The Artist Perspective: Winter ’10

The Artist Perspective: Winter ’10

On The Issues Magazine provides an Online forum for artists to exhibit their art, including moving images and audio, as well as stills. This art section presents exciting responses to major themes of our day.

This edition of On the Issues Magazine presents a mini-retrospective of the art of Miriam Schapiro. Click on play to hear the audio text and see a slide presentation. A further discussion of Schapiro’s work is below. I welcome feedback from online viewers with emails to [email protected]

In keeping with the topic of Passion, Freedom & Women, Miriam Schapiro is a groundbreaking artist who, in her 60-year career, stepped out of the mold to fight for women’s artistic freedom and the democratization of art. She was a key visionary in starting a new movement in art, Pattern and Decoration.

Schapiro challenged the male art system from within and without. Since the 1960s, she risked her artistic reputation to bring women to the fore and erase the line between high art and craft, flaunting uses of the previously taboo materials like organdy and lace.

Schapiro explained: “I bring to my paintings all the elements of craft because I believe that craft belongs to women. That’s how it’s been designated by the patriarchal art system. Our culture also insists that ornamentation and decoration are innately female. But, unfortunately, it then follows that what is female is considered inferior. It doesn’t have to be that way. Eastern and Islamic cultures don’t feminize their decorative arts. What the male patriarchal art world does here is sexist as well as racist. The binary concept of fine art being above craft is false.”

This mini-retrospective shows how these concepts evolved in Schapiro’s work in each decade. Following her abstract expressionist painting of the 1950s (image 2), her female-centered art emerged in a continuing revolt against the male art establishment. In the 1960s, her painting (image 3) shows a prison/house with symbols of both the artist and woman filling two of the rooms. Her painting in the 1970s (image 4) shows a break from her past work as she collaged feminine-associated lace and fabric onto her canvas. In the following years (images 5, 6, 7), Schapiro celebrated pattern, decoration and female imagery and solidified her signature style.

In addition to her painting, Schapiro fought for women’s artistic freedom, traveling across the country to deliver speeches that were filled with the work of ignored women artists. In 1971, she and Judy Chicago formed the Feminist Art Program, which, for the first time, addressed how the self-esteem of women had been damaged by male-dominated culture. With students, they created a collaborative environment, Womanhouse, that attracted national attention.

Courageously challenging the patriarchal art system, Miriam Schapiro succeeded in opening doors to a new democratized art, influencing generations of woman and artists throughout the world.