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One-Minute Introduction to Art Terminology: Feminist Art

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Feminist Art

Feminist art, also known as feminist art, emerged in the early 1970s based on the development of feminist art theory. It was created by artists attempting to challenge the dominant status of men in art and society. Feminist art highlights the inequalities experienced by women in life, aiming to bring positive impact to the world through this art form. Its goal is to end gender discrimination and oppression, contributing efforts towards achieving gender equality. The mediums used include painting, performance art, conceptual art, body art, crafts, video, film, etc.

In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin published a groundbreaking article titled ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ In this piece, she investigated the social and economic factors that prevented talented women from achieving equal status with men.

By the 1980s, art historians Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker furthered theoretical research in this area. They questioned the central position of the female nude in Western classical works, asking why men and women were portrayed so differently. John Berger summarized in his 1972 book ‘Ways of Seeing,’ stating, ‘Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at,’ meaning Western art replicated existing unequal relationships in society(sources from miam.org).

In the first wave of feminist art, female artists focused on women’s experiences, exploring topics such as the vagina and menstruation, portraying themselves nude as goddess figures, and using mediums like embroidery traditionally considered ‘women’s work’ to challenge and redefine them as art. An iconic work of this period is Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party’ from 1974-9(quotes from miam).

Later feminists moved away from this approach, attempting to reveal the origins of our feminized and gendered thinking. They delved into the concept of femininity, believing that society set a set of rules for women to meet societal expectations of female identity.

As Simone de Beauvoir stated in ‘The Second Sex‘: ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’ Indeed, when parents tell their daughters to be gentle, submissive, or even docile and virtuous, they shape her into being ‘feminine.’ When parents tell their sons to be adventurous, stoic, or that ‘boys don’t cry,’ they similarly shape him into being ‘masculine.’ Without these parental ‘suggestions’ and societal gender ‘definitions,’ what would children become?

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