The Beginning


Feminism in Art: The Pattern and Decoration Movement from 1970s to the twentieth century art world. 

One of the earliest movements that women participated in is called the pattern and decoration movement. I think all through and even until now, the decorative and domestic handicrafts have been considered as "women's work." According to Norma Broude, "The decoration movement has been regarded as a form of "low art" from which Western "high art," with its claims to significant moral and spiritual content, has been striven to separate itself.” [1] However art in the twentieth century became progressively abstract.  The boundaries between the meaningful content in the fine arts and purely decorative in crafts, this “dichotomized hierarchy between high and low" [2]were no longer maintained. In the 1970s female artists really sought to use different materials and mediums in their artwork in order to distance themselves from traditional art history and as a means of establishing their own identity while emphasizing form, experience, and content in order to convey the female perspective. They elevated art mediums that were considered "craft" and "low art" to the level of fine art and high art and contemporary female and male artists continue to maintain it's status. I would like to further investigate historical and contemporary artists involved in the pattern and decoration art movement and compare them to learn how it developed over the years and how the pattern and decoration art used in contemporary art world.

As I mentioned in my first post, the appearance of women's work was not feminist at all: it neither addressed the historical condition of women nor appeared and identified as woman-made art because of the bold colors, strong strokes they used and some minimalistic qualities. Most of them learned and were mentored by male artists and they were basically degendering their art in order to be recognized, be treated equally and to compete in the male-dominated art world until the end of the 1960s. However in the 1970s women artists started to find their true style to distinguish themselves, and to express and to share their perspective in the art world. One of the style and movement is the pattern and decorative movement which both male and female practices might fairly be claimed that it was the first time in Western history that women had taken the leading roll in an art movement.[3] Fine artists like Miriam Schapiro and Jane Kaufman who bridge the craft and art dichotomy, began their conscious explorations of decoration as art in the early 1970s. They incorporated decorative elements, which challenged the traditional way of creating, making decision based on a conscious, and purposeful manner. By doing so the distinction between craft and fine art seems to fade.

Miriam Shapiro is one of the foremost artists in the movement. The interesting fact I discovered while researching is that her earlier works are very minimalism and muscular but the style completely changed since she met Judy Chicago and did collaborative works with other female artists. In 1973, Shapiro began a body of work using "feminine" techniques to appreciate and honor feminist activity instead of traditional methods such as drawing or painting. She breaks the boundary of art and craft by using techniques such as photomontage, collage, and assemblage. Her choices of media in her work were sewing, cutting, appliqueing, and piecing which created a new category of art called "female". She called this type of work as “Femmage,” a form of collage that spoke to women’s experience. Schapiro viewed her use of brightly colored, patterned fabric as a conscious feminist statement to express female experience.[4]  
Miriam Schapiro (American, 1923). Explode, 1972. Acrylic and collage on canvas.

One of the artists who practice in the pattern and decoration art movement is Takashi Murakami. He is not really considered a member of the movement but the way he uses decorative elements and patterns with bight colors is very similar to the pattern and decoration art movement. He is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking Japanese artists of the 1990s. He creates powerful art works using very colorful, cute, and decorative elements to blur the line between high and low arts. His works seems to be light, immature and very decorative works often underlined with dark emotions and delivers a strong message through the face of cute decorations and patterns. His work called Little boy is one of the great example. He depicted a large mushroom cloud that resulted by the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, Japan by the United States Military at the end of World War II.  The concept behind this piece is based on the idea of superheroes that fly around to fight the destruction of the world. As you see the image, while overall mood and characters are appeared and depicted very cute and playful it contains one of the Japanese painful and darkest memories and history.
Takashi Murakami, Little Boy

According to Alison Armstrong, pattern and decoration has had a more serious intent behind its playful use of decorative patterns and materials. Like Oscar Wilde, they are meant to “look deeply into the surface of things.” [5]Dave Hickey claims: “Pattern is the mother of memory. Pattern is the mother of meaning.”[6] Isn’t everything that we experience a kind of patterning? It is the stimulation of memory by the repetition inherent in pattern that then generates meaning. Perceptual learning is as cumulative as the conceptual. Scanning a work of pattern and decoration art takes time, Burning Bras; Feminist art since thealthough at first sight it may seem to be mere “eye candy.”[7] Once the feminist art movement flourished in the 1970s some feminist artists attempted to restore women’s craft and decorative art as a practical and effective artistic means to express and to reflect female experience and to create infusing art with new content inspired by feminism[8].

[1] Norma Broude, The Power of Feminist Art(Japan: Harry N. Abrahams, Inc, 1994), 208.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Norma Broude, The Power of Feminist Art(Japan: Harry N. Abrahams, Inc, 1994), 210.
[4] Brooklyn Museum, “Elizabeth A. Scakler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party,” Brooklyn Museum, (accessed October 22,2012).
[5] Alison Armstrong, “When Craft Meets Art: Investigations in Beauty,” Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, (accessed October22, 2012)
[6] Addressing his art history seminar at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in an educational film, Art City(c. 2000).
[7] Alison Armstrong, “When Craft Meets Art: Investigations in Beauty,” Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, (accessed October22, 2012)
[8] Judith K. Brodsky, and Ferris Olin. "Stepping out of the Beaten Path: Reassessing the Feminist Art Movement." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 33, no. 2 (2008).

The beginning : PART 1
Bora cHOI 

Feminist Art plays an important part in Contemporary art; it can be defined as art by women or male artists made consciously in the light of advances in society having to do with women. The art echoed many of their lives and experiences. The impact of women on the contemporary art movement has created a powerful and innovative feminist revisiting and rewriting the history of art.

Aristotle once said, “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” In order to understand why the feminist art movement started and how they impact on the contemporary art world, I think it’s important to learn from its beginning. While I was researching for women artists in 1930s and 40s in the United States, I realized it was almost impossible to find one until the late 1950s. Most women artists during the 1950s and early 60s like Halen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and Miriam Scahpiro the appearance of their work was not feminist at all: it neither addressed the historical condition of women nor appeared and identified as woman-made art because of the bold colors, strong strokes they used and some minimalistic qualities. They were basically de-gendering their art in order to be recognized, to treat equally and to compete in the male-dominated art world until the end of the 1960s.

Beginning of 1970s that’s when everything started to change in style and most importantly women artists started to speak their voice. The feminist art movement presented a challenge to mainstream modernism that radically transformed the art world in the early 1970s in the United States. Artists, critics, and historians contributed (or involved) in the feminist movement in the early 1970s believed that art created by feminist women presented a new beginning and introduced a new chapter in the history of Western Culture. Feminist art was revolutionary: not because of its forms and style but because of its content. *According to the feminist critic Lucy R. Lippard,“ Feminist artists’ insistence on prioritizing experience and meaning over form and style was itself a challenge to the modernist valorization of “progress” and style development: “In endlessly different ways,” [i] Feminist art challenged and continually challenges the representation of women’s artwork in a culture which continues to depreciate, undervalue, and disregard it and where believe the idea that art is universal, neutral or the property of men only. Feminism originated from women’s feeling and observable experience that something was wrong with their lives as a woman, were frequently viewed and portrayed as an object by male artists or the society, and always stood in the shadow of the lives of men. From there, women are subjects not an object anymore especially in art world. Feminism was and still is the instrument and implement through which women give power to them, and describe their own perspectives of what it means to be women in the male-dominated world. Two women who contributed on creating a new chapter in the field of woman and art in the early 1970’s are Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago. They not only contributed feminist art movement with their art but they also focused on educating and raising women’s consciousness through their writing and their feminist art program that they established in 1971. Schapiro and Chicago are one of the foremost pioneers in the feminist art movement. Miriam Schapiro make art to address the feminine experience especially reevaluates role assigned to women and art and society. Schapiro incorporates vibrant color and crafts that usually associated with women in her works to comment on the role women have performed in the history of art.
Judy Chicago utilizes the power of art as a tool and vehicle for social change and for a woman’s right to engage in the highest point of art world and their right to freedom of expression. She expresses her experience of being a woman and as an artist in her works. Chicago’s well-known work is The Dinner Party, which elevated female achievement in the United States to a historical and heroic scale traditionally done by male artists. Appearing in the New York Times article in 2007 demonstrates the scale. For the first time in its history feminist art finally takes center stage in two major shows at the big museums; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Museum sated by Holland Cotter who is an art critic at The New York. For example Brooklyn Museum officially opened its new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and a permanent gallery for Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, is about honoring an important woman from history and is an important icon of 1970s feminist art.[ii] According to Brooklyn museum website, “The Dinner Party represents 1,038 women in history -- 39 women are represented by place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the tale rests. This massive work of art by Chicago is comprised of a triangular table divided by three wings, each 47 feet long.[iii] Holland Cotter also stated in this article in that curators and critics have increasingly acknowledged that feminism has generated the most influential art impulses of the late 20th and early 21st century and that almost all-new work has been shaped by the feminist art. As an example he mentioned Matthew Barney’s work are basically “pilfered elements of feminist art.” This article was written in 2007 so it was only 5 years ago.[iv]

[i] Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, The Power of Feminist Art (Harry N. Abrams, INC., Publishers,1994), 10.
[ii] Holland Cotter, “Feminist Art Finally Takes Center Stage,” The New York Times, (January 29, 2007).

[iv] Holland Cotter, “Feminist Art Finally Takes Center Stage,” The New York Times, (January 29, 2007).


  1. This is an interesting topic! You should break up your paper into a couple more paragraphs. It will help organize your information from over view to specifically talking about Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago. I am interested in the feminist art program they created in 1971. Where was it? Is it still around today? I am just generally interested, those details may not be important to your paper. Also, the art piece Dinner Party by Judy Chicago would be great to see in person!

  2. Thank you for your input Jenna! i agree with you. I think i was too ambitious to trying to cover all feminist artist at the beginning. In my second post, I tried to be more specific.. I think the feminist art program was at Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) then it moved to California Institute of the Arts in the fall of 1971.. I was looking up if it's still around today but I didn't see anything said the program has been shut down or anything.. so I'm assuming that it's still around..?

    Yes, I really want to see the dinner party one day..! I heard it's enormous and Brooklyn Museum had to wait several years to find a place to locate and to display the dinner party in their museum.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know about the beginning of the feminist movement, but I loved hearing about it. I think women still have the perception that they have to masculinize their work and their interests in order to "count" in the world, and then undergo a realization that they are valuable as they are and they don't have to be men. I love that early feminist artists used feminine media and materials to convey their perspective.