Women's Work: Make Art
Faculty: Julia Beatty, Gina Ibarra, Lauren Much
Spiral Workshop Director: Olivia Gude
Spiral Workshop is a place for teens to explore their contemporary artistic visions. The teachers of Women’s Work: Make Art group have had an extensive education in the visual arts. However, one major factor was lacking in our educational backgrounds–the influence and impact of female artists throughout history has for the most part been excluded from our education. As the Guerrilla Girls ask “Do women have to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” Because of this phenomenon, as students we have all had to explore the wonderful history of female artists on our own. The main mission of our group was to set forth on an expedition with younger women artists to discover the overlooked history of women artists and to study issues that bring forth feminist ideals.
We want the students to investigate and develop their ideals. Through this process, they will become better educated, empowered women. We designed a series of projects based on various themes in contemporary art such as narrative alternative comics and deconstructing the gender assumptions of contemporary culture. The resulting projects encouraged our students to dive into personal stories, issues, and gave the young woman means for expressing what it’s like to grow up as a woman today.
By creating an environment that fosters sharing personal stories the students came to realize the commonalties among each woman’s experiences. This group also gave the students an opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the world around them. Overall, we want our students to come away from this class with the confidence to continue questioning and critiquing the ways in which mainstream culture defines and limits the lives of women.
Women's Surrealist Research Bureau
The first week of Spiral Workshop is dedicated to investigating the Surrealist movement. This does many things for the students: it gives them the opportunity to engage in creative play that occur in many Surrealist games and it gives students a chance to get to know each other. One goal of our group was to also introduce the students to some of the lesser-known female Surrealist artists and contrast the imagery in the women artists’ work with some of the well-known male Surrealist work. The project we developed were inspired by traditional (male) Surrealist games, but were altered with a feminist twist.
The first project was called Makeup Ink Blot and was based on Dali’s paranoiac critical investigation method. However, instead of ink, we used a variety of foundation makeup to make the blots. We made this project in a small format so the students could engage and complete this project quickly. The students stared into the blots and drew what they saw using colored pencils. The images that emerged from the students’ unconscious minds and what they projected onto the blots were altered when they were told that the blots were makeup.
The second project was based on the Surrealist game called the Poem of Opposites. The introductory sentence presented a stereotype of women with positive or negative connotations. The first sentence then gets passed onto the next person and this person writes the opposite of each word in that sentence. The next step is to pass the poem to yet another person who writes a word for word opposite of the second sentence without seeing the first. Finally, the poem returns to the original person who considered its surrealistically generated meaning and then created a title for the poem. The students took time to read the poems with each other. Some were humorous in nature and other suggested deeper meanings. The poems led into a further discussion about how female stereotypes are manifested in society.
The final project for the day was a continuation of the paranoia critical investigation. This time, we chose a larger format and used ink. We xeroxed a generic nude female form onto the papers before splashing them with ink. We were interested to see how unconscious content elicited by the inkblots interacted with the female form. The students used oil pastels to pull out the imagery they saw in the blots. Some students used the female form in their final piece while other further obscured the figure.
During this first week, the students learned about some of the traditions that are associated with Surrealism and we engaged in a critical dialogue about how many male Surrealist artists portrayed women in their work—how for male Surrealists used the forms of women to explore aspects of their own unconscious. For women Surrealists, the form of a woman does not function as a mysterious other—we looked into what forms women artists have evolved to represent the unknown depths of self and considered what real social effects are created when men project aspects of themselves into real woman and/or images of women. This discussion led the way to many of the deeper social, personal, and feminist ideals that we investigated as the course continued.
Surrealist Poem of Opposites:
Investigation: Who Are Women Anyway?
Gendered Unconscious Content? Investigation
Weaving a Yarn:
Has there ever been an incident in your life that you believe shaped who you are today? Have you experienced something that you would like to share with the world? Or--have you just had something humorous, embarrassing, or even scary happen to you that you think would make for a good read? These were some questions students considered when first creating their autobiographical comics.
The purpose of this project was to allow youth artists to create comics that incorporate personal stories from the past, uncover issues they now face, and recall events that shaped them into the women who they are today. They did this in a style that is unlike traditional cartoons and comics such as superhero comics or those seen in the newspapers. As audiences we are accustomed to reading comics in newspapers and comic books that tell the adventures of some character. Our comics, like conventional comics, unfold very simply from frame to frame, but the tales being expressed in these alternative comics are personal stories told in unique visual styles.
To begin the Weaving a Yarn project we studied some examples of well-known artists–comic and otherwise–such as Mary Fleener, Keith Haring, Ida Applebroog, and the women in the Twisted Sister comics compilation book. With the help of these images, students were able to push their ideas into new comic formats. They experimented with transforming static figures into active poses and with cropping, framing, and black/white contrast. They cut out their initial rectangular panels and moved them around on the page, experimenting with various compositions, concretely visualizing the best way to get a story across. Using scratchboard, they created some panels with white line on black ground. These dark panels were the basis of playing with black and white contrast as an important element in developing dynamic compositions. The final format was glued into place—recognizing that “real” comics are created by revising and collaging together the best versions of various panels.
Read the compelling stories of these creative, sensitive and strong young women. Be inspired to use your artmaking and narrative skills to share your own stories.
“Tear Them Down”
Have you ever seen an advertisement that made you wonder, “What is this ad really selling?” Is it selling sex instead of a Coke? Is it selling femininity instead of floor wax? This project asked students to closely examine advertisements they see on a regular basis. As a context, we showed the film Killing Us Softly, a documentary that investigates the negative ways in which women are portrayed throughout the media. Also, we viewed art work made by Barbara Kruger, Ad Busters, and the Guerrilla Girls; these artists work on deconstructing advertisements to encourage people to stop, analyze, and critique the messages presented in the media. As a group, we engaged in a philosophical discussion on the effects media has on the public, turning people into consumers of limiting ideas.
Beauty ads, fad diet ads, and clothing ads from mainstream magazines were the foundation images given to the students. These ads illustrated may of the themes seen in the Killing Us Softy film. The students used a variety of mixed media to interrupt the ads. Overall, the students chose to make the advertisers’ messages even more outlandish and exaggerated. The message of what these ads are selling is much clearer and often times this foregrounded meaning is quite disturbing.
This project, designed to have the students analyze the advertisements they see on a daily basis and to discern for themselves what that ad is really selling them, also introduces a method of deconstruction, a way in which artists of today work to disrupt the stream of messages beamed at us by mainstream media.
We watched a newscast that featured the Barbie Liberation Organization. The BLO is the group that switched the voice boxes of talking G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls. They then put the dolls back on store shelves just in time for Christmas. Parents purchased and children received these manipulated dolls—thus creating a media uproar. This act vividly and humorously pointed out the overt sexism that these two dolls embody.
On the first day of this project, we showed examples of artists who manipulate and alter dolls and doll imagery. The second week, we presented the work of artists who use their own bodies as the subject matter through which to comment on society’s ideals of feminine beauty and the appropriate positioning of a woman’s body.
We had a class discussion about how Barbie is an icon for young women and of how though contemporary Barbies may have a wider range of career choices, they still must accomplish their work with heavy make up, stiletto heels, and a corset-sized waist.
Acting as Barbie-designer-gone-mad with the stress of designing Barbie theme dolls that are NEW, BUT NOT RELEVANT to the lives of real women, the students brainstormed and created Barbie dolls for the 21st century. Some of their themes are disturbing, but then again so are the real life conditions of many women today.