Feminist art is art by women artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory in the early 1970s
Introduction to feminist art
In 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin published a groundbreaking essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? In it she investigated the social and economic factors that had prevented talented women from achieving the same status as their male counterparts.
By the 1980s art historians such as Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker were going further, to examine the language of art history with its gender-loaded terms such as ‘old master’ and ‘masterpiece’. They questioned the central place of the female nude in the western canon, asking why men and women are represented so differently. In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing the Marxist critic John Berger had concluded ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’. In other words Western art replicates the unequal relationships already embedded in society.
In the film Unlock Art: Where are all the women? actress Jemima Kirke addresses the topic of women in art (or the lack them), and looks at the changing role of female artists in a male dominated art world over the centuries – and how some of them eventually took on the establishment in the 1970s.
The development of feminist art
Feminist art followed a similar trajectory to feminist theory.
In what is sometimes known as First Wave feminist art, women artists revelled in feminine experience, exploring vaginal imagery and menstrual blood, posing naked as goddess figures and defiantly using media such as embroidery that had been considered ‘women’s work’. One of the great iconic works of this phase of feminist art is Judy Chicago’sThe Dinner Party, 1974–9.
Later feminist artists rejected this approach and attempted to reveal the origins of our ideas of femininity and womanhood. They pursued the idea of femininity as a masquerade – a set of poses adopted by women to conform to social expectations of womanhood.
Watch feminist and conceptual artist Mary Kelly reflect on the development of feminst art, featuring archive footage of happenings and demonstrations.
Feminist artists in focus
Margaret Harrison founded the London Women’s Liberation Art Group in 1970. Soon after, an exhibition of her work was closed by the police for its ‘pornographic’ depiction of men.
In this film Harrison talks about the events leading up to the closure, and her subsequent career as a feminist artist.
TateShots met with her in 2007 to talk about art and punk rock.
Lumps, bumps, bulbs, bubbles, bulges, slits, turds, coils, craters, wrinkles and holes
Tate Etc. article examining the art of Louise Bourgeois whose work explores a range of personal themes within the context of feminist concerns.
TateShots: Louise Bourgeois
In this video curator Frances Morris presents an overview of the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at Tate Modern in 2007 and introduces footage of her meeting with the artist at her home in New York.
Other perspectives on feminist art
Performance Art 101: The Angry Space, politics and activism
Blog examining feminist performance artists in the wider context of politics and activism.
Patron saint of lipstick and lavender feminism
Tate Etc. article in which feminist theorist and writer Germaine Greer explores the life and work of Frida Kahlo.
Studio: Cindy Sherman
Exclusively for Tate, artist Cindy Sherman has photographed her own studio. Betsy Berne – painter, novelist and fellow pugilist – goes 15 rounds with her.
Feminist art in detail
Mary Kelly, known for her long-term critique of conceptualism informed by the feminist theory of the early women’s movement, talks to Hans-Ulrich Obrist.
Her Noise symposium
Listen to audio recordings of the Her Noise symposium which explored emergent feminist discourses in sound and music, bringing together musicians, artists, academics and writers to challenge standard readings and approaches to feminisms and the sonic.
Gender Talents: A Special Address
Video recordings of the Gender Talents symposium which gathered togetheran international group of thinkers, activists, and artists to explore radical expressions of sexuality and gender
Audio Arts: Margaret Harrison and Lucy Lippard
American writer on contemporary art, Lucy Lippard, and artist Margaret Harrison compare, analyse and discuss what it means to be an artist and woman within British and American Society today.