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.