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September 22, 2011

Art History 101

Pop Quiz! Name 3 female artists:

  1. _____________________________________
  2. _____________________________________
  3. _____________________________________

Judy Chicago in the film Women Art RevolutionIf you had trouble with this question, you're not alone. The documentary !Women Art Revolution points out that at least until the 1960s, American and European art museums and galleries showed virtually no art by women.

A feminist assault on this boys' club began in the culture of protest that grew around the Vietnam War and the Black Power Movement, but took its own twisting and turning path.

The film, made by Lynn Hershman Leeson, a former Clevelander, often alternates between interviews done forty years ago with "what is she doing now" updates. We saw it at the Cleveland Cinemateque, the best place in town to see movies that never make it to the multiplex.:

Since I am one of those (annoying) baby-boomers who remembers the protests of that era, I recognized Judy Chicago, Barbara Kruger, Sheila de Bretteville and a few others. But there were many others whose names were brand-new to me. It was a revelation to see their work. It's not uniformly great, but neither is the work of every male artist currently on display in our museums and galleries. It deserves equal treatment so we can decide for ourselves.


I was especially interested in recent interviews with young women artists. They talked about how they felt feminism had affected their own work—or not. I wish the film had included more of these.

Among my students at Tri-C you don't hear much talk of feminism. The typical reaction seems to be that feminists are historical artifacts, like hippie beads and Afros. Seems like the silly and superficial aspects of the protest era are remembered while the social change that it led to is forgotten.

Women, Art, and Revolution sets out to change that. It's worth seeing, especially if you're interested in art, culture, women or history. I'm hoping that a student or two of mine sees this film so we can continue the discussion.

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