Saturday, October 4, 2014

Miriam Schapiro - Not a Revolution

“The main direction of an artist’s life . . . is to search out identity, to know who they are, where their center is. At least that’s my definition of a serious artist.” Miriam Schapiro, quoted in Nickell and Stanciu, “Creating Beauty: An Interview with Feminist Artist Miriam Schapiro,” Gadfly, September 1997
Miriam Schapiro - Beauty of Summer
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a lovely YouTube station and on it I found an interview with Miriam Schapiro that is quite wonderful.  She talks about the time in which she was creating art. 
In the interview she calls it the "white glove era" because woman would be looked down upon if they were to show up at a restaurant with their husband without wearing white gloves.
She says in the video that at the time she went to California and met up with Judy Chicago that "there was no such thing as a (recognized) specific art by women." 
"In the fall of 1971, the relocated Feminist Art Program started at California Institute of the Arts with 25 students.  Since the school was still under construction, the Program met in the private residences of the students to plan its first project, Womanhouse, which had bee conceived by Paula Harper, an art historian who had joined the Program's staff." (from By Our Own Hands by Faith Wilding
As Miriam Schapiro puts it in this interview:  Womanhouse was created "beginning an art course for women to make woman understand that to be artists, they had to find their identity, as well as work hard to create images that came from their belief system."

 She goes on to say in the interview:  "The real core was the idealism.  We haven't had that since.  That's what we experienced together, that's what changed our lives.  The point being that we really felt we could make a revolution. 
Actually we did make a revolution - but by an evolutionary process because we never took guns, we never burned our bras.  We never did the things that the media says we were well known for.  What the media doesn't say we were well known for was this incredible level of idealism. 
We really had faith.  An in political matters and in social matters you really don't get that all that often - people having faith in something."

Video of images of Miriam's work with "Concerto for Violin And Orchestra in D Major,
Op. 61: Rondo: Allegro" by Philharmonia Slavonica, Jan Czerkow and Alberto Lizzio

Here is an excerpt from another very good interview:

Transcript of Interview with Miriam Schapiro 1992

Interviewed by Suzanne Lacy on the SULAIR website

Suzanne Lacy: We wanted to start w/ your involvement w/in the women's movement, and how or why did you first get involved?

Miriam Schapiro:  . . . . I worked at it. And when I came to California I immediately got involved in consciousness raising groups and met Judy Chicago, and pretty soon the two of us were teaching a feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts, and subsequently we made the Womanhouse project.
And it seemed very natural for me to get involved. Although I know when I tell this story and repeat the fact that I was 48 years old when this began, it serves as some sort of good point for our side, that you can really change your life when you're almost 50 and find new horizons.
The woman's movement meant everything to me because it allowed me a kind of freedom in making my art which I never had before. And yet, I was a successful artist. I had a reputation as a good artist, and I was connected with Andre Emmerich (?), which was one of the prestigious galleries in New York. I was there for sixteen years.
So, many people feel-what was it I was looking for? Point is, I had been trained in high school and in college, and even from my father, as a small child, to be an artist, and always my experiences were with men.
And what I had absorbed was a man's sense of what the truth was, and never really looked into what a woman's truth was. Never really explored, never really understood how important my mother and my aunt and my grandmother were to me.
I was an only child, and this was my world, this world of women. And so this gave me a new lens with which to look at my life and with which to make my art, and I threw myself into that. And working with other women as a collective at the California Institute of the Arts, this was enormously supportive to me, who had been very much an isolated woman.
Married, with a child, but feeling very isolated. Looking for something but not knowing what it was. Having no language for it, and not finding the words until the advent of the women's movement. And there I could move into a country, as it were, which was my own country. I had found it. And give a voice to that other side of me, which had never been explored before.
SL: And what kind of changes did that make in your art?
MS: I don't want to make it sound easy, because after all I was a full professional in the way I had worked. And I had learned certain principles of making art, certain directions to go in in art, which I thoroughly felt comfortable with.
And actually, unlike women much younger than I, I made a slow transition in my art, from say the man's truth to the woman's truth. Always keeping a good deal of what I had learned. And maybe that's what makes the art interesting. That I represent a sort of transitional figure in that way.
But I began to explore women's history and women's culture, and I became very interested in people I called artist makers. These were not trained women.
These were women who in fact had their centers were in their homes. They were women who sewed, they were women used the needle, they were the women who made the great quilts, they were the women who made lesser quilts.
They were women who tatted and embroidered, and I got really interested in those women and why they did that. And when I discovered why they did that I realized they weren't so different from me.
Because the why of it had to do with making beautiful things. With creating works that express a side of oneself which was the roses side of the phrase Bread and Roses. And these women, I figure, late at night after seven children had been put to bed, after all the washing had been done, after all the meals had been cooked, then sat down quietly and alone to work on their art, to express a side of themselves.
I think we overlook this. I think it's really important to know that all women have this in common, that they need, they need to make something, which is a release from all of the pesterings of the day, and create something just their own.
And I don't think we've given nearly enough emphasis in the history of art to the importance and the value, let's say, of the creativity of the quilts.
So, all of this crept into my art. I began to make enormous paintings which was my way of making quilts. I began to make smaller paintings which revolved around handkerchiefs, which bore the tears of women, and aprons, embellished aprons. Or aprons I just found in flea markets all over, which carried the sign of what these women did, despite looking at them as prisoners of their life.
I felt we had to look at them also for that aspect of them, which was the search for inner freedom. Because our lives are complex. We are not ever either one or the other. We are not ever totally free, or ever totally imprisoned by our conditions.
SL: Could you go back to when it was that you started.
MS: I wanted to say that having come to California to begin a new life, as it were, in 1967, I was 48 and so I'm 68 now. And one of the things that I do and the talks I give around the country and so forth, is always I flash my age because I don't think we have role models in this country for the idea of what power an older woman has.
We think of an older woman as, whose power has dried up, because we're so critical of the way she looks. Indeed, if she's aged and if she has wrinkles and is no longer number ten or one or whatever it is.
We're so into the beauty myth, and we're so concentrating on that all the time in the media, that we lose the idea that a woman might have something to say. Not only that, she might have a life ahead of her, drawing near 70, she might still think of her life as being ahead of her, which in fact I do, because I'm constantly involved with various projects that I do with other people.
Also, my life is filled with younger people, including my own son, who keep me alive, who keep me abreast, who tell me what they are reading, what they are looking at, what they are seeing, how they are functioning. And this mix is terribly important in our society.
SL: You mentioned that you had a school for feminist art here, or workshops.
MS: I have to tell you that since 1967 my life has been out of the studio, devoted to giving workshops, telling the history of feminist art, bringing the news of what happens from this center in New York.
Today we have the WAC organization. A few years back we were all talking about the Guerilla Girls.
When I go out of town, when I go to Minneapolis or when I go to San Antonio, wherever, I tell the story from the message center. I tell what the women are doing and what they're thinking about.
SL: What kind of response do you get when you go around and talk about. . ..
MS: You won't believe this, because when we live in New York we get a kind of veil of sophistication which makes us think we're unique, and the only people living in the country.
But the truth is when I bring this story of how to do consciousness raising, of how to share inner ideas, intimate ideas, it's as though I'm bringing it for the first time. You'd think not.
You think that, Oh, so much has happened in this country, we women are so ahead of where we were years ago. In some ways that is true, and the media misleads us. The media gives us the impression that we're way ahead of ourselves.
But, I want to remind you of an image, a single image. This is the image of Pat Schroeder leading a very small group of five or six women up the steps of the Capitol in Washington. Anita Hill has just spoken, the whole Clarence Thomas trial-trial is not the right word. But, the experience is over, and these women are coming to. . .actually it's not over.
These women are coming to bring pressure on the senators and the senators won't see them. The story is that the senators won't see them. That these distinguished women, all of them, are in the Congress at the same level as the men and they wish to talk to them, to put forth their point of view, and the men won't see them.
And this is humiliating for us, because as we read about this story we identify. So, how far have we come? How empowered are we?
SL: Can you bring that even further then, into the lives of say women artists and dealing with the gallery world?
MS: The gallery world has a few token women artists who in fact are wonderful. But, it is not the answer to the question because the question is, Who runs the art world?
And what is it about this question of making art? And I have to say that in my belief the art world is run for investment. That the kinds of people who have immense power in the art world are people who are collectors.
I won't even say dealers, but people who are collectors. And the influence that goes back and forth between collectors and curators and dealers is significant in the direction of greed, in the direction of investment, in direction of building up a portfolio you might say, even though we're talking about works of art.
And women are not even in this picture, because, as always, if you read the auction rolls, throughout history, you learn a lot about a society.
And if you read the auction roles in terms of contemporary society you'll find that what is exciting to the "artworld" is the manner in which a Julian Schnabel recedes a little in his prices, or advances a little in his prices.
But you never hear such talk about women because women don't figure in terms of the top level of power in the investment picture.
SL: In light of that really gloomy situation, what do you say to young women artists, or women today who aspire to create and make a living with their work?
MS: Well, I say one thing. I've always said it, and I'll continue to say it: Don't become isolated.
Don't think that because you read about Rembrandt working alone in his studio that that is the way to function.
In fact, the most fearful thing is being isolated, being all the time alone with your canvas, and the antidote to that is to work collaboratively, to work collectively, to be with other people your own age, people who have the same skill as you have, the same interests you have. Work together.

So - this Saturday the word for us artists and us women artists would be Collaborate!
Hope you are enjoying your weekend.  I'm going out to the studio now to get some work done.
'Til tomorrow!