Art History Reports: Feminism and Formalism by Karen Stock

The Mint Museum Uptown put together a series of lectures, and I attended the second part of said series.  This one focused on feminist art, gendered space, and Miriam Schapiro.  The lecturer Karen Stock profiled Schapiro and her tragedies and triumphs.  She also gave a historical context ranging from the men-only atmosphere Schapiro dealt with that permeated the artistic haunt known as the Cedar Tavern (Jackson Pollock and Schapiro visited there) to First-Wave Feminist Ideas and Womanhouse.

Furthermore, Stock emphasized that Miriam felt that she had a man’s mind inside a woman’s body.  With that theme, Stock revealed that Shapiro combined feminine decoration with a huge canvas that took up space.  Similar to the kind of large canvases that other Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Pollock painted on.  To drive these points home about space and women’s limited roles in it, Stock peppered her Powerpoint presentation with disturbing prints by Honore Daumier from his Blue Stocking Series.  In two prints, he depicted women who wanted to learn intellectual ideas at the cost of her children and to the disgust of men.  To connect this with Schapiro, Stock revealed that Schapiro dealt with the pain of taking on roles as both mother and artist.  According to her, it took a long time for Schapiro to create art after she had children.

If one wanted to hear about Formalism, Stock only talked about it in the last three minutes of lecture.  Regarding the theory, she only cited Leo Steinberg and his dislike of it.  I felt a little disappointed because I am working on a paper involving Formalism and I wanted to hear her views on it.  Furthermore, I believe that Stock did not need to mention Formalism at all. Especially with such a strong lecture on Feminism and art.  However, I enjoyed the lecture overall.  It gave me new perspective on how back then, people saw critical thinking as a men’s only domain.  It only shows how far society has come and how we still need to keep moving forward beyond the confines of gender.  Finally, it made me appreciate the physical and mental sacrifices that women made in order for me to have more choices  in life.

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