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Uncovering America

Image Set
Women and Art
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National Gallery of Art Library Digital Collections: Women in Art

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Women’s History Museum

Researchers Explore Gender Disparities in the Art World,” Hidden Brain, NPR

Elizabeth L. Haines, Kay Deaux, and Nicole Lofaro, “The Times They Are A-Changing… Or Are They Not? A Comparison of Gender Stereotypes, 1983–2014,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2016): 353–363

Christopher Knight, “Review: A groundbreaking show to confront the gender bias in art: ‘Women of Abstract Expressionism,’” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2017

Guerrilla Girls, The Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art (New York, 1998)

Cornelia Butler and Lisa Gabrielle Mark, eds., Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 2007)

Helena Reckitt, ed., The Art of Feminism: Images That Shaped the Fight for Equality, 1857–2017 (San Francisco, 2018)

Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, eds., Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970–1985 (New York, 1987)

Women and Art: Respond and Relate | Activity

Betye Saar, Twilight Awakening, 1978, mixed media on printer's wood block, Gift of Francine Farr in honor of Dr. Samella Sanders Lewis, with gratitude to Scripps College, Claremont, California, 2015.27.1

Ask students to examine the works of art in the image set and pair what they see as related works. Students might consider some of the following characteristics (or come up with their own):

1. Mood—expressive, controlled, bold, quiet
2. Techniques and materials—how was the work of art made?
3. Subject—person, place, thing
4. Setting—public, private, ambiguous
5. Your interpretation of the works’ meaning
6. A story you create that links two works

Call on individual students to share their pairings (to the entire class) or, alternatively, ask them to share in small group settings.

Women and Art: Identity and Action | Activity


Dorothea Lange, Eighteen-year-old mother from Oklahoma, now a California migrant , March 1937, gelatin silver print,, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, 2016.191.32

In the 1970s, the slogan “The personal is political” became popular among feminists. This phrase connected women’s experiences—in the home or workplace—to larger social structures where gender bias played out. For women artists, limited opportunities to show their work and under-recognition were often connected. Ask students to review the image set and place each work of art into one of two categories:

a. Works that convey a political or feminist message
b. Works that reflect the artist’s personal experience

For works of art that appear to have a “message,” prompt students to explain what they think it is. How does the artist’s choice of color, shape, line, and artistic technique or medium (painting, photograph, sculpture, etc.) contribute to that meaning?

For works that appear to express a more personal experience, have students research the artist’s biography. What challenges did she face? Were they personal challenges (such as particular life events) or larger societal ones (such as laws)?

Ask your students whether any of the political messages or personal experiences conveyed in these images resonate with them as challenges today.

Women and Art: A Woman's World? | Activity

Samuel Masury, Frances Clayton, c. 1865, albumen print (carte-de-visite), Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund, 2019.97.1

Samuel Masury, Frances Clayton, c. 1865, albumen print (carte-de-visite), Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund, 2019.97.2

Women have rejected, accepted, pushed against, and embraced the ideals and traditional cultural expectations of homemaking and domesticity, motherhood and child-rearing, and femininity and physical appearance. Ask students:

  • How do you see women’s relationships to those situations expressed in these works of art? Which of these situations would you reject, accept, push against, or embrace? Think of people in your life who may have embraced different norms.
  • How might female artists differ from male artists in their representation of women as subjects? Think about what ideas, issues, and points of view are expressed or made visible in the image set. What are some current examples of gendered points of view from art or media?

Women and Art: Gender and Artistic Expression | Activity

Sheila Hicks, Embedded Thoughts, 2013, silk wrapped paper, wool, cotton, linen, Gift of Roy and Cecily Langdale Davis, 2014.134.1

“The state of female artists is very good. But the very definition of art has been biased in that ‘art’ was what men did in a European tradition and ‘crafts’ were what women and natives did.” —Gloria Steinem

Here, feminist icon Gloria Steinem points out that there is no shortage of women and Indigenous artists—but that pervasive notions of what counts as “art” have excluded them from mainstream recognition. Steinem calls out the ways in which materials and subjects can be assigned different cultural values.

Art materials and forms have acquired gendered associations over time. For example, oil painting and sculpture were once framed as high-minded masculine pursuits valued more highly than other artistic media. Practices such as quilting, sewing, or weaving that produced utilitarian objects were relegated to the female and domestic sphere. Works on paper—including watercolor and drawing, which often use less expensive materials—have been associated with female pursuits, taught along with embroidery and sewing as part of a girl’s genteel education. Works executed using these materials have also been viewed as “supporting” work—preparation for oil painting, sculpture, or architecture—rather than as independent art forms. The subjects of works of art have also reflected biases. In much Western and European art, historical and mythological narratives were highly valued and intellectualized, while those relating to daily or home life, most often, were not.

In modern and contemporary art, feminist artists have challenged these value judgments. They have embraced a broad variety of materials and treated new subjects, creating works that have made women’s experiences, accomplishments, and lives visible.

Invite students to examine the works of art in the image set, reading the descriptions and learning about the artists’ lives and works. How do their choices of art materials or subject relate to or challenge cultural ideas about gender?