Feminist art emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the anti-war demonstrations and fight
for the equal rights in United States of America. During these times, the art industry was male
dominated and the women did not have a chance in this field. As a result, the women, who were
elites and who felt that they needed a chance to prove themselves in this field sought to get deep
into the field. This led to the formation of a feminist art movement which was meant in an effort
to accomplish the feminist art internationally which was meant to reflect the women lives in the
art field as well as to make the experienced in the field to compete with men who had dominated
the field. At the start of this movement, which is basically known as the first-generation feminist
art, the women were fighting for their rights. The women were not allowed in the art field and
they sought to include the women in the picture of the art industry. They also sought to make the
women visible in the public eye and to enable them to venture into the male dominated field. At
this period, gendered identity was viewed as having clear and concrete work for each gender and
hence most of the fields were dominated by the male gender, who were viewed as the stronger
The second generation was aimed at achieving the rights of the female generation since
they had already found their way inside the male generated field of art. Their goal was to use the
field of art to push forward their agenda and to fight for their rights. This generation understood
the gendered identity from the aspect of equal rights and to have the women given the rights that
they ask for from the general law. This work will generally analyze the history of feminist art
and bring out the difference between the goals of the first generation and the second-generation
feminist art works in terms of their goals and the socio-historical context in which they are
produced and the socio-cultural context in United States of America. This paper will focus on
the artistic works of Mary Beth Edelson and Judy Chicago as the first-generation artists and the
work Barbara Kruger as the second-Generation work of art.
First-Generation Feminist Art
The first-generation feminist art was started in the late 1960 and the feminist art
movement was commissioned in the year 1970. This was the first step to the establishment of
feminine art in United States of America. The movement was meant to fight for the goals set by
these women. These women were seeking to be formally allowed to enter into the art field which
was a male field as per the social-cultural believes in the society. At this period, the women were
only allowed to use such fields as the textiles industry, which was considered a female field, to
do their work of art. The were also seeking to transform the stereotypes and to transform the
cultural attitude in United States. The other goal of the first-generation feminist art was to make
the feminine work of art visible within the eyes of the public and to prove to the public that they
are in a position to do what is considered to be the work of men and even do it better than the
men. They wanted women to appear in the artistic works since the art work at that time only
featured the male faces. The feminist artists at this time also sought to create a dialogue between
the viewer and the artwork through inclusion of women perspective in artwork to incorporate
Mary Beth Edelson was a first-generation artist and was among those who started the
feminist art movement. In one of her works of art, she used the image of Leonardo Da Vinci as
the base of his collage. This was an imagery work of art that included Jesus Christ seated in a
table with his disciples who were all men. They were in a sharing. She decided to use a different
approach and she fist covered Christ with a photo of Georgia O’Keeffe. She then fixed the
heads of all the other people in the image, the male disciples, with the heads of notable religious
women who were well known during this time. This image became one of the most iconic
images of feminist art and it reinforced the movement’s desires to negate the absence of women
in artistic works and in the historical documentations.2
This work can be used to show the goals of the feminists at this time as well as to show
the socio-cultural perception of the society at the time. The women were not included in the
historical art context. There were well known religious women at the time and who had lived
before but they were not considered important in this field. Thus, the women had to fight for
inclusion in the field. Edelson edited this image to show that the women could also fit in such
iconic images. Also, she used the image as a way of telling the world that women could perform
1 Linker, Kate. Representation and sexuality. 1984.
2 Broude, Norma, and Mary D. Garrard. The power of feminist art. New York: Abrams, 1994.
the work of art, just as the men did and emerge successful. This made the work of women in art
seen and known to the whole world.
Judy Chicago is also an icon in the feminist art work. She was part of the first-generation
work of art. She made several works of art and one of her iconic works was where she involved
women in the installation of women house. This involved a lot of artistic work for the women.
She did this work with the assistance of Miriam Schapiro. They used twenty-one female students
to repair a residential house to culminate the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at the California
Institute of Art. This house was to serve as the new place where they would do their work of art
as females. This house had been previously been marked for demolition and they repaired it well,
work which was considered of the male gender. They used artistic drawings to paint it to make it
more and more beautiful. They then installed site specific art environment within the internal
space which ranged from the sculptural figure of a woman trapped within a linen closet. The
kitchen walls and ceiling were covered with fried eggs that morphed into breasts. This work was
an important step taken in the art field in those days.
The image was interpreted as the position of women in the society at the time. The
women were trapped in a small area where they could only do what was to be done by women at
the time as provided by the culture. This was represented by the trapped woman who was
struggling to move out of the trap. This was how the gendered identity was viewed. The women
had no other work in the society but to serve the male counterparts and the men were regarded as
the heads and their fields were not to include any women. This was meant to communicate the
message of the liberty they were seeking. The woman was reclaiming domestic space from one
in which was positioned as merely a wife and a mother to one in which she was seen as fully
expressive being unconfined by gender assignment.3 The work was also used to communicate
that the women could comfortably do the work of art if they were given an opportunity to do so.
The two works, by Chicago and Edelson were meant to communicate the key goals that the first-
generation feminist artists sought to achieve.
Second-Generation Feminist Art
The second-generation feminist artist used methods which seemed to be quite advanced
in communicating their message. Having already fogged fully into the art field and they had no
more worry about gender domination in the field, they were now using art as a way of expressing
their ideas and to fight for inclusion and for their rights. They were mainly addressing the issue
of language in art. This was done by the use of mass communication techniques and advertising
to explore the issue of gender identity and rights.
The work of Barbara Kruger is one of the most iconic works of art in this generation. One
of his works, which shown a woman’s face bisected into a positive and a negative section and
accompanied by the text “Your body is a battleground” is an iconic work in presentation of
women rights. This work was produced in the year 1989 and the work was set on billboards
around California. This work was produced at the time when the women were fighting for the
3 Meagher, Michelle. “Telling stories about feminist art.” Feminist Theory 12, no. 3 (2011): 297-
legalization of abortion after the law made it illegal.4 The women were fighting to have this
clause removed so that the women would have the rights to choose whether to abort or not. The
women of this time had already been accepted by the society and their rights had been granted by
the government of United States. This work by Kruger raised many issues with the people who
were opposed to legalization of abortion. This work was well utilized to achieve the goals that
they had set to achieve as they expressed the need for women to be let to decide on the things
that affected them directly.
Feminist art was not known in the ancient times as the field was male dominated and the
society did not recognize women in the field and they were meant to stick to their fields like in
the textiles field. The start of Feminist Art Movement in 1970 was the initial start of the feminist
art. The first-generation feminist art however had a different ideology and objective from the
second-generation feminist art. The first-generation focus was on making sure that the feminine
gender was recognized in the art field and to remove the male gender domination. This was well
achieved as in the works of Chicago and Edelson. On the other hand, the second-generation was
mainly concerned with making the voice of the women heard, especially in the human rights by
use of art and this is well communicated in the work of art by Kruger. The success of the first-
generation resulted into recognition of women in many male dominated fields and the women
4 Orenstein, Gloria Feman. “Recovering her story: Feminist artists reclaim the great
goddess.” The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and
Impact (1994): 174-89.
were able to express themselves in any field and the culture of having them only as wives and
mothers ended. The success of the second-generation resulted into the involvement of women in
making of laws which directly affect them.
Broude, Norma, and Mary D. Garrard. The power of feminist art. New York: Abrams, 1994.
Linker, Kate. Representation and sexuality. 1984.
Meagher, Michelle. “Telling stories about feminist art.” Feminist Theory 12, no. 3 (2011): 297-
Orenstein, Gloria Feman. “Recovering her story: Feminist artists reclaim the great goddess.” The
Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and
Impact (1994): 174-89.