Early Feminist (“first generation”) Art in the United States: Carolee Schneemann and Shigeko Kubota






Early Feminist (“first generation”) Art in the United States: Carolee Schneemann and Shigeko Kubota


The first-generation feminist artist and their artwork in United State reflected much about the kind of effort required on the part of artists to change the perspective of humans in the art, especially the women role in artwork. Artists like Schneemann and Kubota needs special attention whose artwork includes sometimes the representation of artist as an active object to illustrate deeper understanding of the message behind the artwork. The artwork of artists was revolutionary, despite that the critique in the later decades somehow discarded the universality of the first-generation artwork in representing all the women. Despite the critique on style, the artwork of first-generation feminist artists like Schneemann and Kubota is instrumental to revolutionaries the art and the role of women within the society, and art.


As per Broude and Garrard (1994), the early 1970s artists, historians, and critics is the new beginning in the feminist movement whereby the purpose of the art was to transform the culture in a permanent way by highlighting the suppressed perspectives of women. The 1970s movement was significantly different form the preceding and following movements, for example the post-feminist movement of arts which followed after the 1970s movement. Lucy R. Lippart characterized the art movement of 1970s by stating that it was not a mere movement or style; instead, the era of 1970s flourished a value system through a revolutionary strategy and having a way of life which is also the reason that the arts of Surrealism and Dada tends to prevail over the following movements. The art of 1970s movement had tremendous impact on the following post-modern movement because it provided the ground work were gender balance became the central subject of the associated art and culture within ‘universality.’ The central idea of Lippard’s argument is that it is the content of the revolutionary movement of 1970s and not the forms.

It can be observed from the fact that the post modernism is about understanding the gender is a social construct and it has been vaguely associated with natural construction. The emphasize of the later movements was on pillarist variety; rather than the totalizing unity perceived previously with particular stand-points and assessing the biases. The first generation of feminist artists can be observed with essentialism lens whereby the female perspective in arts have provided a more enhanced level of understanding of the world view. The universality of artwork was missing the set of attributes required by a Universalist realm and it has been filled by the first-generation feminist writers. The problem of essentialism pertains to the critique of the artists and critics from 1980s who observed the artwork as not representative of all women, and neither the artwork is claimed by the creator as universal for all the women. The critique highlighted the fact that the misperception pertains to the acceptance of fact regarding female essence as somewhere resident of the women body.

Carolee Schneemann was a visual experimental artist with repute for multi-media work with subject matter of gender, narrative, body, and sexuality. Her work is a critique of the visual traditions and taboos associated with individual body and individual in relation to social bodies. The work Meat Job 1964 is presented at the festival of Free Expression at American Center in Paris. The artwork illustrates the condition of human body, especially female body as raw fish, excessive, wet paint, paper scrap, celebrated flash as material, indulgent, rope brushes, and transparent plastic.

In the same way, it also illustrates the subversion of women in the society of men, and the status of being erotic product which sometimes even available for free. A viewer can explain the Meat Joy image as an ocean filled with erotic women bodies available to be collected for personal consumption of human beings on land. The image is also representative of the human desire to satisfy itself through subjugating others, especially women. The humans have tried to subjugate other species on the planet, while simultaneously subjugated the part of it which assists in reproduction and also derives pleasure out of it through sexual interaction.

Vagina Painting was first performed at New York during Perpetual Fluxus and painted abstract lines in red paint as symbolic of blood. The process of painting abstract lines was fascinating due to her crouching position on the floor over a sheet of paper while brush in an affixed position to the crotch of artist’s underwear. It is often related to the work of Yves Klein’s use of female body as painting tool. The red paint in the Vagina Painting pertains to reminiscent of menstrual blood, while simultaneously providing insight into the history of human as written with the blood of women gender. The placement of paintbrush at the site of phallic lack was a new style of representing female empowerment which supplemented the philosophy of first-generation feminist artists.

The strokes of the paintbrush also refer to the calligraphy and a reference to the cultural heritage which places women in an under dominated position. A strange point in this work of Kubota is that she never placed it within the category of feminist art, and the reason can be its relation of individual within the broader society of individual’s context.

The artwork Eye/body by Schneemann is similar to the artwork of this author is same in the sense that both the image-maker and image are the same. The dilemma of eye unable to see itself, while the body making which can be seen by the eye is resolved in this style where the eye and the body are the same. The deep understanding of the images in this style also refers to the idea pertaining to aesthetics whereby an eye observes an erotic body while forgetting that it is part of it. The artwork of these first-generation artist is remarkable because it allowed for a deeper understanding of the first-generation feminist artwork and furthermore became revolutionary in reshaping the history of human art. The critique, for example, Lippard suggested that the work of Schneemann has element of ‘defiant narcissism’ because of the author use of self as artwork object. It is moreover termed in a brief but elaborative way as, ‘Nudity was not the problem. Sexual Display was not the problem. The agency of the body displayed, the author-ity of the agent – that was the problem with women’s work.’ (Schneider, 1997; pp. 35).

Nude as the artist, and not merely the active object of artist’s artwork is the idea of Schneemann. Somehow, she was explaining to the audience her struggle within the art she was presenting. A battle between her and the society which discards her idea of female empowerment in the 1960’s and during second wave of feminism. This would tremendously change the way art was approached previously because the revolution was enormous and unlike other phases of art which were somehow dependent on introducing new style and technique. The artwork of the artists like Schneemann is rebellious in nature because the battle she was fighting for was worth sacrificing. Somehow the artwork represented the sacrifice which will be remembered by the next generation of writers in broader realm of feminism because the revolution require sacrifice which she received from the society being termed as ‘narcissist.’


The artwork from the first-generation feminist artists like Carolee Schneeman and Shigeko Kubota is instrumental in the history of feminist artwork, and history of feminism. The artists provided insight into the very basic foundation of human thinking through the lens which placed their self as center for critique from different segments of the society. Indeed, the criticism of the later generation of feminism may consider the styles as a mere phase within history of feminist artwork, but it is the revolutionary aspects of the movement which makes it distinctive from others.



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