Judy Chicago: Art for Women, by Women

February 11 - Sarah Ashlock


One of my favorite things to do during a date night or when I’m hosting a visitor is to take them to my city’s art museum and pretend to be an art critic who knows what she’s talking about—like, say, Andrianna Campbell. Art can be seriously intimidating because you feel like you’ve got to prove you know something about each and every piece. As you swirl your complimentary vino, analyze the piece by talking about color, mood and style. It doesn’t take much knowledge to identify whether the piece is old or new. (Hint: If there’s a baby and its head is weirdly small, the piece is probably ancient). Here’s my favorite part: Interpret it using words like “composition” and “thought-provoking.”


Never feel out of place at an art gallery because art is truly for everyone. And guess what? It’s for women, too. Unfortunately, a study conducted in 2016 showed that women working in the art industry make nearly $20,000 less than men every year. What’s particularly silly about this is how rarely you see a piece of art and can easily identify the sex of the artist.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Judy Chicago, Feminist Art Pioneer

Fancy people have long held private collections of artwork, but during the mid- to late-18th century, those private works became more open for public consumption. When the British Museum opened its doors in 1753, it accepted artwork and manuscripts that would be available for viewing to visitors.

Fast forward a couple centuries and Judy Chicago hits the scene as a feminist art pioneer. In the 70s, feminism took the art world by storm through body and performance art. The idea of a woman taking up space in a professional art setting was revolutionary, and Judy had something to do with it.

Hailing from Belen, New Mexico, Judy made waves through her multimedia project called The Dinner Party. It took Judy five years to complete the massive project, and it has since traveled around the world. When Judy unveiled The Dinner Party in 1979, people either fiercely loved it or vehemently hated it. Comprised of a triangular banquet table, the piece also encompasses woven banners that welcome the viewer to take a seat at a pseudo place setting, each of which represents a woman in history.

So what was—and still is—all the fuss about? Well, each “guest of honor,” from Sappho to Georgia O’Keeffe, features a plate to represent the artist through an imaginative rendering of lady parts. Yep, I’m talking about vaginas. If that makes you uncomfortable, that’s the point. Judy’s message is we need to lose our fear of being seen and heard; of being a woman in a predominately man’s world.

Beyond Judy’s famous art project, she’s worked as a painting instructor and even started the first feminist art program at California State University. Some four-odd decades later, the former mayor of her hometown suggested the city boosts tourism through a Judy Chicago museum. That has the city of 7,000 people, who are still afraid and put off by Judy’s artwork, torn.

For Judy, controversy is nothing new. When The Dinner Party was going to be housed in a university, Congress squashed the idea. It wasn’t until the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation purchased it in 2002 that a new generation of women could view it. This fear and hostility of women speaking out in new ways, even in 2019, shows that so much needs to be done for parts of America and the world to welcome women’s bold ideas. But Judy shows us the fight is worth fighting.


Actress Ashley Rickards said:

"The power you have is to be the best version of yourself you can be, so you can create a better world."

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