Monday, 28 July 2014

Chicago essay

I've finally finished off the essay about Judy Chicago today, and have a few reflections about this endeavour.

The experience of intellectual focus on an artist:
On the practical side, the essay came out at 2200 words in the end (not including the bibliography), but there remains so much more to say and think about. As is often the case, the more I find out about someone, the more I find interesting.  However, the life and work of this artist in particular led me away from studying how an artist works with textiles, and since I am doing this course to learn the skill rather than the theory, and I am very much missing the practical aspects of previous modules, this experience is steering me away from doing the art history module.

Research process:
Like feminist commentators I read during this project, I found relatively little commentary other than on Chicago's website. Chicago's shows were generally put on by herself or in collaboration, rather than being curated by institutions. As far as I can tell, the most prestigious institution to be involved was in London as late as 2012. Critical commentaries on the internet are few and far between. Whether this reflects critical opinion of the overall importance of her work, or the prejudice described by feminist art historians, or something else, I cannot tell. It may be that respect for her will grow with time. Or it may be that I am one of the dinosaurs and feminist issues will come from a different perspective for future generations.

I went to the Barbican Library which had two books about her work by one author, which were relatively uncritical (and in one case written for an exhibition), and some of her own autobiographical writings. While it was useful to find out her own thoughts about her work and motivation, these books had limited ability to illuminate either her relation to the artistic and political environment she was in, or her influence on subsequent generations. In fact, you could infer that the lack of apparent commentary suggests a lack of influence. Which leads me to ask - if that is the case, why is she on the OCA list of artists? I don't know what to think. Is the list itself another example of women artists trying to redress a historical imbalance in knowledge of and reference to female endeavour?

The presentation of the essay:
My researches into the political and artistic milieu of the 1960s and 70s led me to explore McLuhan's 'the medium is the message'. IE that it is the implicit information which is important in an image or idea. There is a lot of mileage in thinking about this more. But for this essay, I thought about how the presentation could reinforce Chicago's message about the central celebration of women through the 'central core imagery'.

I initially thought about printing it on A3 paper, with 'butterfly vagina's' from The Dinner Party in the centre, opening out like a flower onto the next page. However, since this is an essay where the important information is in the writing, and this would have required the written words to be pushed to the corners of the pages, I decided against this presentation.

My compromise solution was to print the essay onto a background of these images, allowing them to decorate and underly the narrative. This worked out well on the page about her legacy, as it allowed me to symbolically superimpose an image of a current art students' work about the external construction of female identity on top of Chicago's image.

The celebration of the central position of women in human culture:
This has to be a good thing and through the research and essay process, I have been trying to think of a better way to do this in art than the way Chicago did it - and I have not been able to think of a better way. Hers was a truly grand project, apparently from the very beginning, and she knew it.

Influence on my work:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, reading about feminist ideas about art and the art world, has tapped into part of me which has been relatively unexpressed. This has led to a variety of more or less subtle images of my female identity in my sketchbook. These ideas come from both ends, as it were - from the contextual side, or from the more 'pre-verbal' identities that come out during explorations of texture and three-dimensionality. My head likes the first, and my stomach likes the second. I don't know if it's possible or even adviseable to try to do both. I suspect that my 'natural' style, and certainly the one that appeals most to me in art, is the second. Perhaps I should have chosen to study Magdelena Abakanowicz instead! Time to explore her more later.

My female identity is a complicated thing, as it is tied up with all sorts of other issues, including my decision to do a course in textile art rather than fine art, and the pursuit of art as self-exploration, hobby or profession. My ideas have been focussed by this train of thought, and I am now feeling more confident about taking it seriously as future profession.

I have started by looking at some group shows by textile artists, and subscribing to craft magazines, circulation lists for galleries and competitions that include textile art. But the biggest change is in my head - that I am a 'developing artist' rather than just a student.

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