a great accomplishment for not only women artist, but for women in general. They did not paint the traditional, patriarchal-designed image of a woman lounging languidly, as though in wait of a man to seduce her. Instead, they claimed their own image, and depicted women who were not necessarily beautiful, but that were real, such as Lottie Laserstein's image of an older, athletic woman at work ( see image 3) and Suzanne Valadon's image of a pubescent girl (see image 4). Neither carries the sensual overtones found in the traditional nudes. another manipulation of the nude is found in the work of Alice Neel, who portrays a man suffering from tuberculosis- quite a role reversal in the depiction of the vulnerable nude. (NMWA, 1998) These works, however, were unappreciated for much of their lives-they were seen as unattractive and unnecessary contributions to the art world. Again, women were not afforded the recognition they deserve.
Toward the second half of the 20th Century, men were back from the wars, and after gaining a place, however small, for themselves in the art world as well as the business world, women were again relegated to the households and family. Abstract Expressionism emerged at this time, and true to history, men were at the forefront of the movement.(Heller,163) Though women were great contributors to the genre, their male contemporaries again obscured them. For example, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning and Dorothy Dehner, perhaps the most prominent of the female abstract expressionists, were never treated with the same honor and aspect as artist as their "master" husbands, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and David Smith, respectively. (NMWA, 1998) Women, tired of being chastised and patronized when a man's artwork was praised for its brilliance and ingenuity, were beginning to chaff restlessly at being overlooked and unappreciated. A change was imminent.

That change was manifested in the form of the seventies, a decade which brought the women's movement and a demand for change. Women decided that if society as a whole would not support their art, they would support each other's. Associations like the Women's Caucus for Art provided venues for women's art, allowing them the visibility that they for so long have been denied (art museums present an average of 15% women in curated exhibits, and a mere 4% of museum acquisitions are works by women artist). This organization and those like it were a major proponent in "bringing women out of their studios"(Brodsky, 1997,p.1) and give them a voice in the art world at large.

There were also specific artists who brought women's art into visibility. Judy Chicago (1939- ) took advantage of the voice women had found with the emergence of the feminist movement, honoring women artists of the past who, for so long, had gone without recognition. One of her most famous, and controversial works was a large, multi-artist project called"The Dinner Party (see image ) This was a triangular table with thirty-nine place settings, each for a woman that history had forgotten, from Earth Mother Gaia to Georgia O'Keeffe. Each place setting had an intricately embroidered place mat, with china place settings, to honor the "unsigned" art that women have created for centuries. Each plate was fashioned into a stylized image of the female genitalia, introducing controversy into this landmark piece. The titles at the center of the table and those at the base bore the names of 999 women artist who have been overlooked by history.("The Dinner Party,"1998)

Finally, women had gained the recognition that they had so long pursued. They had finally broken free of the confines of "men's" art, and created art that was wholly their own, one that spoke with the female voice- A voice that had for so long been silenced. Sadly, this has ultimately proved to be hampering to women artist of recent years, as it seems now that all art created by women is regarded only in the light of her gender identity, and society is failing to see that what creates a women's identity encompasses far more than simply her gender. She has an ethic history,spiritual belief's, a political stature and a personality that act as the foundation of her person. She is the sum of her experiences, and we can not ignore this fact any more than we can ignore her gender. So- The evaluation of the feminine artist is far from complete and there are new frontiers of issues to be addressed and resolved. Women will always be valuable contributors to the art world. They need to be honored for what they bring to the world du to their individual experiences, rather than be criticized for their inability to conform.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Marry Cassatt (1844 - 1926)

She lived in Europe for five years as a young girl. She was tutored privately in art in Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861 - 65, but she preferred learning on her own and in 1866 traveled to Europe to study. Her first major showing was at the Paris Salon of 1872; four more annual Salon exhibitions followed. 

In 1874 Cassatt chose Paris as her permanent residence and established her studio there. She shared with the Impressionist an interest in experiment and in using bright colors inspired by the out-of-doors. Edgar Degas became her friend; his style and that of Gustave Courbet inspired her own. Degas was known to admire her drawing especially, and at his request she exhibited with the Impressionists in 1879 and joined them in shows in 1880, 1881, and 1886. Like Degas, Cassatt showed great mastery of drawing, and both artists preferred unposed asymmetrical compositions. Cassatt also was innovative and inventive in exploiting the medium of pastels.
Initially, Cassatt was a figure painter whose subjects were groups of women drinking tea or on outings with friends. After the great exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris in 1890, She Brought out her series of 10 colored prints--e.g., Woman Bathing and The Coiffure-- in which the influence of the Japanese masters Utamaro and Toyokuni is apparent. In these etchings, combining aquatint, dry point, and soft ground, she brought her printmaking technique to perfection. Her emphasis shifted from form to line and pattern. Soon After 1900 her eyesight began to fall, and by 1914 she had ceased working. The principal motif of her mature and perhaps most familiar period is mothers caring for small children, e.g. , The Bath ( La Toilette, c. 1892; Art Institute of Chicago).

Cassatt urged her wealthy American friends and relatives to buy Impressionist paintings, and in this way, more than through her own works, She exerted a lasting influence on American taste. She was largely responsible for selecting the works that make up the H.O. Havemeyer Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Woman, Art and Gender: A History

Rachel Ruysch " Flower Still Life" after 1700 - Oil on Canvas

Marry Cassatt "Mother and Child" 1889 - Oil on Canvas

An old New Yorker Cartoon depicts a group of prehistoric women painting images on the wall of a cave. One of the women suddenly pauses in her work asks: "Does it strike anyone as weird that none of the great painters have ever been men?"(Heller, 1987) This, of course is a parody of the long held assumption that all prehistoric art was created by men. Why should we assume this, when we don't even known why this art was created, much less by whom? It is because for many centuries, we have been taught that all great art was the product of men, and that art created by women was merely and attempt to copy the masters that came before. For many, many hundreds of years, women struggled to gain recognition as artists, and for the greater number of those years, women struggled to gain recognition as artists, and for the greater number of these years, they remained obscured due to the constraints of patriarchal society. Recently, however in the feminist movement of the seventies, women have found a voice and a face and recognition in the world of the arts followed. Yet women today are finding that they have yet another battle to fight, one that demands that they be looked at as more than merely women artists in the light of feminism. They are individuals who create art in the context of their identities, which include " ethnicity, personality, life stage, religion, class, and politics" (Norwood, 1987 p.4), as well as gender.

Since antiquity, women have created art and not received recognition for doing so. It is difficult to obtain a proper history of women in art because many records have been manipulated, and a great number of works by women have been credited to their male teachers or relatives, as it was believed that no truly great art could be created by a woman.(Heller,1987) A large number of artists from antiquity remain unknown, and many are to the opinion that perhaps "anonymous was a woman" (NMWA, 1998, p.1). We know that women were creating art during this period through discoveries of unaltered records and images of women artist working, yet there are relatively few known female artists of this time. Hypothetically, if not in truth, we may conclude that works were better received with artist unknown, rather than to be attached to the name of a woman. Clearly it was an unacceptable notion that a woman was capable of creating great art.

The Renaissance (1450 - 1600 A.D.), was dominated by an aristocratic society that recognized women artists, but did so in rare cases and always as having significantly less stature as artists than men. It was no longer believed that women were incapable of creating great art, yet the rarity of the event was made evident by the lack of noted women artist of the time. And if they were noted, their work was considered a "lesser" form of art. Sofonisba Anguissola, for example, was one of the finest portrait painters of the Renaissance and considered the first woman artist of the time. (NMWA, 1998) Society considered her a novelty and a child prodigy, a fact that likely contributed more to her success than did her talent.

During this time, art developed into "greater" and "lesser" categories. The greater categories included religious and historical themes, while still-life, portraits and landscapes were considered of the "lesser" type. As one might predict, all types of art considered appropriate for women were entirely of the lesser category, and they were thus denied the proper education to become professional artists. Even into the 20th Century, painted images of flowers and landscape were considered "womanish" and snubbed as being illegitimate. (NMWA, 1998) Rachel Ruysch (1664 -1750), a well-known Dutch painter of fruit and flowers (see image 1), pursued a scientific realism in her painting, and strove to achieve a symbolism of "the brevity and transience of life" (Martin, 1997 , p. 24). The actual depth of her paintings, however, is realized only in contemporary criticism, as in her time it was "generally believed that females were incapable of genius on moral grounds" (NMWA, 1998, p. 2). It seemed inconceivable that a woman was capable of more than a superficial comprehension of art.

The 18th Century brought about a change in society's value of women. Beauty was held in highest regard in this time, and those who possessed it or the power to create it were highly valued. Feminine beauty was power (even if only for its entertainment value), and women took advantage of this. Elisabeth
Vigee-Lebrun (1755 - 1842) became a very successful court painter because of her ability to "render all who came before her in a highly complimentary manner" (NMWA, 1998, p. 5). Even so, Vigee-Lebrun too was asked to refute accusations that she employed a man to paint the pictures she submitted for acceptance into the Academie Royale. Women were not taken seriously as artists but had become acceptable entertainment, but were not taken seriously as artists.

The 19th Century brought more women artists into the light of recognition, but they were still greatly limited in the larger world of art. The home and cafe society became subjects for contemporary art. As they composed the woman's world as dictated by a patriarchal society, the female perspective on these subjects was acceptable to society. Even so, women artists were not readily accepted into the world of professional and great art. Rosa Bonheur (1822 - 1899), one of the greatest animal painters of the 19th Century, had to pose as a man in order to accomplish this feat.(NMWA, 1998) Later in the century, Impressionism deviated from the confines of academic art, enabling artist such as Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926), a painter made famous by her tender depictions of mother and child (see image 2), to make a name for themselves by drawing on their experiences as women for their art and expressing them freely. They were now able to create art from talent and imagination, no longer restricted by their lack of academic knowledge. (NMWA, 1998) Still they were not taken seriously as artists. Though Mary Cassatt's work was recognized, "at the same time it has been devalued and isolated for being either too much concerned with the female experience('all those mother and child images') or too limited by it('her models are confined to the family circle') (Vogel, 1988, p. 49). Women were in a no-win situation. When they created art with the focus of family or society, they were criticized for their limited subject matter, yet the confines of society allowed their lives to include little else.

Feminism & Art

Kristen Justesen's "Sculpture II," part of "Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution"at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angels.

What is Feminist Art?
It's the most important artistic movement since world war II.
More than any other 20th century movement,feminism pushed back against the art-for-art's sake attitude of modernist abstraction. It pushed instead for work that talked about crucial issues in the world outside. Ever since feminism in all areas of art making, the message has mattered as much as the medium.

One simple way to gauge the influence of vintage feminist art:  By how much it's on our minds today.

Classic Feminist art is all around us now simply because it is a perfect fit for what's up in todays art world. Take "Wack!" the most striking thing about it is how current its art feels, though it's all decades old.
Feminist cared less for art than for the important things it can be used to talk about.
And because gender affects just about every aspect of human experience, feminist artist found occasions to talk about almost everything. They dealt with topics that leading artist have been broaching ever since: bodies, class, race, consumerism, the art market, colonialism, political and cultural power.
Even when they borrowed approaches dreamed up by men, the feminists gave them new political heft. At first glance, Eleanor Antin's 144 black -and-white shots of a female body,arranged in a 4-by-36 grid, look like plain-Jane conceptual art, perhaps addressing issues such as photography and form. In fact, Antin's grid represents four daily shots of the artist herself, trimming her nude body down to a more "ideal" size through 36 days of dieting. It's Called "Craving: A Traditional Sculpture," riffing on the ancient Greek idea of the male artist who whittles away at gross matter to find the ideal beauty-- usually slender, female beauty --- hidden deep inside. 
The feminists used all kinds of art towards a single end: digging out from under centuries of maledom. the best work in "Wack!" takes on that task with a commitment and aggression that most of today's art never manages.  

According to Lucy Lippard, a verteran feminist who got a standing ovation at the MoMa feminism conference-- before her talk had even started -- woman's art in its first 1970s flowering was built around" a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life." it was " neither a style nor a movement."

Art Means Language.

"Where there is no gift there is no art"  -- Lewis Hyde

 Art is a language of visual images that everyone must learn to read. in art classes,we make visual images, and we study images. increasingly,these images affect our needs, our daily behavior, our hopes, our opinions, and our ultimate ideals. that is why the individual who cannot understand, responds to, and talk about visual images.