Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Käthe Kollwitz - Feminist Artist

Käthe Kollwitz was a female artist working in Germany. She was born in 1867 and died in 1945. She's generally known for her German Expressionistic style while working in drawing, etching, lithography, and wood cuts. The drawing on the right is a self-portrait done from 1891-92.
She, like most artists, had been drawing since she was little. She officially started taking private art classes with members of her community when she was 14. She needed to do this because the Königsberg Academy did not allow female students, like most art academies of the time. She married a physician, moved into a working-class neighborhood, and had two sons. That neighborhood and her husband's patients were her models. She based her work off of these hard working people and also decided to start making prints, because they were less expensive and more graphic. (The Women's Museum, 2010)
Kollwitz suffered many losses in her life that may have contributed to her studying the suffering of people. "...a series of personal tragedies which included the death of a son in the First World War and the loss of a grandson in the Second. Documenting the suffering that results from war and poverty led Kollwitz away from the expression of individual torment..." (Chadwick, 2007)

Whitney Chadwick writes of her:"Käthe Kollwitz was committed to an art of radical social content unrivaled in her day. Her choice of graphic realism as a style, her exclusive use of printmaking media, and her production of poster ad humanitarian leaflets, all contributed to her devaluations of her work and is dismissal by art historians as 'illustration' and 'propaganda'."
Chadwick also writes: "Kollwitz replaces the archetypal imagery of female abundance with the realities of female bodies marked by a poverty which often prevents women from nourishing their children or enjoying their motherhood. " (Chadwick, 2007)

In the lithograph above is titled Death Seizes the Children and it was done in 1934. You can see how she's dealing with the death and suffering that she sees around her. You can also get a sort of mothering feeling from her. She is concerned here with the suffering of the children, as a mother would be. This print also has this sort of graphic, shock value to it. It's something to make you step back and take notice of what she's commenting on.

Kollwitz won fame with Attack which is commenting on the Weaver's Revolt done during 1895-97. This was based on a play by Gerhart Hauptmann, The Weavers, and was about the revolt of the Silesian weavers in 1844. This proved to be a hugely politically effective work when it was displayed in 1898. The Kaiser refused to give her the medal that she had won for it. (Chadwick, 2007) The Kaiser said, "I beg you, gentlemen, a medal for a woman, that would really be going too far... Orders and medals of honor belong on the breasts of worthy men!" - Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1898 (Johnson, NA)
This print had done what Kollwitz intended. It was socially acclaimed and clearly showed the conditions that she saw around herself. Also, the Kaiser's comments show the thoughts of men from that time as well. Even though her artwork was being socially acclaimed, she did not deserve a the medal she earned because she was a woman.

The next woodcut is called The Widow I. You can see how emotional the German Expressionists were through something as stark as a woodcut.
Kollwitz is showing the people the impoverishment that is in society. She wants them to act up and take notice of what's going on around them. She may not necessarily be a feminist artist, but she's doing what other feminist artist are doing when it comes to pointing out social injustices. She does play on the care taking ideas that some feminists share, and also the mothering aspect.

An artist doesn't need to be a feminist artist in order to be an important woman in art history. I think Käthe Kollwitz proves this. The feminist ideas don't need to be so heavy handed that the feminist message she's trying to get across is as clear as day. Kollwitz is also one of the persona that the Guerrilla Girls have taken on. So this, agian, proves that you don't HAVE to have a FEMINIST message to get across through artwork. You just have to have a message and a cause that is worth spreading.

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. 4th. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson World of Art, 2007. 286, 290 - 292. Print.

Johnson, Denise. "Modernism." The Slide Projector. Chaffery College, NA. Web. 31 Mar 2010.

The Women's Museum, . "National Museum of Women in the Arts." The Permanent Collection. National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2010. Web. 31 Mar 2010.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Judy Chicago - Feminist Artist

It's hard to talk about feminist artists without mentioning Judy Chicago. She has pioneered the idea of feminist art starting in the 1970s through art and art education in California along with Miriam Schapiro. (Chicago, 2010)
Probably her most notable piece is The Dinner Party which is an instillation. You can see part of this piece behind Chicago in the photograph on the right. After many years of being in storage, this piece has now found a home at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. I will be taking a look at The Dinner Party a little later on in this post.

Chicago is also known for her "central core" imagery. This image on the right is titled Through the Flower. This series of images were done from 1972-74 and they all deal with the same imagery. This central core imagery was to represent the vagina and the body. She believed that women needed to take their bodies back from the "male gaze" that they've received from male artists. She also believed that women should make art that is body based. This theme has become very important throughout her whole body of work.
Because of this whole idea of the body, her art has a certain shock value. She deals graphically with the body and isn't afraid to hide anything. She wanted to invent a new language for feminism based totally on the body.
She states, along with Schapiro in 1972: "[T]o be a woman is to be an object of contempt, and the vagina, stamp of femaleness, is devalued. The woman artist, seeing herself as loathed, takes that very mark of her otherness and by asserting it as the hallmark of her iconography, establishes a vehicle by which to state the truth and beauty of her identity." (Brooklyn Museum [2], 2010)

Now, onto The Dinner Party. There have been many who have written articles about this piece. It's one of those pieces that you either love or hate - it's very controversial.
The Brooklyn Museum explains it as, "The Dinner Party (1974-79) by Judy Chicago is an icon of feminist art, which represents 1,038 women in history—39 women are represented by place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the table rests. This monumental work of art is comprised of a triangular table divided by three wings, each 48 feet long." (Brooklyn Museum [1], 2010) This instillation was also a collaborative project. Many different artists worked together to put this piece together. One artist made the place mat, another the tableware, and another the vagina. Chicago created the ideas and chose the artists that made the pieces.

These "place settings" include a placemat that was embroidered by an artist and a full place setting (cups, silverware, plate). On the plate was a sculpture that looks like a vagina which represents that woman. An example of one of these place settings is on the right which represents Emily Dickinson. This is just one example of these representations for the famous women being presented here. The Sackler Center offers a virtual tour of this piece, so if you'd like to see more, click on the virtual tour link. There you can look at each setting individually and gather a lot of information on each setting and how/who it represents.
Here she is also using the "woman's work" crafty type materials. Like her counterpart Schapiro, Chicago is trying to elevate these craft like artwork into the world of fine arts. But this can also be balanced by the fact that it is an instillation. During this time most instillation were done by men. So this, of course, is challenging the art world on two fronts now.

The main message behind all of this is empowerment towards women. Different people get different messages from this piece, but I am not one who finds this piece to be necessarily empowering. I think it's great to get these women out there into the public, but I don't think the greatest way to represent them is through their vagina. The question is also raised if the vagina is there to represent that woman, or are they serving a vagina to that woman?
Why not chose to represent each woman through what they're famous for? I would think that a woman is worth more than her vagina. I know, personally, if I were to be represented somewhere, I would like to be represented as what I'm known for. Is this saying that this woman is important simply because she is a woman? Sure the vagina is personalized (supposedly) for her, but does it truly represent her? If you didn't know who Emily Dickson was, would you have figured out she was a writer from her place setting?
This piece has also been criticized because of the hierarchy involved in its creation. Chicago requested samples of the artists' work before they were allowed to continue on to create their contribution to the piece. So she could have rejected you as a contributor to the project if she did not like you're work. This idea of hierarchy is not usually one that is considered good when dealing with feminist ideas. Since feminism is all about seeking equality, shouldn't all women first be considered as equals?

Another notable collaborative work she's known for is Womanhouse. She worked with some of the more important feminist artists of the time to create this huge art project. Click on the link to check out more about Womanhouse and the various rooms within it.

Whether you love her or hate her, Judy Chicago has been an incredible influence on the art world. She's inspired many feminist artists through her teachings and through her artwork. There is much more to her life that I haven't the time to touch on. But she's inspired a generation and really kick started the feminist art movement. Like I said at the beginning, it's hard to talk about feminist artists and not mention Judy Chicago's influence.

Brooklyn Museum, [1] . "Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art." The Dinner Party. Brooklyn Museum, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010.

Brooklyn Museum, [2] . "Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art The Dinner Party." Central Core Imagery. Brooklyn Museum, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010.

Chicago, Judy, and Donald Woodman. "Biography." Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago and Donald Woodman, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Louise Bourgeois - Feminist Artist

Louise Bourgeois is a French artist who was born on Dec. 25, 1911 and is still working today. The photograph (Mapplethorpe, 1982) on the right is one of Bourgeois holding one of her sculptures called Fillette (French translation - Young Girl). She is considered a feminist artist because her life and feminist subjects are main parts of her work. Her life is a large influence in her work. She's stated: “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.” (PBS, 2007)

Helaine Posner writes of her childhood, "Born in Paris in 1911 to an affluent family who were in the business of repairing and selling 17th and 18th century tapestries, she was the middle child of a capable, nurturing mother, who headed the famil'y restoration workshop, and a handsome, flirtatious, often volatile father, for whom she was named and whose attentions she courted. ... During her formative years, her father invited his English mistress, Sadie, into the household to be the children's tutour; while her mother accepted this situation, it was intolerable to the young Louise, who was required to ignore her father's blatant infidelities, endure his betrayals, and accept Sadie, the hated rival for her father's love. The anxiety, jealousy, and rage born of this bizarre family drama have fueled aspects of her passionately expressive art throughout her career..." (Posner, 2007)

Posner also writes of Bourgeois, "Bourgeois's body of work (including painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and installation) constitutes a profound, life-long examination of her complex inner workings, often intense and fragile relationships, and personal anxiety. She has simply stated, 'I identify myself with extreme emotions,' and the sensations her work evokes resonate deeply with the viewer. These emotional states and the imagery the artist created from them are based on her difficult experiences growing up in a largely patriarchal society. Fear and pain, anger and aggression, and sexuality and obsession frequently find expression in the artist's charged representations of the body - or body part - and the home." (Posner, 2007)

Bourgeois's Femme Maison (Woman House) paintings are some of her earliest works being created during 1946-1947. You can see these painting on the right. They clearly have feminist overtones, that being a woman's place is in the house. Posner writes, "...a house replaces or engulfs the head of a nude woman, negating her identity and isolating her from the outside world. Here the traditional domain and supposed haven of a woman is made a suffocating confinement, more a prison than a source of familial contentment." (Posner, 2007)
These painting do have an unnerving feeling an confinement. If a woman's place is in the house, shouldn't she feel happy, not confined, there? The shape and image of the woman's house is literal reflection on the woman here.

From here she then moves into sculpture. This is somewhat strange for a woman to do sculpture because it is generally dominated by male artists. Thus it was hard for her to really break into the sculpture scene. Especially since she was doing sculptures in wood and bronze, which is even more male dominated. If women were to do sculpture, it was more often seen to be more of the 'crafty' or textile sculptures. Something more suitable for women to be doing. Leave the heavy work to the men.

One of her newest series are her series of Cells.
The photo on the right is called Cell (Choisy) and was done during 1990-93. These cells are clearly based on her childhood drama in her home. Here we have a large house enclosed by wire fencing with a guillotine poised above the home. This is the large, industrial sculpture I was talking about before that was generally left for the men to do.
Again, Posner writes of the cells, "... [the] title [cells] may refer to a living organism, or more aptly, to an anxious site of enclosure, confinement, and solitude. The Cells are highly charged theater of memory. ...these collective works reveal a woman's interior life as an essentially fluid realm in which internal states and external reality merge. In these installations, references to the body and the home, ever-present in Bourgeois work, abound." (Posner, 2007)
These Cell installations are very reminiscent of her Woman House paintings. The feeling of confinement in the home and how women deal with that. How women feel that they must keep the family (the home) together is also present here, from my view. The guillotine ever poised to fall and cut the family apart at any moment. "A claustrophobic atmosphere of isolation, loneliness, tension, and threat envelops these works." (Posner, 2007)

As Bourgeois got older, she began work on a series of sculptures based on hands. The photograph on the right is a selection from Welcoming Hands from 1996 originally set in New York. These are bronze sculptures on granite blocks. Here we see a more material, caring focus on her artwork. Here there are two hands gently holding another hand. To more this speaks more of kindness and gentleness. A very feminine quality in such a hard, industrial format. I think it shows how a woman needs to be. Hard and stone cold on the surface, but gentle and caring on the inside. It speaks of unity and care to me.

We can see through out her career as an artist, that is still professing despite her age, Bourgeois as encompassed many feminist feelings. She's harboured feelings of anger because of how she grew up, but then eventually comes around to a more care-focused feminism. She's dealt with the home and how she feels it confines a woman, but yet that woman can extend her hand to the many to help or welcome them. Louise Bourgeois is truly an amazing feminist artist. "Bourgeois has been a singular and singularly influential presence, for feminist among other, and has, most likely with great ambivalence, attained the status of artistic mother of us all." (Posner, 2007)

PBS, . "Art: 21." Art: 21. Louise Bourgeois. Biography. PBS, 2007. Web. 29 Mar 2010.

Posner, Helaine. "Louise Bourgeois: Intensity and Influence." After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

Mapplethorpe, Robert. "Louise Bourgeois." 1982. 29 Mar. 2010.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cindy Sherman - Feminist Artist

Cindy Sherman is a postmodern photographer who started work in the 1970s and is still working today. She's been important in the areas of "studies of the decentered self, the mass media's reconstruction of reality, the inescapably of the male gaze, the seductions of abjection, and any number of related philosophical issues." (Heartney, 2007) She uses herself as the subject in almost all of her photographs except only a few. These are staged photographs that she takes in her studio. It's important that they're staged because we know that this is some sort of message embedded in them that she is trying to get across to us.

Eleanor Heartney also writes of her: "Though the photographs suggest a variety of scenarios, they differ from conventional film stills that tend to focus on moments of dramatic action between two of more characters. Sherman's heroines are always alone, nearly expressionless, and caught up in very private emotions. They seem to be women with impenetrable interior lives, caught in a moment of quiet contemplation." (Heartney, 2007)

Lets look at the photo on the upper right. This is a classic Sherman Untitled Film Still. This photo (Sherman, 1977) was taken in 1977 at the beginning of her career. The subject is located in a kitchen, at the sink no less. There is a pot on the stove and she's, of course, wearing an apron. This is clearly making a statement on "woman's place in the house." A few questions can be asked: why is that look on her face? is her husband out of frame berating her? why is she clutching her stomach? is she pregnant? is she hungry? These are the kinds of questions one has to keep in mind when looking at not only feminist artwork, but any artwork. You need to ask yourself why this artist has this particular staging and what it could possibly mean. The interpretation is totally up to you, you just have to look closely at what is being presented.

Sherman also deals with the stereotypes of women. Like the photo above (barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?) and the photo (Sherman, 1978) to the right. Being a library science major, this photo appeals to me. When you think of a "librarian" don't you think of the woman who sits behind a desk and tells you to "shhhhh!"? Also, when you think of the people who enjoy reading, don't you think of women? This is what I'm getting from this photo. Sherman's photographs are making these comments on today's society as she sees it.

This photo (Sherman, 1990-91) that is called Untitled (Cosmo Cover Girl). You can easily see her social commentary. She's attacking the models that you usually see on the covers of glamour magazines, such as Cosmo. She states: "I like making images that from a distance seem kind of seductive, colorful, luscious and engaging, and then you realize what you’re looking at is something totally opposite. It seems boring to me to pursue the typical idea of beauty, because that is the easiest and the most obvious way to see the world. It’s more challenging to look at the other side." (Sherman, 1990-91)
Here she's addressing body image. How often do you see a real woman that looks like the cover models on Cosmo? More than likely you're going to see more women that look like the one Sherman is portraying on the right. You would never see someone who looked like that on the cover of Cosmo, but the women on the cover of Cosmo don't exist. Sherman's art is her way of fighting back against today's society.

Heartney, Eleanor. "Cindy Sherman: The Polemics of Play." After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Prestel, 2007. Print.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled Film Still #3." 1977. 25 Mar. 2010.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled Film Still #13." 1978. 25 Mar. 2010.

Sherman, Cindy. "Untitled (Cosmo Cover Girl)." 1990-91. 25 Mar. 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Guerrilla Girls

"What is your philosophy for making activist art?

"We try to be different from the kind of political art that is angry and points to something and says 'This is bad.' That's preaching to the converted. We want to be subversive, to transform our audience, to confront them with some disarming statements, backed up by facts—and great visuals—and hopefully convert them. We carefully craft everything we do. We try to twist an issue around and present it in a way that hasn't been seen before. We usually test-drive a project by showing it to a few people beforehand to gauge their response. We've also learned that focusing on one aspect of an issue is better than trying the change the whole world in a single work."*

The Guerrilla Girls started in 1984 and they state that they are "a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks. We have produced posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large. We use humor to convey information, provoke discussion, and show that feminists can be funny. We wear gorilla masks to focus on the issues rather than our personalities. Dubbing ourselves the conscience of culture, we declare ourselves feminist counterparts to the mostly male tradition of anonymous do-gooders like Robin Hood, Batman, and the Lone Ranger. Our work has been passed around the world by kindred spirits who we are proud to have as supporters. It has also appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Bitch and Bust; on TV and radio, including NPR,, the BBC and CBC; and in countless art and feminist texts. The mystery surrounding our identities has attracted attention. We could be anyone; we are everywhere."

They have created various posters and other means of advertisements that easily capture the attention of the public. They use art as both a means to get their message out and as the reason of their protests. They see themselves as "reinventing the "F" word - feminism!"

I love the idea that they want to take feminism and add some humor to it. They show that you can still fight for a cause and make it fun. I think you attract more attention by having a fun, outrageous demonstration than by having the normal protest.

The art world is, of course, largely dominated by men. Most disciplines always have the argument of the canon, most notability the literary world. This also happens in the art world. There has always been the question of why have there been no great women artists? You have the old masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, etc... but where are the women? And what's worse is that the museum, like the canon, has very few women artists on display.

Check out the stats, courtesy of the Guerrilla Girls, of the percentages of male artists in museums and of their colour. I also like the Guerrilla Girls in that they also look at other forms of discrimination other than just gender. They are trying to be all inclusive in their fight and recognize that they're not the only ones being discriminated against. If people come to museums to learn about the history of art, then they need to realize that they're probably not getting the whole story. Tons of women artists have been left out of both the canon of the art world and in museums as well.

The Guerrilla Girls use their typical humor in one of my favourite pieces of advertisement: The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist. Obviously, women artists do strive to be world renowned, but this advertisement shows how women in the art world are treated.

The Guerrilla Girls not only deal with art, but also in politics. They started out in the art world, but have moved onto other subjects that have historically discriminated against women. They've attacked the Republican Party about a woman's right to control her body. Also, they've attacked them about health care back in 1991.

This shows that they clearly want change not just for women, but all oppressed groups. Their advertisements are clear, concise, funny, and to the point. I think their tactics are a great way to gather attention and raise consciences. They are clearly one of the more radical feminist groups out there, but I think they're doing their job well. They're gathering the power of the people anonymously and getting their messages out virally. Since the internet is a a great way to get your messages out to the masses quickly, this way of working anonymously works wonders. I think that the Guerrilla Girls are on the right track to raising awareness of not only what's happening in the art world, but also the world of women.

[All pictures and quoted text comes from the Guerrilla Girl's website at: ]

[Check out more posters and advertisements from the Guerrilla Girls' campaign at: ]

[Listen to the Girls talk about who they are at the Museum of Modern Art in 2007: ]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And so it begins!

I've created this blog for my Philosophy and Feminism class as my project. My minor is art history and so art is a very big part of my life. I want to look at various ways women have been depicted in art and feminist artists, and maybe a little bit of how women are used in advertising.
Women have always been subjected to the "male gaze" when in art. This is mostly because, as with most things, art has been dominated by men. I've heard that there is no way to show a naked woman and not have her be sexualized. I want to take a look at this while working on this blog.
But for just as many male artists, there are plenty of feminist artists. These artists show the feminist obstacles that they must overcome every day, especially in the art world. They use art as their medium to fight back against the male dominated society and express how they feel. This artwork has many layers of meaning and is always interesting to take apart and explore.
I've always had a thing for advertising. I want to look at it throughout the ages. I want to see how the women in these adverts are used and I want to see how the cooperation try to sell to women. I always notice the adverts on television whenever I watch it, so I want to take a closer look at this.
Through doing this, I can apply what I've learned in my philosophy class and also what I've picked up in my art history classes. I've always enjoyed applying what I've learned to projects, so I'm looking forward to making more posts!