I hope that you are all okay working with my disparate thoughts in this response to the WARM panel discussion. There was a lot to chew on, I thought, and so I am going to present here what came to me and where my thoughts have been going with it since.
One thing that really stuck with me was when Elizabeth Erickson was recounting her experience in trying to found the Women's Art Institute, and how the President of MCAD at the time told them "It would tear this school apart." It is hard to imagine such a parochial attitude. It made me think of those old lines by Bob Dylan:
"Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'."
I think a lot about new energy, old energy, who has power and whether it takes things forward or holds it back, the role of wisdom and vision. It takes courage to go in a new direction, to stretch and push against comfort zones, to try new ways of working. That president obviously did not have that. What a contrast to the comments made by an audience member named Hazel, who recounted when the president at St. Kate's supported the program there in the face of a huge amount of flack the college was getting at the time, citing the importance of academic freedom. The gratitude Hazel felt and the importance of that moment were still very palpable all these years later, and demonstrated how a seemingly small action by one individual can have a big impact and how history unfolds.
This led me to the think about how the history of art (as is true for history in general) is in the making at this moment. At the time did these women know they were making history? How are we, now, making history? Some moments feel momentous at the time, others just feel like the natural and obvious thing to do, or decision to make, or thing to say.
The second part of the conversation that I thought a lot about was Carol Fisher's comments about how her works changed to address the time. In the 70s she was making sculptures out of sanitary napkins, but she would not do this type of work today. Why not now? A more "in-your-face" approach to feminist art seems passé, to me anyway. The ideas are no longer shocking, the impact limited. I got the impression Fisher felt this as well, for she moved on to other things. This relates to the question at the end of the discussion when someone asked for concrete examples of success in regard to achieving feminist ideals. To me progress can be seen in the fact that something is no longer shocking, when someone feels they do not have to go on the offense to defend a principle, but is free to maintain that ideal while exploring and standing up for other ideals as well. It doesn't mean there is not more to accomplish, but there is not the same level of imperative, something has shifted. In my book, that's an achievement and a sign of success.
A third thing that I reflected upon was how the women involved in the feminist art movement of the 60s and 70s so strongly felt the need for a separate space. Do young women today feel that need as much as they did in the past? I would say no. Most women certainly appreciate a feeling of sisterhood, and feel the desire to congregate and support each other as women, but to me there was a unique quality to that earlier time - some there called it "urgency" - that this generation does not feel in the same way. My inclination is to think that today's young women (in our culture and society) feel empowered enough to see themselves as just one piece of the bigger picture, and that this degree of inner and outer security makes them view themselves not as women artists first, but simply as artists.
I hope some of you can relate to these ruminations, and would appreciate hearing your thoughts on some of this.
- Allison Ruby