Friday, April 17, 2009

Responses for April 24

John Berger, Chapter 1, Ways of Seeing (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 7-33.

Judith K. Brodsky, “Exhibitions, Galleries, and Alternative Spaces,” in The Power of Feminist Art : The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact, eds. Norma Broude and Mary
D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 104-119.

Mira Schor, “Backlash and Appropriation,” in The Power of Feminist Art : The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact, eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 248-263.

Lucy Lippard, “The Pink Glass Swan: Upward and Downward Mobility in the Art World,” in The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Essays on Feminist Art (New York: New Press, 1995), 117-127.

Josephine Withers, “The Guerilla Girls,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 285-300.


  1. I am writing on the blog this week too, so since no one else has posted yet, I guess I will kick it off!

    Among the many interesting points from the reading this week, I would like to mention the problematic question of artistic "quality" and feminism. Judith Brodsky mentions that champions of conservative notions of art (such as Wilhelmina Holladay, the founder of the Museum of Women in the Arts) as well as male critics, male dealers, and male artists, frequently said that feminist art in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s was of poor quality and therefore was inappropriately acquired by museums and shown in galleries. It was also no wonder, according to these same cultural arbiters, that collectors preferred buying the works of male artists since they were of so much better quality than that of female artists.

    What do these critics mean by "quality"? What is artistic quality as they define it? When they say "quality" do they really mean how well it is constructed, how talented the artist is. I don't think so. It seems more likely that their brand of "quality" has to do with a work of art's timelessness, its so-called universalism. These same critics also complained about content in art--art with problematic content was of lesser quality than art with content they approve. They said that political content (which encompasses feminism) has no place in art. That in turn suggests that "quality" art is hermetic--it is only about itself, it refers only to itself, it does not allow external concerns to "pollute" its snobby high art appeal. This is the legacy of Clement Greenberg (we talked about him in class a few weeks ago in relationship to Abstract Expressionism which he loved). I would say that part of the problem that these critics had with political content was precisely that they saw it as NOT being universalizing. But what did they define as universal? Predictably, they define universal through the lens of modernism, and it is important to recall that the innovations of modernism were made by white, straight, European men. Recall the statement by Simone de Beauvoir: men are positive and neutral, women are negative. Thus only the masculine condition (and only the white, straight masculine at that) is seen as "universal) (i.e. the positive or neutral). Any other condition--womanhood, homosexuality, non-whiteness--is other, negative, and POLITICAL. So "political" art is then defined by these critics as that which deals with things that are other to the dominant, so-called universal position. What they are missing is that what they call "quality" art, that art that they say is non-political and universal, is ALSO A POLITICAL position!

    The question of "quality" in art is tricky, because it is doublespeak. It's not about whether and artist has the technical or intellectual proficiency to be a superstar, it's about a political position.

  2. I really wanted to talk about the Ways of seeing article. It reminded me of one of the readings we had in History of Photo, about how mass media is destroying art. It said reproductions are destroying the "aura" of a piece of art. This article said reproductions simply destroy the uniqueness, which I think is slightly different than the aura, but still aiming at the same concept. Aura suggests something holy, or sacred, while uniqueness seems tied to commerce. Like, if it's more rare it's worth more. In fact, Berger talks a few pages later about a Leonardo's cartoon which "bogus religiosity" depends on its market value. So, this piece that was once unknown, because it is know reproduced, has lost its aura of mystery, but achieved a higher market value because its reproduced massively and is desired.

  3. When reading the Guerrilla Girls article, their methods of dealing with sexism really seem different in the use of statistics in most of their posters. They also did seem to use a lot of humor, too, as I thought the scenes where they repeated, "I'm not angry" were funny as they displayed in a ironic and sarcastic sense of the cultural stereotype of women being "nice and dainty" or "angels". When mentioning quality, the term alone is decided by those in power. It seems like those in power often are more afraid of what culture thinks of them. If culture gives them this power, then they could lose it if they don't follow its standards. When it comes to art though, and determining what has "quality," this method takes away meaning from the art, and displays it as which is more culturally appealing. As mentioned in the Guerrilla Girls article: "If art is really a reflection of human experience, we hope that our cultural institutions will begin to reflect the breadth of that experience."


    Visit website (if you want to...I won't be angry :)

    I recall learning of the Guerrilla Girls in another class in high school, but had found that I didn't retain much of the information. After reading this article, my memory was refreshed. I did a little more research and found that Kathe Kollwitz was one of the founding members of the organization. Just the name alone.."Guerilla Girl" has a twist of irony. The masks keep the women's identity hidden, but to refer to them as "guerilla" points to their activist nature. But why hide? Even by calling themselves "girls," which would be considered very unfeminist, they point out how women artists have been demeaned over history and in art.

    The Guerilla Girls' tactics are mild, because they hang up posters and hold rallies that are meant to cause discussion. While they have been successful in generating bug buzz and talk, I had perhaps hoped for them to be bit more radical than what the posters gave off. More women artists are being featured in major New York galleries and women's art work is being discussed. Their voice of positive activism is making a difference, enough so that other art women in other cities are following the Guerilla Girls' example...but has it been enough? I enjoyed the end of the article where it said things that "you can do"...I have given it some thought and I believe I will try to do something on that list...just to see...who knows?

  5. I was interested in the article about upward mobility/downward mobility...just the idea of the tension between being above certain types of art or below it. I recognize that as being something that really happens. I have seen so many people who "dress down" not just physically because I really think it is more about experiences, but dress down their life experiences in order to fit that tortured artist stereotype. It is pretty insulting when a person who grew up going to private school and eating family dinner every night denies that in order to fit in.
    It is also interesting to think about how hard it is to balance between the audience and the buyers. And the assumptions of who understands what.

  6. The Guerilla Girls calls attention to this perpetual cycle that occurs due to the socioeconomic status of women in America. The essay mentions the SOHO art dealer Holly Solomon who attributes the lack of a female presence to the fact that women are not supporting female artists. If women made the same kind of money that men do, wouldn't their be a more balanced ratio? Women make 2/3 the amount men do and only 1/3 the amount for female artists compared to men. This is one statistic explaining another. Just examine the Forbes richest people in the world—there are hardly any women. There are only 15 women on the current CEO list for the Fortune 500. Women can't buy the art because all the men have the money. I thought Solomon's excuse for the lack of female artists was........dumb (especially coming from a women whose job it is to hype other artists), but these statistics can only serve to explain this injustice. I hope she felt "dumb" when the Guerilla Girls were throwing their signs up. It's inspiring me to want to make some signs for the next Memphis City Council meeting.

  7. I love how the guerrilla girls targeted the people who needed to be targeted the most. The turn it around from woman to the critics who were judging them all along. The only thing i always woundered about them, is who are they all? Did they ever come out and say who all was in the group? But then this got methinking if they did tell the world who all they were because they were women, would they have been as sucessful???