Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Laughter

Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Laughter

Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Laughter

Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Laughter

Synopsis

Women artists have made a huge contribution to contemporary mainstream art, and their rise to international prominence has accompanied the development of feminism, feminist theory and history of art. Jo Anna Isaak's important new study of the work of women artists discusses the work of individual women artists in the context of contemporary art practices and in relation to key feminist issues in art history.Isaak looks at the work of a diverse range of artists including women from the United States, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom - discussing, among others, the work of Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and the Guerilla Girls. Isaak discusses work by 20th century Soviet women artists, providing a fascinating case study of the production of art in non-Western economic, political and ideological circumstances.

Excerpt

Writing in 1974, Lise Vogel posed a series of demanding questions:

In the past decade the women’s liberation movement has explored issues touching on virtually all areas of human experience. Why then do we hear so little about art? Why has art, perhaps more than any other field, lagged so far behind the general movement for change initiated by modern feminism? Specifically: Where are the books, articles, or collections of essays presenting a feminist critique of art? Why are there no monographs and virtually no articles on women artists written from a feminist perspective? Where are the reproductions and slides of the work of women artists? Why can’t one find syllabi and bibliographies covering issues of women, art, and feminism? What is the meaning of the almost complete lack of feminist studio and art history courses in the schools? Why are there so few feminist art history courses in the schools? Why are there so few feminist art historians and critics? What are women artists today doing? And what are those women who consider themselves feminists doing and why? What should a feminist artist, critic, or art historian do? What is a feminist point of view in the visual arts?

(1974:3)

Around the same time Nicos Hadjinicolaou in Art History and Class Struggle was criticizing art history for being “one of the last outposts of reactionary thought” (1973:4). Vogel’s questions and Hadjinicolaou’s condemnation are related, but it wasn’t until five years after the first publication of his book that he discovered, to his chagrin, that he was contributing to this reactionary thinking. A reader pointed out to him that throughout his own book art historians are assumed to be exclusively male and that it perpetuated the customary linguistic subordination of every grammatical person into the inclusive, but repressive person of a universal “he.” Hadjinicolaou concluded that “this proves to what extent even so-called progressive people are victims of some very old and reactionary attitudes” (1973; 1978 edn: 2). What was left out of Hadjinicolaou’s account

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