January 15 to February 22, 1998
Interior spaces have traditionally been considered, “women’s domain.” In ancient Greek societies, women were often confined to the home and their role was to manage the servants and raise the children. During the Renaissance, women’s roles in the public arena continued to be curtailed. Women were not allowed to study at the art academies, and it was out of the question for a woman to draw from the male nude. It was considered improper for a woman to be in public without an escort: she had to be accompanied by a male relative to protect her reputation. If a woman wanted to learn to make art, she had to convince a male relative to teach her privately. The idea of a woman wanting to become a professional artist was considered absurd. As a result, there are fewer great women artists in art history than men artists. Artemesia Gentileschi, of the Baroque era, is one such great woman artist.
When women did make art, they often focussed on depicting domestic scenes: still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. This was the subject matter that was close at hand and close to the heart Mary Cassatt’s wonderful mother and child images from the late 19th century are a good example. The arena of “high art” (painting, sculpture, architecture) has historically been dominated by men, while the “low arts,” such as quilts, baskets, needlepoint have been dominated by women.
Many contemporary women artists such as Claire Kujundzic have taken so-called “low art forms” into the “high art realm” of public galleries. In Canada, we have Joyce Wieland, who has integrated traditional quilt making techniques into her “gallery art.” Wieland was the first woman ever to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada n the 80s. In the US, Judy Chicago, along with numerous other women, completed the vast Dinner Party project, where a place was set at a v-shaped table for under-recognized women from the past and present, including Gentileschi and Cassatt. Traditional women’s art forms such as needlepoint, weaving, and decorated ceramics made up the installation. All of these artists have broadened the boundaries of art, and have enriched our art vocabulary.
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