Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Women, Art & Society

" We will need our wit and courage to make sure that women's voices are heard, their work seen and written about. That is our task for the future" - Linda Nochlin, 2006

While reading this I said to myself, yes I agree with this statement and then ask why? Upon reflection I realize the answer to this question has been an ongoing one for me and perhaps for many woman like myself, who grew up during the second wave of feminism and are now witnessing the third wave among the younger generation and this has been my experience as a mature fine art student at Mount Allison University.

I had my first  Art History class today for my last term entitled, Women, Art and Society. We watched a very informative film by Teresa MacInnes, The Other Side of the Picture, National Film Board, 1998. It was an eye opener to say the least. It's wonderful and exciting to have a historical overview of woman as artists. I was pleased to know that in my Advanced Art History Seminar class is with, Professor and artist, Hermeneglide Chaisson ,  and we will be viewing a number of films about artists, some woman artists, such a Artemisa Gentileschi, including female film directors.

After watching The Other Side of the Picture today, we discussed the film and it was a great introduction into the course, left me feeling inspired, uplifted and challenged, as a woman passionate about women's issues. I felt like I could have watched all day and it made me hungry to learn  more about woman artists. I am looking very forward to this course and believe it will be very rewarding.

This is the second Art History class I have been enrolled in regarding women artists.  The first being at NSCAD, which was the first of it's kind, in the 70s. Thirty years later, the Mount Allison  course, Women, Art and History, I'm certain will prove to be much more expansive, inclusive and informative regarding woman artists. I was schooled in Art History  with the two supposed " canons ", Gardiner's History Through The Ages and Janson's The History of Art, both, the Guerilla Girls refer to it in their Bedside Companion to the History of Art. It's such a breath of fresh air, to say the least, to know that most art historians are now women. 

I have never called myself a feminist as I am not a fan of labels that can be very restrictive and confining in definition, as it seems to have different meanings for everyone.

Anne D' Alleva's book, Look! Again, Art History and Critical Theory, refers to a
"collection of feminisms " and "feminist art histories" which reaffirms and clarifies for me my own ideas regarding the word  feminist and it's meaning.

Feminism and woman's issues are extremely important to me. I remember hearing an interview on CBC with Gloria Steinam and was struck by what she said, "There can be no democracy without feminism". I believe this to be a statement having profound meaning to our world. I am not certain exactly in what way, but  I believe it has to do with society's creating a living history. This is reflected in what is valued, be it, love, peace, power, control, life, death and war . History tells us where we have been and where we are going.

An independent study entitled, Feminism, Art and Modernism, I am enrolled in for my last term before graduation, will give me the opportunity to further explore in depth, the study of this topic, however Woman, Art and Society is a great beginning.

Learning about such significant text like, Mary Wollsonecraft's, " A Vindication of the Rights of Women ", dating back to 1792, along with Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex and Betty Friedan's, " The Feminine Mystique " are all an essential part of the foundation of feminist history.

It is absolutely essential to know and understand the beginnings of feminist art history for me as a woman artist.

Linda Nochlin's article written in 1971, " Why  Have There Been No Great Woman  Artists ?" Nochlin's statement, " genius is a historically  and culturally determined concept, and that art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, but a process mediated and determined by a specific and definable social institutions", addresses the need to redefine our paradigms of our history and I would say relates directly to how and what we learn.

The making of art and craft, similarities and differences have long been a controversial discussion among artists, art students and art institutions. The inherent long held societal belief that men are the art makers and woman are the makers of craft , often subsumed into being " low art ". I presume this dates back to the industrial revolution and other significant events throughout history that have contributed to this belief. Fortunately this has changed over the years and slowly continues to evolve.

Change in art history and the way it is taught is crucial to feminism, to men and to women. Art historians, Norma Broude and Mary Garrard's groundbreaking volumes of essays, I have never read, but certainly intend to, because of their vast and ascending contribution to feminist art history. The idea of the particular and the individual is a powerful  consideration in the way in which art is created, under what circumstances, encompassing  race, culture, gender, agism, and related issues. " In Patricia Matthews Subjects of Art History ",1998,  broadened the objectives of art history critical to feminist art history perspectives.

Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis very poignantly  speaks about the " semi-visible " status of the African-American women artists.

After finishing this post I was very excited to find this site regarding a new film called Women Art Revolution by Lynn Hershman Leeson


Indigene said...

This was a wonderful post with links, I didn't know about and will be checking out! Thanks so much for educating me through your blog. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you Indigene for your comments.

This the great thing about going to school, you can learn a lot. But as Joni Mitchell said in her song "life is for learning." I love art history but learning about art history through women's eyes, now that's history! What Judy Chicago said about finding out about so many woman throughout history really had a life changing affect on her. It's very empowering.

Betsy Grant said...

And of course I would say, the same goes for women musicians!