Art comes into the whole feminist thing, for me, because art makes value statements. Some may not agree with me on that, but I say it because I think art is essentially communication. It can make statements. It can convey tolerance or deviance. Even ambivalence. When women do art, they are saying something about the constructs, the assumptions that are made about them and about their place in society. They’re saying stuff about social pecking orders–the traditional roles women have fulfilled and still do, and the sexual politics that have shaped our history.
Those are some of my observations. The above points might encapsulate feminist issues in a nutshell. However, I realize that stuff contained in nutshells can easily become abstractions. I write about women’s’ approach to art as a woman myself, and so the challenge for me, if I’m to be honest, must necessarily have less to do with identifying critical aspects of the women’s studies “discourse,” and more to do with getting outside the classroom to examine my own worldviews and assumptions, external to the theories as such. The challenge for me is to honestly assess my art. To find where I am located within the artistic statements I am making. I have to define the issues for myself. An author whom I love, Ngugi wa Thiongo, a West African writer and critic, sees this self-critical analysis as one step in the process of self-actualization. He calls it “decolonizing the mind.” As women and as artists, then, we must assess our place, not just within social constructs, but within the constructs of our own worldview, as a way to avoid internalizing stereotypes about us.
The impetus behind the discussion of Women’s art is the conflict and the tension that often exists for women who are only very recently emerging from anonymity as they begin to challenge the culture and themselves within that culture. We are told many things about who we are and how we should act. Women who engage in artistic expression are engaged in a conversation, so to speak, about these prescriptions. They either affirm or dismiss them, for themselves individually. The below quotation is from the novel, Mrs. Dalloway, by one of the most dynamic of women artists, Virginia Woolf. It just seems quite the fitting note on which to end this post.