3 minute read

Periodization of the Arts

Feminism And Periodization

Voiced principally by women, radically new questions about artists and artistic canons emerged during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Feminist artists and writers, particularly Linda Nochlin (b. 1931), vigorously probed the history of art in order to understand why female artists were not celebrated in Western history and in contemporary culture. Deep within the internal structures of the discipline itself, feminist writers located inherently exclusionary foundations. One exclusionary strategy has been identified as the construction of definitions of art. Women traditionally created artworks that were often made, used, and exhibited within their homes. Media conventionally seen as "crafts," such as embroidery, miniature painting, and ceramic production and decoration, constitute some examples of artistic production in which women historically participated. Conformist notions of "high art" and canons disregarded artworks created by women and subsequently excluded such art from the majority of periodization models (Alois Riegl is a notable exception who regarded crafts as equally important as figural arts). In the 1960s and 1970s women identified this exclusion and fought to unravel the system.

While designers of periodization paradigms ignored women, the trajectory of feminism itself gradually became divided into periods. Rather than hinging on factors external to feminism, feminist ideologies operated as the content around which periods were framed. Known as "waves," these periods became incorporated into discussions of the differing interests within feminism, which loosely correlate with periods of time. Writers now place some of the earliest feminists in the first wave of feminism, which began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when women fought for legal rights, including suffrage. Influential women such as Simone de Beauvoir and Susan B. Anthony have been placed within the first period or wave.

During the 1960s and 1970s, women concentrated on reviving the efforts and trajectories of issues explored by feminists during feminism's first wave. This new movement, now known as second-wave feminism, strove to elevate the position of women, especially in professional contexts. Women of this period wanted to "have it all," including equal access to privileges and positions along with equal compensation. Other paramount concerns for second-wave feminists included rights and control over their bodies. Other trajectories of feminism within the second wave focused on the difference between male and female in terms of sex and different reactions to gender. Cultural feminism and radical feminism, for example, held opposing views about the goal of feminism. The radical view argued for the cultural reconstruction of gender, reducing gender differences of males and females. Cultural feminism, on the other hand, emphasized the need to liberate, valorize, and preserve female difference as an absolute category.

The second wave of feminism bears particular relevance to periodization of the arts because it is within this period that Nochlin and others began to deconstruct the cultural paradigms that omitted women artists from the canon of masters. Second-wave feminist artists include Judy Chicago, Audrey Flack, and Miriam Schapiro, all of whom subverted notions of artistic canons by creating artworks that foreground the feminine through subjects and techniques that reference the artistic traditions of women and femininity itself.

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s a new wave of feminism took shape and aimed at probing and revising some of the aspects of second-wave feminism. The third wave of feminism recognized exclusionary tendencies that characterized the interests of second-wave agendas and doctrine. Blurring the loose boundaries that separate the second and third waves, some feminists from the second wave shifted their interest and entered the third. Third-wave feminists recognized that the second wave had advocated social change primarily directed to the rights of white, straight, middle-class women. Third-wave feminism deemphasized the role played by sexual difference and explored the social structures, material and economic, that oppressed both women and men. As a result gender was framed in more neutral terms and as a product of enculturation rather than an innate quality.

Third-wave feminism's multiplicity of foci and fluid boundaries oftentimes incite criticism. This strategy simultaneously generates power to sustain the movement. By their presence in popular media, participation in politics, and commitment to academic discourse and critique, proponents engage feminism with other discursive modes. Because they share the quality of persistent cultural subversiveness, second-wave artists such as Judy Chicago and Audrey Flack are embraced by new feminist artists. With its roots broadly anchored in cultural dialogues, third-wave feminism addresses immediate issues and influences that affect far-ranging audiences.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - IndifferentismPeriodization of the Arts - What Is A Period?, Periodization And Globalization: Mesoamerica As A Case Study, Feminism And Periodization