24 Postmodern Feminism

During the 1980s, the talent of women artists was starting to be recognized by the majority of art viewers in the world. It was finally time that women were being taken seriously and selected for galleries, museums, etc. along with male artists. This was the time that art was getting to be not only dynamic, but shocking and inappropriate as well. Most art in history is created from a male perspective. Masculinity was still a factor of art but it was now shared with femininity. Postmodern feminism paved the way for ordinary subjects to become extraordinary and transformed art.

Postmodernism was an art movement that was a part of a variety of art styles: Appropriation, Neo-expressionism, Neo-conceptualism, etc. in the 1980s. The art of the 1960s-1970s set in motion the change that history needed by relating art to politics and social agendas. The Postmodern movement itself was based on freedom of expression and blurring the line between pop art taken from the 60s and fine art. Craig Owens describes it as being “an other among others”.Postmodernism can reveal the power that authority has over society, and the message sent that says conservative and safe represent art, and art that is out of the ordinary is prohibited.

History shows that women have been mistreated, oppressed, and objectified. In present times we were raised to remember that we are lucky we don’t live in a world where women are free to speak their minds and do anything they set out to do. Many women even today may be experiencing the backlash of society. Feminism is a great thing, and with all great things comes responsibility. Nancy Chodorow’s research “describes how girls learn to be female by identifying with and remaining close to a caretaker who gender, whereas boys learn masculinity through a process of individuation and separation from the mother…a process of differentiation responsible for the divergence between “masculine” knowledge…and “feminine” forms of knowing.” While men do have a hand in creating this stigma of being a woman, women themselves have a hand in it as well. Because women were treated in such a way that they thought their only purpose was to please a man, that is all the world knew for a time. Still, men are not the enemy. There are many men-hating feminists that ruin the reputation of feminism and people who stand up for it. Feminism isn’t about women being the greater sex, or men being “punished” for just being a man; it’s about equality.

Art historian Griselda Pollock points out that female artists are affected by the misrepresentation of female sexuality, and pressured to keep tradition. While women were paraded in public like property, it was illicit and uncommon for women to express themselves in a public way. A woman’s privacy is very important when it comes to speaking her mind or expressing emotion, and feminists transformed that into a tool. Postmodern art uses the public to make a statement and it is a very effective tactic. Making things public that should be private is one of the biggest reasons postmodernism was successful.

Feminist art can be an excellent sponsor for the message of equality when the progressive and chauvinistic take charge. Men dominated the walls of galleries and museums, and feminists were trying to make a change. Artists like the Guerrilla Girls created loud and brazen pieces to catch the eye of many and fight against the male superiority complex that had developed over hundreds of years of art history. Women refused to be cast aside for any longer and forced the world to look at the importance of female artists, and how sexism was a real issue. The artist Suzanne Lacy said the goal of Feminist art was to “influence cultural attitudes and transform stereotypes”. Not only did the collaboration of feminism and postmodernism give introduction to feminist art, but it also opened the door for movements that came after. Artists like Kiki Smith began to include heavy subjects in their work in the 1970s, such as AIDs, abortion, and racism to inform the people. This mass communication continued well into the 1980s and after with other female artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger.

Once women took over the art world, there was no going back. Although, the world was ever-changing and there were still critics that challenged the feminist art movement. There are so many different topics that can derail the feminist agenda if they are more important in the public eye. “Globalism, in this theoretical construct, refers to the location of feminist theory as a lever in the ongoing global discursive relation, whose power dynamics, as we know, are not equal.”

Even postmodernism can “outgrow” feminist art; many art critics knew this and took advantage of this, but it didn’t slow female artists down.  The New York Feminist Art Institute, founded by in 1979, was a gateway to many other woman’s groups. In 1985 the Woman’s Salon for Literature in New York was founded, and then after the Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services Supreme Court ruling, women were angry and radicals were not afraid to show it. Art collectives like the Sister Serpents made a statemen using art as a tool to stop the discrimination and objectification of women.

The difference between feminist art and other forms of art is the female perspective and “voice” that comes from it.  Feminism in postmodernism during the 1980s affected the world, and made it known that women can make art as well as men can and should be taken just as seriously. No one should be reprimanded for self-expression because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. For the world to be peaceful, men and women should be treated as equals. The collected point of view created progress like no one had seen before. It created possibilities for not only women, but everyone that wants to speak their mind through art.

“A woman is an unfixed category constantly in process.” – Kate Mondloch


Opening Contemporary Art Copyright © by Sarah Parrish. All Rights Reserved.

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