The first brochure for the Feminist Studio Workshop is not available in legible format on the web. Thanks to Sue Maberry and the wonderful tech staff at the Otis Library, here is a link to a fully zoomable HUGE high quality PDF version
This broadsheet offered history not as a timeline, but rather a grid of sorts, of maybe five, or is it three, columns across, with many areas left purposefully blank. It can be read left to right or top to bottom, or in whatever direction the eye is drawn. Mailed folded square, which opened so that the recipient first saw the top and then the center and bottom simultaneously, it was meant to be hung as a poster, and to be interpreted by each viewer.
The first narrative, if reading left to right, introduces the three founders, posed standing so that two are in partial profile with one head one. Fittingly they speak singularly but still together (note not unified, they retain an individual voice). They appear not alphabetically as they are customarily arranged in other written pieces, but to frame a narrative of sorts. First Chicago
I am going to work for the future which is sure to come, a future in which people will be seen as human beings, not sexual stereotypes, when all human beings will know about the struggle of women to participate as full human beings, to contribute our gifts to the world.
Speaking always as a working artist, she has no plan apparently for reaching this utopian vision other than making her art “according to my experiences as a woman” and facilitating “a female art community.” Her statement as a misison for an educational program makes little sense until it is twinned with Raven’s, which is an excerpt or is it the beginning to a longer article about feminist art and revolution. The very act of Chicago, and other women, making art that “positively identifes herself … saying I Am, I know myself” ”reflects their “consciousness” which “challenges the the prevailing world view” and grasps towards “survival as a model for human survival.” That gets us to women’s art as challenging “the prevailing world view,” but in the service of what end, not the utopian future described by Chicago, but a sort of human liberation, humanist-feminist position. Not until Raven’s statement is joined with De Bretteville’s statement about the potential of feminist design to “point out the contradictions inherent in patriachal, one-directional channels of communication” do we begin to move towards the means by which this future will be achieved. Women presinting “ideas, feelings and needs directly to a larger audience than the loft, gallery and museum going elite … using mass media technology.”
Although the three statement can be read together to create a sort of proclamation, there are multiple contradictions, not the least of which is that Chicago is a painter and sculptor with success in that “loft, gallery and museum going” world, and despite her disavowals of it, she remained with one foot in it, leaving their endeavor after one year to begin work on a monumental installation that appeared, yes, in museums. As a feminist program it is a bit vague as well with only de Bretteville even referencing the usual enemy of patriarchy. Indeed as feminist critique it is pretty weak, including as much analysis of the “art world system” and aimed as much at the liberation it would see of men, as of women (although basically in freeing women from sex roles had to free men too since they understood these not as givens but as related social constructions).
Most of the broadsheet, like the CWLU play, consists of quotations from women in history, that along with images of women’s art creates a collage of ideas, suggestions and implications. They appear in no real order, mixing genre with period, and represent no single defined aesthetic. Tellingly Chicago picked a selection from Sojourner Truth’s now infamous Aren’t I A Woman speech, in which Truth references the incommensurability between her identity and dominant understandings of womanhood. This quote no doubt resonated with Chicago who often voiced the contradiction she felt as both “woman” and “artist.” Similarly, a quotation from George Eliot, the masculine pen name of the author Mary Anne Evans, picks up the idea from the Truth quote that “woman” has multiple meanings and stresses the difficulties created for Evans/Elliot by men, forcing her to be a “woman writer” who hides under a male pseudonym. Chicago viewed herself as “hiding her femininity” in her pre-feminist art work. Finally Chicago invokes O’Keeffe who she viewed as an artistic foremother, who in this quote explains to the (male) art world that they never understood her or her art, an attitude Chicago repeatedly expressed about her own situation. Chicago’s strongest affiliation is to O’Keeffe, whose painting she juxtaposes next to two of her own works, Pasadena Lifesaver and Through the Flower.
If Chicago spoke to inability to fit into the category of woman, then Raven addressed the difference ascribed to woman. The quote from Anais Nin sounds like an early description of ecriture feminine “of flesh and blood and the body.” Raven also quotes Simone De Beauvoir another favored antecedent for all radical feminists but rather than the “woman as other” stressed by other radical feminists, this Simone de Beauvoir sounds much more like Virginia Woolf speaking about the function of art as it articulates “human liberty.” A woman must eschew the limiting roles assigned by her difference, and assert her subjectivity, “the status of a being who has liberty,” but not by becoming like as man, as is made clear in the next two quotes. Both Mary Cassatt and the contemporary artist Barbara Hepworth emphasized the “feminine experience.” These quotes are framed by works of the artists, along with three images of the woman artists, featuring images of women by women artists.
If Raven’s response to the “woman problem” was to explore the feminine, De Bretteville’s stressed the need for the women who found contemporary definitions of womanhood too limiting to seek liberation TOGETHER. Quoting Margaret Fuller, “women are the best helpers of one another” as men’s “minds” are “encumbered by tradition.” Similarly the quote from Emma Goldman (who very oddly is NOT in the Everywoman play) also advocated for a sort of women’s separatism “history tells us that every oppressed class gains true liberation from its masters through its own efforts.” The final quotation comes from Virginia Woolf, the final of the “pioneering women” pulled into their historical timeline of women’s art and activism. It stresses the danger of women becoming too much like men as they attempt to move from their limited purview, emphasizing the need for women to remain “feminine” but powerful.
Pictures along the bottom showed the founders in the all women environments they created within male institutions and buried alongside are three very brief descriptions reading left to right “the feminist studio workshop is an experimental program in female education in the arts. Our purpose is to develop a new concept of art, a new kind of artist and a new art community built from the lives, feelings, and needs of women.” This “new idea” of feminist artists based on knowledge “from” women, would create, as elaborated in the next statement “an integrated female support community in which art making, art historical and critical analysis, public, design arts and feminist consciousness” produce a new frame of reference for understanding the work about her experiences produced by a woman artist. The final statement indicates what will be done, sort of, “women will be free to explore alternative ways of introducing their female perspective into society” in what has been identified by at least one author as their “statement of principles.”
So here is how their narrative of “liberation” goes, independence but not becoming like men, separating and expressing feminine perspective, leading to liberty of the self, but a singular sort of liberation that they would all pursue together, somehow introducing “femininity” into the public. Back to the manifesto definition: Rupturing of history, to break with chronological narratives as well as what counts as historical. Back to Lytoard: they began building this new change of reality, based on forging fictions of the feminist artist that in large part appropriated fragments history, of women artists either ignored or maligned by male historians, to create a little narrative. Restructured not as a historical narrative, but as a highly personal, idiosyncratic privileging of certain predecessors, Cassatt, Nin, Woolf, O’Keeffe. The same materials could just as easily be formulated into some sort of emancipatory narrative, as Chicago would illustrate in The Dinner Party which builds on, while also creating, the new discourse of feminist art history, but here, at the beginning, in this moment, this new story is one of female identity that is both object and subject, a history of empowerment, fraught with contradictions.