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Women In Art History

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A New Movement Towards Feminism In Art - 20th century to the Present

The Late Nineteeth Century and the Early Twentieth Century

Breakfast with the Birds
Gabriele Munter (1877-1962)

When we normally think of the history of women in art, we begin to name women who painted or worked in the arts in some capacity during the late 19th and earliest part of the 20th centuries. This is the period of time when recognizable names start to appear, and if asked to list the most famous women artists of all time, many of the names will come from this time in history. As you now realize, there were many women that came before Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Gabriele Munter.  For those of you who have not studied art history before taking this course, even those names may not sound familiar, but these women along with their contemporaries are the ones that normally begin the list of women in art. 

The Cradle
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

At the turn of the century a great change occurred in the world of art. Women who previously had studied only as a result of having relatives who were infact artists themselves, or who had been sent to institutions to study with women only, now became part of the artistic world and were allowed to be educated as the men of the time were.  It was not unusual to find women studying along with people like Kandinsky or Manet. The impressionists of Europe started to have an impact on women in art. They were not only accepting of women as colleagues but they were encouraging to the women who wanted to exhibit and who wanted to develop their draftsmanship. 

At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, women learned to draw with live nude models. This was completely unheard of up until that time, as women before had to study anatomy by using the muscular and skeletal structure of a cow. 
Paris became the place to study for all artists of the time, and women of the era were no exception. Barring any familial objections women were allowed to enter into the academies of Paris and many from the United States and Canada did so. Emily Carr, noted Canadian artist of the early 20th century spent a good deal of time training in Paris.

A Totem Walk at Sitka
Emily Carr (1871-1945)

Women Changing the Face of Art - Mid 20th century

Once women began to study with the men and travel for the sake of their art, the entire face of the art world changed. Names that are now familiar to us began to appear on the scene like, Georgia O'Keefe, and Frida Kahlo.  These women dared to be different enough to carve out their own legacy and created a new way of thinking about women as artists.  Nothing that had been done until this time was so innovative and stark in its presentation. Women had never before been called surrealists nor expressionists. They had also not been considered as painters, but only as women painters.  To forget the gender of the painter and consider the painting for its own merit was unthinkable until the women of this new generation crossed the barrier and forced the art world to see them as equal to and comparable with the male artists of the time. I don't know if Lee Krasner or Georgia O'Keefe or Frida would think they had been treated as equals to their contemporaries, but looking back, from the perspective of the 21st century, there was certainly more equality than there had ever been before.

Jack in the Pulpit
Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986)

 Once women made a mark in society as artists of the 20th century, all taboos were challenged. Judy Chicago created an art installation piece called THE DINNER PARTY, in which a place setting was designed to represent several women of notoriety. This installation was daring and provocative in that many of the 'plates' had shapes or moldings which looked quite similar to the female genitilia. Despite the publicity and controversy, it was one of the first feminist intallations to be shown internationally and to receive positive critical notice.

Ideas to get you started on the threaded discussion for Unit #6

  • What do you think now pushes the envelope in feminist art? Is anything shocking anymore, or have we seen it all?
  • Do you think women gain or lose power by creating art that causes controversy? What does political art do for us as a society?
  • Is art that has a political agenda saleable? Can it be public? Should it be public?
  • Do you feel there is a time when art is just done for shock value? Can anything be a subject for a piece of art?
  • Do you think you could tell the difference between a women artist's work and a male artist's work?
  • What do you feel women should focus on now in the 21st century? Should their art be different now? What messages would you like artists to address that would make a difference to society in 2007?

Related Links

In this area I might include links with more information on subjects we've discussed in class.

For example, this site offers the history of word meanings:

Be sure to send me suggestions for the next In Depth segment.