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Feminist Movement and Modern Art

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How did the feminist art movement influence expressionism?

Gender equality is an issue that has gradually become a day to day affair in our society; it’s near impossible to avoid seeing it or hearing about it. However, gender equality as an issue is often associated with politics, not art, but as a result of it, feminists began to illustrate the issue through expressionist art forms. Feminist art was used to shock, educate and mock, as well as be used as an outlet for women to tell their story, which, through traditional values, was almost impossible. As a result, the expressionist art form evolved more than anyone could have ever imagined. The amount of new mediums and outlets that were explored and created as a result of feminist art was phenomenal. However, like with any other significant change, there were many critics that wished it hadn’t. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Traditionally, men were the dominant gender; the boss, and women were mere selfish pleasures used to sexually gratify a man. She must also cook for him, clean for him, bear his children and just simply act as the man’s object. These values carried over into the art world, where, female artists were virtually unheard of, they were only art works; objects of the male gaze. When women appeared in art, the majority were only half dressed or nude, as well as being placed in a vulnerable position; waiting for the man do dominate her. It was as the snowball effect started of feminist movements and feminist art movements in the 1960’s that women were to finally be recognised; “their role shifted from muse and model to inventor and creator”1. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Feminist artists always felt it was important to have their lives and experiences recognised; this is where expressionist art became an important utility for women.

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Rosanne Koster, “Cunt Art”, Academie voor Beeldende Vorming (2012)

However, it wasn’t a simple matter of making an art piece, gaining admirers and everything falling into place; it was, and still is, an uphill battle. Many artists faced harsh legal penalties as a result of their art, artists such as Pussy Riot; a Russian protest-art group (protesting against the treatment of women in Russia). Pussy Riot’s biggest woes came when they performed a “Punk Prayer” inside Moscow’s largest cathedral. The group that were involved in this performance were sentenced to two years in prison after an extensive trial. Whilst expressionism was known for being a bit more ‘out there’, the feminist art movement continued to push it further and further; it eventually made repulsion and disturbance common elements within the art world. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Unlike Pussy Riot, there are more ‘friendly’ protest-art groups, such as the Guerrilla Girls. The Guerrilla Girls aim to expose all forms of sexism and racism in our daily lives, art, and media; they do this “with facts, humour and outrageous visuals”. The artists are known for, well, exactly that; they’re posters can easily fall under the pop art sector with their bright, blocky colours; as well as their tongue in cheek image content and slogans. “Reinventing the "f" word: feminism!”2 is the Guerrilla Girl’s main motto, which in itself has the underlying wit which the group tries to present in the vast majority of their works/ posters. The Guerrilla Girls are very clever with the way they go about their work, because, behind the wit and flashy colours there is a very clear and upfront message; “Do Women Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?” A very simple and to the point message, however, the colours are bright yellows and pinks and the visual is a naked women wearing a gorilla head; suddenly it doesn’t seem that serious. But, the feeling of displacement from the contrasting messages sticks with the viewer and when they’re left to think about it later on, they’re forced to consider the message intertwined in that otherwise bright and colourful sign.


“Guerilla Girl”,

aaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaa There were many artists who didn’t bother with subtleties however; many aimed to bring a huge shock factor into their work. A very important artist who explored many of the elements which shocked people, is Judy Chicago. “The Dinner Party” is probably the most renowned work of Chicago’s for both it’s meaning and what it depicts. “The Dinner Party” is a large installation piece that depicts a triangular dinner table (to symbolise equality) with place settings for 39 mythical and famous women in history, as well as another 999 names engraved on the floor underneath the table. Each plate on the table has a small sculpture that is arranged to symbolise the vulva. Many other of Chicago’s pieces also incorporate and symbolise the vulva, which challenges the traditional way in which women appeared in artworks. Even though women had appeared nude in paintings for centuries, Chicago’s representations were found offensive; they were considered "Very bad art… failed art… art so mired in the pieties of a cause that it quite fails to capture any independent artistic life of its own”3. One reason for such critics could simply be because they were stuck in their old ways, but whatever the reason, they were proven wrong on all counts; Chicago and her work went on to become symbolic in the feminist art movement. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were many more equal rights movements occurring, which, began using the feminist movement as a pathway for equality in other aspects such as homosexuality; “difference is what it’s all about, but not just gender difference”4. Through weaving politics and protest into the art, more and more people became exposed to it and were consequently influenced one way or another. People from all walks of life began to adapt techniques and messages expressed through feminist art, which worked to the advantage of many equal rights groups as there was more and more
3 4

Hilton Cramer, The New York Times Lucy R. Lippard, From the Center (the University of Michigan: Dutton, 1976)

people power. Artists didn’t only appreciate the works for their meanings and political/ personal values, it was often the outlets and extremities that attracted people to feminist art, or in particular, performance art. Performance art had a large influence on many people. Performance has been used for many issues, or, for just pure entertainment; its introduction to the expressionist art world was a very important and valuable event. Yoko Ono was known for her relationship with Beatles’ musician John Lennon, but, she was also an artist in her own right. Ono explored many forms of art, though often coming back to performance. Her performance ‘Cut Piece’, first performed in 1964, is something that she became very renowned for, as well as having many later generations of artists mimic the act. Cut Piece was a performance in which Ono would sit in front of an audience, completely still, and invite members of the audience to come up and cut a piece from her clothing. It was completely up to the individual if they wanted to participate or just watch; it was also up to the individual which piece of the clothing they wanted to cut off. The meaning behind the performance, as said by Yoko On Herself, is about “Freeing yourself from yourself”, in other words, when an artist makes a work, it’s normally complete with their ego, and this performance was about challenging this notion and have the audience take away the artist’s ego through ‘cutting’ it off. The work was seen to explore society’s power dynamics and large gender issues. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa It was through all these incredible artists that expressionist art was revolutionised and opened doors for many other aspiring artists; both male and female. Though it is very sad that in this day and age there is still a huge need for feminist protest artists, the issue is slowly getting eradicated by these amazing women; one day there will be no need for women to be form punk bands and perform for their rights; no need for women to waste their colourful talent on equality signage. Until that day, feminist artists are going to continue to influence all forms of art; expressionist or not.

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