School Papers

Women, due to breakthroughs in feminism especially in

Women, and the female figure, have
been a dominate subject matter throughout art history, however due to
breakthroughs in feminism especially in relation to art, the idea of women
being merely a spectacle for the male gaze is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
This is evident when comparing female nudes from ‘great masters’ such as
Rembrandt to more contemporary examples of female nudes such as the work of
Cogan. Second Wave feminism bought around a change in perspective in particular
to the idea of women’s sexuality and the freedom to express this. Rather than
the female figure being painted as an object for the male gaze to admire, as in
Rembrandt’s Danaë: Cogan describes her work as the
‘figures, often female heroines, allude to their anxieties, insecurities,
vanities and desires through visual narratives.’ This therefore, gives the
impression that it is the woman’s choice to be viewed, to be vulnerable; rather
than a decision made for her by a man.

The feminist art
movement, led to a revolution of ideas and practices. No longer were women
denied agency, not just in craft practices but in the whole of the mainstream
art world. ‘Denial of agency, pollution of agency, isolation and false
categorization are all examples of silencing women’s writing’, originally
described by Joanna Russ in How to
Suppress Women’s Writing. However, parallels can be seen between writing
and art, in that ‘women throughout history were often denied not only
recognition but also access to art institutions as men, making their full participation
in the art world impossible.'(Dougal) Meaning women, and women’s art have been
classed as second class. This is an issue often discussed by feminist writers,
such as Nochlin whose essay ‘Why Are There No Great Women Artists?’, points out
that this idea is not due to a lack of talent when it comes to female artists
but due to the hegemony of men in art.

According to ‘Craftivism is the practice of engaged creativity, especially
regarding political and social causes. It is a way of looking at life where
voicing your opinion through creativity makes your voice stronger.’ However,
this is a relatively new term, coined at the start of the 21st
Century by writer Betsy Greer, no doubt influenced by the feminist art movement
of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The feminist art movement saw a breakdown of the
hierarchy of art forms, with previously undervalued practice such as the
domestic crafts no longer seen as lower art forms. The female artists at the
forefront of this movement included Judy Chicago and Louise Bourgeois.

The ideas of feminism and craft seem to be firmly hand in hand as this
is a concept that continued through third wave feminism of the 1990’s, evident
in the work of artists such as Tracey Emin, who draws on her own experiences of
sexuality, vulnerability and femininity. For example her work ‘To Meet my Past’
(2002), where she not only references earlier work such as ‘My Bed'(1999) but
again reveals much about her own struggles throughout her life, using
techniques classed as ‘craft’ rather than ‘fine art’ including appliqué and
needlework, indicating the important and evident links between feminism and
craft as a form of expression of prejudice and oppression. Perhaps Emin’s own
awareness of this connection is through calling the work ‘To Meet my Past’ –
indicating towards taking inspiration from previous generations of women using
‘craft’ to express and raise awareness of their own oppression. However, it must be
noted, despite the growing acceptance of craft practices in the mainstream art
world, artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry, who adopt such techniques
in their practices, undertook degrees in fine art rather than ones in craft
practices. (Miller) Despite this, some of Emin’s most recognisable work is that
which adopts craft practices, especially hand sewn appliqué. Yes, she is still
a drawer, painter, printmaker but her textile works seem to have just as much conceptual
meaning as her more ‘fine’ art practices. The importance of mentioning this is
that Emin doesn’t see a difference or hierarchy between the practices as she
explains ‘That’s why I use a lot of embroidery, I take
this craft but I don’t treat it like a craft, but like high art.’ (Emin)
It could then be argued that craft practices are now accepted in the mainstream
art world.

Another of the major ideas supported not just by Craftivism but also the
feminist art movement is the idea of collaborative working practices. This is
the idea that women would organize small gatherings, otherwise known as
‘consciousness-raising groups in which collective conversations began to
illuminate broader patterns of discrimination.’ (Phelan) Often these groups
involved women carrying out handicrafts as well. However, there is proof of
these types of gatherings happening even before the feminist art movement and
second wave feminism. For example, ‘during the Japanese occupation of Singapore
between 1942 and 1945, female prisoners of war were able to create quilts as it
was seen as merely a craft practice and a way to elevate boredom and raise
morale.'( However, the making of the quilts caused this
and so much more, it became a way in which prisoners could send secret messages
to loved ones. This again shows how craft practices and women, have been
undervalued and overlooked in terms of art and politics. As with Judy Chicago’s
work of the 1970’s, these quilts show that ‘art can have a distinctly political
purpose and have quite a provocative means of getting across ideas.'(Dougal)